Switzerland was starting to blend into France and looking for a place to wildcamp, we found a quiet spot just next to a church in the village of Chatel St Denis. Thankfully no church bells but we were still up and at ‘em early for jog, followed by a petit cafe and a visit to the market. Next day we headed for the border, stopping only to visit the Nestle factory to stock up on chocolate and cereal. Shortly after, we crossed into France for the 6 or 7th time so far on this trip!
Turned out that the route towards Italy that worked best took us close to Morzine where we’d spent 5 days skiing in March. Remembering something one of the guys at the lodge had said, we set out to find a 2km zip wire across one of the valleys. As usual the twisty, windy roads took forever but eventually we made it to the place… only to find it had closed for the season. Chelle was rather relieved!
Anyway we were near the top of a mountain at about 1700m so we decided to stay the night and found a small gravel laybay on a deserted road.
We took the chance to have a big declutter of all our stuff and to start preparing a box to ship back to Australia.
Very peaceful spot only disturbed by the odd farmer, cow or donkey!
Next day revealed more winding mountain roads as we meandered down to the Italian border.
On one particular section we came across two dogs running all over the road in a 90km/hr road following a canyon. Blind corners everywhere – they wouldn’t have stood a chance so we pulled over and managed to round them up and ring their owner thanks to the number on the collars.
Good deed done, we motored on to Annecy, a lovely city in amongst the mountains and beside Lake Annecy – the largest natural lake in France. The sat nav gave us an aire but when we got there it was already full (only the second time that’s happened on our trip, I think!), so we drove around a little until we found a nice spot in a residential area up on the hill.
It was a good spot but didn’t allow us to check out the city so we decided next morning to go and grab ourselves a spot in the aire for some exploring. And a very nice day was had – markets in full swing, lunch out, rollerblading for the kids and even a swim in the lake (surprisingly warm).
Next day we drove on but again, the mountain roads slowed our progress. Looking for a spot to park up we ended up following a road which became increasingly steep, unmade and narrow. By the time I was leaning out of the window, trying to ensure at least 40% of my wheel was on the road rather than hanging off the edge, we’d abandoned ideas of finding a spot and were just hoping for a chance to turn around. Suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, it got rather busy and we did indeed find a place to turnaround. However we thought we’d see what the fuss was about.
Turned out a monastery was having an open day for the first time so the locals could see how the nuns lived inside. We had a quick tour around, met some lovely nuns and bought some of their pottery before heading back down the hill and onto a tiny village where we spent the night in the main carpark.
According to the map it was only a couple of hours to the Italian border but the sat nav was bleating about a closed road and suggesting a huge detour back the way we came. After consulting various maps we found it unbelievable that one closed road could turn a 1.5 hour journey into a 4 hour journey. So we plugged in various alternatives and eventually the sat nav agreed with us and by climbing the famous Alpe d’Huez, coming over a high pass and descending down a minor road we could get around the blockage and be on target for about 2.5 hours.
So we took the plunge and climbed and climbed, following the most famous stage in ‘le Tour’. The roads were fine but it was hard work for poor Frosty and we stopped a couple of times to let her cool down. We finally hit the summit – a deserted ski town and within 5 minutes along the ridge received instructions to immediately descend via the ‘Route Pastorale du col de Sarenne’. We got to the start of the road to be greeted with a sign saying No Trucks, No Buses and No Vehicles over 3.5 tonnes (we are 5.4 tonnes and a bus/truck when it suits us, eg in car parks) and an improbable single lane road winding down and covered with loose rocks.
No way we were turning around and going back so we committed ourselves to the pass down. Mercifully it was pretty much deserted so we didn’t have to contend with many other vehicles but the hairpins were horrific. Some of them weren’t makeable for an 8m Frosty in one turn so had to engage the handbrake with the front bumper hanging over the void, stick it in reverse and carefully reverse back to give more room!
Anyway little by little we made it down and passed through a few tiny hamlets, greeted by stares of astonishment from the inbred locals, until we hit the main road and turned left. 200m later, Road Closed!!!!
Disaster, we hadn’t passed the road block, after all so there was nothing to do but to concede defeat and head back on the original route suggested by the sat nav (which now was 5 hours). The joys of the mountains!
Anyway we stayed in a very pleasant and friendly village called ‘le Bourg d’Oisans’. With all the bike shops and hotels the main industry seemed to be based around the cyclists who obviously pass through frequently.
So next day, we took another pass and, in a few hours arrived at Briancon, the last French town before Italy, passing by the Unesco listed Mont Dauphin.
Yet another beautiful hilltop town and, as we always do we had a good walk around to check it out. However, Italy had been so tantalisingly close for so long, we didn’t stay but climbed the mountains, yet again and headed for the border…