The Alps part 2: good things come to those who pedal

Sunday 31st May

Miles: 36

Our campsite was at an altitude of just over 1000 metres. Our location, Gap, was at about 750 metres. We thought that this morning’s cycle would be not too bad, and mostly downhill. 

After this many days in the Alps, how could we still be so naive? 

The day began with an incline that finally broke us – on a 2.5KM 10% hill we pushed for a kilometre. We pulled ourselves together and got back on the bike, and finally reached the top to discover that we had just done another col! 




After two tough days there didn’t seem to be much left in our legs. Thankfully, once the col was over we descended a 12% hill for 6KM. We saw quite a few cyclists coming up this hill as we were going down… I felt for them. 

A view of Gap from the hill:
We passed through the long-awaited destination of Gap very unceremoniously, the only thing I really noticed was a sign saying that the Tour de France would be visiting Gap in July. Eric ate a Big Mac standing in the McDonald’s car park on the town’s outskirts at 11.30AM. 

‘I disgust you, don’t I?’ he said, his face full of burger. 

I admit I had been staring at him with narrowed eyes for some time.

Then it was goodbye Gap! Back on the road we encountered gentle inclines (they honestly felt so nice) as we pedalled our way to the beautiful lake Serre-Poncon (the largest man-made lake in Europe don’t you know!).

This lake was just…wow.

We stopped at a busy restaurant for lunch, where I was defeated by some gargantuan proportions – and you know they were big because this is me. And not just me, me on a cycle tour. Too full to pedal, we pushed the hill after lunch, and an hour later found our campsite close to the lake in Embrun. 

Monday 1st June

Rest day

After three tough days in a row, with two more even tougher days to go, we decided to take a day off and let our legs recover. 

We didn’t do all that much today. We took a very slow stroll along the Serre-Poncon and a tributary river. 

We had lunch at a Malaysian restaurant, which was delicious and interesting enough for us to take some smug pre-eating photos. I don’t know much about Malaysian food, but it tasted different enough for me to think that we were getting the real deal. They also served us Malaysian lemonade, which tasted like candy. 

Then after lunch Eric did some rock-lifting by the river. He requested that I take some photos. 

Just in case you didn’t realise yet, Eric likes lifting things (his number one hobby, closely followed by bending things, wrestling things and throwing things into other things. Oh and he likes a good power ballad).

And then a bit of sitting by the lake.

We had a nine-egg spaghetti carbonara for dinner. Eric insisted we could manage it. He was right. 

Tuesday 2nd June

Miles: 36

I had been dreading today a little bit, as we were planning to rise from 780 metres to 1400 metres. I was expecting a very tough day, though Eric assured me that it shouldn’t be too bad, I kind of thought ‘I’ve heard that one before’. 

We were up early and off by the unusually good time of 9AM. There were a few steady inclines and declines (we didn’t like the declines, as we would rather have kept the height we were gaining) but there was nothing too challenging, and we made excellent time. 

Just before midday we hit the only really challenging hill: hairpin bends at around 10% or more for a long old way. 

Here were the views on the way up (I was in such physical pain when I took these photos!)

I will say this for the Alps: you are rewarded for your efforts. The more height you gain, the more stunning the views are.

After lunch we had a mere 7 miles to go until we reached Briancon. Neither of us had expected this day to go so well. 

As we continued up, the beautiful views kept on coming.

We reached Briancon at around 2 o’clock. 

The fortress of Briancon.    
Entering the town we were at about 1100 metres. It turned out that we would rise the last 300 metres as we passed through the town – a final big hill to climb in the scorching heat. We didn’t mind too much, as we were just happy to have finally reached Briancon after the delay we’d had with the road closing. 

I also glimpsed the first roadsign I’d seen for our next destination of Turin, Italy.

We passed through Briancon and reached our campsite, just outside in the tiny village of La Vachette. 

We treated ourselves to an eclair after dinner. Yummy yum yum.

Wednesday 3rd June

Rest day

Neither of us felt quite ready to be leaving the Alps yet, so we decided to spend a day exploring Briancon. The Belgian cyclist we’d spoken to a few days ago mentioned that it was a fortified town (his English really was impressive) so we thought that we would go and take a look. 

Here’s the fortification:

The amazingly awesome views from inside it:

Within the walls were pretty houses, shops and restaurants.

Eric was prevented from partaking in his favourite activity:

(Hehe tan lines!)  
We wandered around and then climbed up to a higher fortification under the glare of a very hot sun. 

Afterwards it was a long lunch at a restaurant, a visit to a supermarket and a leisurely walk back to the campsite. 

Thursday 4th June

Miles: 63

Today we faced our final big incline of the Alps. A 6.5KM 8% incline, consisting of 6 long, winding hairpins, which would take us to our highest location, Montgenevre. 

This is a road which Eric and our pal Steve took during their last cycle tour, and Eric had described this incline to me in un-affectionate terms. We were both prepared for a hard climb.

It took us just over an hour to cycle up there. It was tough, but we both agreed was not the most difficult incline we had done. 

We had a great moment where we cycled past a queue of cars, caravans and trucks waiting by a red light (due to building works) and they all rolled down their windows, shook their fists in encouragement, mimed pedalling and shouted “Allez! Allez!” and “Courageous!” as we passed by. We loved it!

We also saw a marmot on the way up, which was pretty cool as this critter is the star of many-a-postcard in Briancon (no picture though, you’ll just have to take my word for it).

We passed by a little bit of history: the wild camping spot that Eric and Steve had stayed at in 2007.

The view from their old spot (it was nice to get a picture of this as they had their camera stolen during their trip):

(Steve to be photoshopped in at a later date.)

More views from the top:


After this short stop we carried on to Montgenevre, our highest location yet at over 1800.

There were proper chalets and ski slopes here! And even a patch of snow a few metres up the mountain. I wanted to go and play in this but unfortunately it was shut off, as the slope turns into a golf course in the summer. 

We stopped here at a bar and treated ourselves to a cold drink and had a chat with the bar owner, who sounded like he was from Manchester. Then we got back on the bike and began the glorious, glorious journey downhill into Italy. 

Sunshine, breathtaking views and a very big downhill. It felt good!

After just a kilometre we were in Italy, though disappointingly there was no “Welcome to Italy” sign that we could notice. Roadsigns just started appearing in Italian. 

Some more views on the way down:

Particularly stunning was the fortress and village of Exille:

On the way down we also met Peter (maybe Pieter?) from Vienna, who was going the other way. He was a nice chap raising money for Friends for Friends. He was planning to cycle almost every continent over the next two or three years! He didn’t seem too phased by the enormous incline.

We passed through a town called Susa.

We sped along at a slight decline for the vast majority of the time, as we were coming from an altitude of 1800 to that of around 400. After a week of uphill, we felt we had earned this day! 

It was the hottest day we’ve had yet. Eric thought that maybe it was pre-thunderstorm weather. I thought that it was probably just Italy-in-June weather. It was the kind of day where you can sweat just by standing still and merely existing. 

At 5PM we arrived at our campsite in Caselette, which is not far outside of Turin. I am writing from a very humid tent. I’ve spent so long dreaming of hot weather… now I’m thinking how nice it would be to be cold! There’s evidently no pleasing me. 

So our travels through France are done after 2 months. Having lived next door to this country for so long, it’s been great to finally get to know some of it a bit better. I will miss being overtaken frequently by lycra-wearing senior citizens on stick-thin bikes, hearing people say “Bon courage!” as we pass them by, seeing old dudes playing petonque by the side of the road, and flashing signs on boulangerie doors which say “Pain”… so long France, and thanks for all the eclairs!


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