Geo: 43.7, 7.11667
Our departure from San Mamete was delayed slightly due to morning rain showers, but the storm blew through, and by 8:30 we had wonderful blue skies. Our ride to the French Alps took us through numerous long tunnels – one 5.3km. We crossed over the Col Boeuf-Tremplin pass into France at the Montgenevre ski area, then wound our way down the valley, arriving at our quaint family-run hotel in Briancon at mid-day. Following lunch at an outdoor café in the town square, we hiked up to the old city of Briancon, exploring its labyrinth of narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants. The following day we left Briancon under clear skies, heading south in the French Alps. Our first climb was an easy one, leaving the main road at Guillestre, on a steady climb past the little village of Vars, then climbing again up a series of gently twisting sweepers over the Col de Vars, where numerous bikes were staging for a club ride in the area. We stopped in Jausiers for coffee and a flea market, then started up a long climb on an excellent road, through several valleys of the Mercantour National Park,
Inside the old city
on our way to the tops of Col de la Bonette, the tallest pass in the Alps. The views were austere, but spectacular, with visibility extending for hundreds of miles in every direction. We continued on, past the abandoned military village from WWI at Vens, then over the Col du Resteford, dropping down into the valley, this time on a much narrower road with lots of switchbacks and more sweepers. Eventually we reached the Tinee River canyon, and followed the river's path, stopping in Isola for lunch. Continuing on what was by now a larger road, it cut into the canyon walls above the river through the Gorges de Valabres, continuing south on a wonderful stretch of sweepers. Eventually we merged onto a major road heading south in tandem with the LeVar River. Just before reaching the Mediterranean, we crossed the river and headed north to the village of Saint-Paul de Vence. We arrived at our lodging at 5pmand were greeted by our property managers. Our gorgeous apartment was literally a stone's throw from the ancient walled city, providing us with a wonderful view from our veranda – accessed by 4 sets of French doors, from both bedrooms, the living
Church in Briancon
room and dining room.
On Monday, we spent time walking the ancient walled city of Saint-Paul de Vence - just a few minutes walk from our apartment. The town is noted for its numerous art galleries supporting many past and present local artists over its 400-year history. Numerous shops, restaurants and several hotels fill the charming stone village. There are a number of full-time residents in the village as well, occupying a diverse collection of apartments and villas.That afternoon, Dave and Janet set out on the bike to explore more of the area. They rode out to the large town of Grasse, then up another hilltop walled village, Gourdon, considerably smaller than St. Paul de Vence, but equally interesting, with its quaint shops and spectacular views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea in the distance. They returned home, crossing the little Col de Vence, on a nice little winding road that ended in downtown Vence, capping off a perfect day.
On Tuesday, Debbie and Guenther went to Monaco to see the sites in Monte Carlo, while Dave and Janet took to the road again to explore more of the Alps. Heading east into the mountains on great winding roads over the Col
de Luens, they stopped for breakfast in Castellane. From there they wound their way through the Grand Canyon (Gorge) de Verdon along the Verdon River, over the Col D'Ayen, which flows into the massive St. Croix Lake. Heading north a short distance took them into Moustiers-St.-Marie for a return visit from a trip years ago. The occasion required a stop to check out its shops and have lunch. Threatening clouds forced a change of route coming back. The faster route took them through Draguignan along wonderful winding country roads with virtually no traffic until they reached Grasse. Finally returning after 286km they were ready for a relaxing evening, hearing all about Gun and Deb's adventure to Monte Carlo.
On Wednesday, we all rode east of Nice, stopping first at another ancient walled city, Eze. Sitting high on a stone bluff overlooking the Mediterranean, Eze requires some serious hiking to navigate its narrow streets that snake up and down through the village. Doorways are very low and most shops have just a tiny amount of floorspace necessitated by the size of the existing buildings. Most of the fortress was built in the late 1300s, but the large cathedral, Notre Dame de
l'Assumption was built in 1764. Next, we traveled to the delightful waterfront village of Villefranche-Sur-Mer. We walked along the sea wall, enjoyed a wonderful lunch at harborside, then visited the old city and fortress. During lunch, we were treated to an amazing display by the national fire service as their water tankers made repeated low-level flights and landings in the harbor in front of us to scoop up water to fight a nearby wildfire. It was another great day along the Mediterranean.
Thursday saw the group doing a variety of local rides in the nearby hills or just relaxing around the village. Dave and Janet rose early to watch the sun rise over a harbor east of Nice, then rode along the coast road through Monte Carlo (hitting crowded 8 am commuter traffic), on through Menton and into Italy. The following morning, Dave and Janet took off again at sunrise, following the Cote d'Azure west, this time through Antibes, past Juan-les-Pins and Cannes, and then meandered around numerous beautiful sea coves, before finally turning around at St. Raphael. After a great bowl of mussels at a waterfront café in Theoule-Sur-Mer, they stopped in old town Antibes to explore the
Road to Jusiers
Meadering road to Jausiers
marketplace before heading back home.
Saturday was spent relaxing. Guenther and Debbie went back to Monaco to explore the old town while Dave and Janet visited the small Renoir Museum in Cagnes-sur-mer, just a few kilometers from Saint-Paul de Vence. The museum is located in Renoir's old stone home on a hill overlooking the sea.
On Sunday the gang split up: Deb and Gun heading up to Paris for the week to celebrate Guenther's 70th birthday, while Dave and Janet head north to explore more of the French Alps around Grenoble, Albertville and Mont Blanc. We'll all meet up in Alsace (northeast France) next Saturday to spend the weekend exploring the Route de Vin with its charming half-timbered villages before heading back to Heidelberg, Germany to store the bikes and return home to Grass Valley.
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