Rhone Alps, Chamonix, Sardinia and Geneva

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August 14th 2016
Published: August 14th 2016
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Blog 3 – The Guymers at Bourg d’oisans in the Rhone Alps (near Grenoble France) and then onto Chamonix, Sardinia and Geneva

The mighty journey continues and of course the boys by now had developed a taste for their favourite food. Lucas became a baguette fan, Liam just drank litres and litres of 'nilk' and Flynn ate any chocolate that was available.

Across the week the Bike Culture riding outfit was spotted a few times as our houseful of riders attacked the Alpe d’Huez mountain climb that is regularly part of the Tour de France. Tim and Jodie, Carla, Scott and Adele all managed the13 kilometers, climbing approx 1,000 meters vertically via 21 hairpin bends. The climb is relentless and when the riders reach the final bend the headwinds usually start. At this point they are doing it hard and there is still another 2 kms to ride up into the village. Brent and Liam were the on-road photographers and support team for Carla. Also later on they drove Adele back to the bike shop when her crankshaft broke early in her ride. Brent and Carla were able to drive Adele back to that point with another bike and she was able to complete the whole ride – Scotty finished his ride and returned to join Adele to the finish. We were Scott and Adele’s cheer squad aka support team.

Carla managed the climb in 90 minutes – pretty impressive. Tim and Jodie were also impressive completing the ride on their mountain bikes. All round it was a massive effort by the Bike Culture team of riders and crew. We were exhausted just driving up and down the road twice and zooming around to take photos – so we felt we did the climb on four wheels - no riding for us!

The main highlights of the week included riding the gondola to Duez Alps village, exploring the old French Village of Venosc, spending an afternoon riding the Jandri Express gondola 3200 metres to the glacier and then catching the furnicular railway that went under the Grotte de Glace (glacier). When we exited the train we were at 3421 metres on the Dome de Puy Salie looking at the most amazing panoramic view of the French Alps. Skiers were having an awesome time and we plonked around in the summer snow walking to the ice cave to see amazing ice carvings. The grotto was like a giant freezer!

Our villa in Rochetaillee near Bourg d’oissans had its own little piece of history. The villa was situated in the shadow of a large cliff face which had at its base an old Roman Road. This road was used by the early Romans to move into France and Britain as it was the shortest route from Rome.

Friday saw a mass exodus from the villa as we all went our separate ways. Carla and Liam were off to Sardinia and we were off to Mont Blanc, Chamonix for 4 days. On arriving in Chamonix we spent the afternoon with Lauren Adrian and the boys. Little Flynn was very excited to show us ‘his helicopter’. This turned out to be any of the helicopters that flew tourists over the Mont Blanc Glacier. They were just like Flynn’s toy blue helicopter so he immediately claimed all of them as his own as they flew close to the apartment window.

We had a great night out in the village and the boys made the most of the yummy crepes. The next morning the Thearle family departed for Paris. We took Adrian and Lauren’s advice and headed to the ticket office for an early morning excursion on the awesome Aiguille du Midi cable car system. It is the highest point reached by gondolas and a lift system at 3842m and that is as high as you can go up Mont Blanc without hiking or climbing the summit of Europe’s highest mountain.

We rode two separate cable cars starting in Chamonix rising to 2,317 m and then directly, without any support pillar, to the upper station at 3,777m - an altitude rise of over 2,800m. This is still a record as the highest vertical ascent cable car in the world. Each gondola has a driver – never experienced that before - and the cabin holds up to 80 people.

What a morning we had. The views were mind blowing and the wind was really howling as we walked to the viewing platform. Took too many photos and spent a lot of time reading the information about the actual construction – it involved some amazing engineering. As we left, the clouds started to roll in and the scenery (and temperature) changed dramatically. Enjoy the attached photos – they say it all.

We rode the gondola back down to Chamonix and the return trip reinforced what an amazing engineering feat was achieved in building the network of gondolas in such hazardous and difficult mountains. After lunch we took a step back in time and boarded the old Les Trains Prestige which has been taking tourists from Chamonix to Montenvers to visit the Mer de Glacier for more than 100 years. It was a cute little red train with wooden seats and we really enjoyed the short furnicular train ride up the steep mountain side through forests and over old viaducts. We travelled 5,141 metres rising 870 metres at an 11 to 22% incline. It was a strong little engine!!

We then visited the Mer de Glacier Museum and rode the gondola to the edge of the glacier. Sadly climate change has impacted the glacier and they have recorded the changes in levels since 1985 very accurately. Originally people were right at the glacier when they stepped off the cable car. Now, you have to walk down 400 steps to reach the glacier – a huge change in thirty years and the rate of melt is increasing significantly. It was a good learning experience for us but a little sobering to see the dramatic change. As we returned to the top of the stairs and into the gondola the rain started – very lucky to dodge the heavy downpour! Climbing all those stairs worked up an appetite so it was off to the restaurants again and another hit on the crepes. Found an awesome French cider from Bretagne to wash the yummy crepes down.

Our final day in Chamonix saw us heading to the golf course and what a course it was. There is something quite magical about playing golf on fairways that look straight up Mont Blanc and the Glace de Mer or trying to put on a green with a huge cable car whispering overhead and casting a shadow. Despite the fairways being very wet we loved the experience and played some great golf. Leanne even managed a real birdie on one of the par threes. Finished just in the nick of time as another heavy downpour started – finished the last hole in a bit of a rush to avoid the rain– an awesome experience on another beautiful golf course. Au revoir to the beautiful Chamonix.

Monday morning saw us driving to Geneva to catch our midday flight to Olbia in Sardinia. We were looking forward to catching up with Carla and Liam who had flown in a few days ahead of us. Wow what a change from France to an Italian island in the Mediterranean. The flight provided us with an amazing view of the French Alps all the way to Nice and over Corsica and onto Sardinia where the sea is a really magical colour of aqua.

GG and his navigator had some hairy moments as we were introduced to Sardinian roundabouts. Forget staying in lanes etc – you have to keep crossing over everyone else’s lane to find an exit – it was mind blowing and we were very tired. Headed up to our little hotel on Pittunlongu Beach and stayed for a week. It was lovely – really enjoyed the traditional old breakfast room and the family running the place were so friendly and helpful – made it a really nice way to start each morning. There is something special about a big smile, a lovely bonjourno followed by cappuccino madam?

Did lots of driving to try to check out all the island’s highlights. Basically Sardinia is the greatest pile of rocks and mountains imaginable with valleys in between. The Phoenicians, Romans, Spaniards, and everyone you can think of has shaped the history of Sardinia and we had a great time visiting the Nuraghic ruins, the Roman ruins, mediaeval villages, rock canyons etc.

We drove to the beautiful old riverside village of Bosa. It was established by the Phoenicians and thrived under the Romans. From the mountains it looked beautiful in the sunlight with all the colourful houses stacked on a steep hillside. Sitting behind the town was a large grey castle. The riverfront was lined with palm trees and lots of little fishing boats. The old cathedral was impressive and its interior showed there had been a lot of wealth in the area. The town itself was like a Venetian street and every door was decorated with lovely sculptures etc.

Then we drove down the west coast to the Phoenician and Roman ruins at Tharros. It is a large site that has been under excavation for 50 years and amazingly looking over the site is a large Spanish guard tower. Looking at the site it was clear that good real estate has been the aim of the game for thousands of years – the necropolis held prime position overlooking the Mediterranean!

Spent a couple of days with Carla and Liam up on the northern tip of the island at Santa Theresa Gallura. This place has a beach and views to die for. From Carla’s apartment we looked directy across the strait to the island of Corsica. It was really hot and we joined thousands of Italian families on the beach. Liam had a ball playing with the other kids.

Spent our last few days driving to various sites including the museum where there is a display of Phoenician ships that were retrieved from Obia Harbour. Also did a 20km round walk to the Gorroppu Canyon – the deepest canyon in Sardinia. Remember we said Sardinia is a large pile of rocks – well this canyon proves it!! The hike was exhausting and it was a tough climb once you got into the canyon. It was a pity we could not spend longer in the canyon but with it being a four hour return journey and the gates closing at 7pm we had to get back to our car. It was another very different great outdoors experience. As we drove back to Olbia we visited one of the Gigantic tombs that are found throughout Sardinia - no there were no giants here - they just made great use of large slabs of stone to build very fancy headstones and tombs for their important village members. We also visited the Nuraghe la Prisgonia - a very impressive set of communal buildings made of stone and dating back to approx. 1400 - 900BC.

Our last evening in Sardinia saw Graham swimming in the Mediterrean. We then had a lovely meal at one of the local beach side restaurants eating yummy tuna steaks washed down with great Sardinian wine. How lucky we were to visit this faraway place.

Monday morning saw us flying to Geneva where we joined in the city summer time lake festival. The lighting and water show on the lake was beautiful in the late evening. Spent the next morning up in the old part of the city – it is such an amazing place with contrasts between the old architecture of the cathedral and the shops filled with gorgeous clothes, watches and jewellery. A wonderful city to spend a few days. All good things come to an end and before we knew it, we were checking out of the hotel and off to the airport.

Cheers and enjoy the photos - we return to Canberra Monday evening, 15th August.

Leanne and Graham

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