Saturday, 14 May 2016

From One Brilliant View to Another, Into the Northern French Alps Ski Resorts

France, 6th – 10th May 2016


The mountains were calling out to us, it was time to
head north...
We’d had a busy few days seeing lots of sights around the Avignon area and following this from Aiguéze we planned to see some more of the Ardeche region. We set off to take the scenic road up through the gorge but before reaching the start came across a 2.7m width restricted bridge at St Martin d’Ardeche which we wondered if it might be a sign of what was to come further down the road too. Pulled over we checked alternative routes around it and had a quick look online about the road to see if it would be suitable. There were mentions of overhanging rocks and comments saying it was fine for passing from the south-east direction when these would be on the other side, but this was the opposite direction to which we were going. Not fancying narrow roads and projecting obstructions with increased bank holiday traffic which would likely make for a stressful drive we decided to give it a miss for now as we’ll be back in this area at some point on future holidays.

Instead we decided to head to an aire at Aubignas which looked like a scenic spot in the pictures. It lived up to it, out in a remote area the parking (GPS: 44.58704 4.63178, €3 voluntary donation inc. serv. pt.) was on a terrace with great views over fields and houses below, and the village on the hillside to the left. There were about half a dozen campers here when we arrived but as some left and the prime spot at the front became free we moved into it. The village is another pretty little place with stone cottages on small sloping twisty cobbled roads and we said would be a place we’d like to live.  Other than having a look around I spent the majority of the time here busy doing some work on the laptop, at least it was a great place to be working from!  Jo filled the time by getting the interior of the van scrubbed up to the cleanest it’s been in weeks. As anyone who has lived in a confined space might know, this lasted for all of about ten minutes before the floor was covered in debris again.

Aubignas, an attractive little place

The next day after making use of the service point and happily putting our €3 in the honesty box for such a place,  we moved on to a free parking spot at Rochechinard (GPS: 45.03130 5.24618) near a church and graveyard up the hill beyond the village. Again we had great views down over the surrounding countryside. Whilst I got on with blog writing Jo made some very nice Patatas a la Pobre and chorizo in white wine for dinner washed down with the last bottle of Portuguese red we still had in stock.


There were signs pointing to, and we could see the remains of a ruined chateau on the hillside from where we were staying so in the morning we followed them two or three km to it. The ruins were blocked off from public access and were being worked on by some men. Whilst we were looking one of them kindly offered for us to go in for a look and introduced us to the owner. From my limited understanding of French language I picked up that they have been working on restoring the building since 2007, although there’s little sign that much has been done. They’ve got a big project ahead, when asked how long it would take the chap huffed and held his hands up to signify “who knows!” He pointed out some rocks that had fallen from the structure, but they weren’t wearing hardhats, and pointed out an old pigeon coop near the top of one of the towers of the building that we think might’ve been for messenger pigeons.


The road we took next turned out to be following a gorge, the Gorges de la Bourne, which was a scenic drive but the road width varied massively with some narrow points where there wasn’t room to pass oncoming cars, and cutaway rocks jutting out over the road. There were a couple of nice looking villages to explore including one with a row of terraced houses built along the edge of the gorge, but with limited parking we kept on our way. Once through the gorge the road opened out and we started to see wooden alpine ski-type buildings in the villages and towns we passed through.

Not ideal motorhome roads!

Our next spot was an aire at Villard-de-Lans (GPS: 45.06655 5.55569, Free) where we were lucky again as within minutes of arriving the van in the prime spot at the end with views over the town and down the valley left so we grabbed it. The town is primarily developed around skiing and mostly closed when we looked around but there was still some activity with locals out and about and people sat outside cafés in the main square.

They really love their pizzerias in the ski resorts, they made up about half of the restaurants

Before going any further we did a bit of research online on which mountain passes were open, in order for us to choose our upcoming route. We’d planned to go via Alpe d’Huez and Les Deux Alpes but found that the Col du Galiber was closed which would’ve meant doubling back on ourselves. Our new route north took us through another gorge, the Gorges du Furon, which was a scenic drive again but without restrictive bits this time, and this opened out into the valley bottom where Grenoble was spread out ahead of us surrounded by white-capped mountains. After skirting around the city we turned off of the main road and wound our way up through a number of hairpins up the mountainside to Prapoutel Les Sept Laux. There was a large empty parking area (GPS: 45.25716 5.99554) where we took some time deciding where to park to get a balance of having a level-ish spot with views. The views here were fantastic, with a 180° panorama looking out over the mountain peaks at a similar level to us and the tiny-looking houses in the valley below. I took a video to give some perspective of this which we uploaded to our Facebook page which if you’ve not seen you can view below. We didn’t know what was there until we arrived and we found it is entirely a ski resort that was closed for the season with all the hotels and shops shut. It resembled a ghost town with the only evidence of life being a handful of people we spotted doing maintenance work.



It had been dull with some rain showers but the next morning was bright and sunny so I took more photos of our parking spot before we moved on. Partway through our journey we stopped at a Super U for some shopping and found they had some good offers on so we came away with some treats; 8-pack boxes of both croissants and pain au chocolats, and a 12-pack of Mars bars that were surprisingly cheap. I stopped short of buying a Tassimo coffee machine although it was tempting at only €19.99 with €40 off! After some lunch in the car park I used the jet wash to give the van a long overdue wash which I’d been intending doing for a while. Rushing around doing it quickly getting myself dripping with sweat in the higher temperature of the day I managed to get it done using four €2 coins and got it looking much better without the 5-month layer of road grime.

At Ugine the main road was closed for roadworks along the pass, with the diversion taking us onto a twisty yellow road on our map which started narrow but turned out to be ok. The slow-going for us roads involved stopping numerous times to let following cars pass, some of which gave a toot, flash of hazards or wave, including the Gendarmarie amongst one bunch that I let by. We’d set several possible stopover places for the night but ended up staying at the first one which was a small aire with 7 spaces in Combloux (GPS: 45.89904 6.63310, Free), again another ski resort. Whilst the van was clean and it was sunny out I took the chance to remove some waxy blobs from the front of the van I guess were from a tree, and touched in some paint chips. While I did this Jo got on with the task of catching up writing the blog.

Some good re-use of old ski lift seats and snowboards in Combloux

From here it’s a bit more time in the mountains before we get into Switzerland.

- Matt
View from a picnic area next to the aire at Combloux

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