The streets of Bessons are reasonably busy, in a low-tech way. A row of men, some holding scaffolding tube, sit cross-legged on the pavements. It looks like some sort of rafting platform for the local white water rafting club? There is evidence that summer improvement campaigns from road repairs to safety barriers is taking place.
As we drive across the valley, following the pale blue river, we’re treated to new aire with toilet facilities and fresh water. Vin is suitably replenished. The road surface across all the passes are good, better than you’d expect in such remote places.
The scenery has a spare and minimal beauty and the buildings along the way, though few and far between, are very eye catching. The Maddeine pass at 1750m is tame in comparison to the others but equally captivating. On the way up the road turns sharply left. We spot something on our right but it quickly vanishes and trees block our view. Vin snakes up the road and whoosh, the walls of the old fort rear up along a prominent ridge to the north of the road. Further along we stop to admire the Fort de Therese.
At the next town we stopped for some freshly baked and crispy croissants. Unbeknown to us Marg our Tom Tom was having a technical hitch. Today, is this day she took one last breath but not before she sent us on a wild goose chase. She sends us across what can only be described as a sheep & cow path. After 30 minutes of a bum bruising ride, she beeped, switched off and went to gizmo heaven. That’s gizmo number three – TomTom, GoPro and reversing camera. They do say it comes in threes! Hopefully the end!
Back on tarmac and we switch to our alternative GPS source, CoPilot. Route set, off we go. But not long and we hit a road block. Viaduct de Andre is closed for repairs and the deviation sign…is? Where is the sign? No bloody sign, ahhh! We drive around and around the roundabout but blocks on all directions except the motorway. We have no choice but to join the motorway.
After several miles we turn off at the first point and arrive the pay station. An automated machine shows a toll fee of €8. Craig’s having none of this and gives the automated teller a piece of his mind. The barriers don’t budge. And neither did Craig. Man verses machine! He rants, raves and swears like a trooper. Still nada. He raises his fist, wags his finger and presses the call button. I am an angry man mode raises up a notch as he gets ready to be vocal in his broad Lancashire accent. Before he has chance to say “bonjour” the barriers raise. His face beams with delight and off he sets. Like a proud cock that won the fight, he puffs out his chest and says “we’ll try the call button again”.
We stop for a coffee break and Craig, he chills with a fag.
Our next leg of our journey is a haven for motorbikes with a few challenging mountain passes. Each beg velocity but demands attention and not just on the road. The constant rubbernecking at the jaw dropping scenery. From St Michels to the Laurette valley, the journey of mountain passes proves a worth prelude to the Glacier du Casset and Glacier La Meije towering the green valley. At the top we find a great map of all the mountain passes and the routes.
At the start of the incline we spot a bold red sign “danger”, Craig smiles “we will be fine”. Why do I not trust him? The Col du Telegraphe attracts cyclists in training, all preparing for the Tour de France in a few weeks time. Signs indicate we are in La Maurienne with the Massif de la Vanoise to our rear. Perched high on a ledge, the crude and old Fort du Telegraph built in 1804 to send messages between Paris and Milan. Further down the slopes bunkers and outlook posts strategically positioned to control the surrounding area.
At the top we enjoy our croissants and coffee before the long brutal descent at breakneck speed. Hairpin after hairpin we roll through the ski resort of Valloire, the golden valley. Through the deep wooded valley of the Arc with gushing mountain streams before we start another ascent.
Like a drum roll the final 20 kilometres of the drive travels up, over and around the perpetual snow capped mountains. The road to the pass is one hell of a ride up to 2642m. Quite bear rock with the huge red veined peak of the Grand Galibier rearing up on the right. At the top, a monument to commemorate Henri Desgranges the founder of the Tour de France. The ride down is butt clenching! Measured by chills down the spine, screams of “watch the bloody edge”, the twists and drops of the col pack a fearsome punch.
We park up in the green, floral valley with Glacier du Casset and Glacier La Meije standing guard. Another amazing drive and equally amazing stop. Just like the mountain pass todays been full of ups and downs but the reward is well worth it.