Craig is up early and off like a shot taking Eor for a spin up Col du Galibier. Me and the dudes opt for a morning wake up of yoga and doga. Once everybody is suitably awake we tootle off up Col du Lauteret. Originally, an old Roman road built to service trade from Milan to Vienna. Lautaret derives its name from the small temple (altaretum) built by the Romans in homage to the mountains. Compared to the previous passes this is easy but equally pretty.
By lunch, we are parked up on a free aire in Briancon. Its place is OK but not getting great vibes from the aire, so we opt for a whistle stop tour. Out pops Eor and off we zoom around the new town and then up to the old quarters. We lock Eor to a lamppost and go for a toot.
Briancon’s current claim to fame is its Europe’s highest town. Rewind 4 centuries and the Roman fortified town was having a bit of a makeover. Walls, gates and ramparts on every peak and point above the Durance and Guisane valleys (click to enlarge).
We enter ville haute through one of its four gates. Immediately it feels like a labyrinth of narrow cobbled streets with characterful buildings. We zig zag from street to street until we find another city gate. As we peer through we can see a huge fortification on the adjacent peak. And between us a plunging valley with a stunning bridge. We reenter the old town from the lowest point and make our way up along grande gargouille street. Either side eighteenth-century shops, cafes and houses.
Back at base and the weather is turning sticky. We are hot, the dudes are hot and forecast is hotter! Its registering a heatwave in the temp gauge at 34! We all turn to jelly as the temperature continues rises and it gets very humid. Time to drive and crack open the window for a cooling breeze. We set off for L’Izoard Pass.
We wind our way up the pass and straight away it feels different. More of a forest feel. Across the valley a terrific panorama unfolds. On the other side of the peak the natural Park du Queyras. The mountains rise in a series of smooth columns, sinuous ravines and needle-sharp pinnacles. Their dark vertical veins streaked with waterfalls. What makes this place different from the rest is that the tremendous height is so close. The landscape feels very different – harsh, severe and arid. Bare rock pinnacles and jagged peaks and sheer slopes of precariously balanced boulders.
As our motorhome rolls down the valley the road is smooth but the precariously balanced pinnacles provide a sense of unease. We wiggle from 2200m to 1300m then over the bridge and through the tunnel.
The valley narrows behind us until the thin, jagged pinnacles disappear altogether. Through another bridge and we find ourselves descending through a tight, treeless gorge onto whose steep sides the track hangs by its fingernails. Craig never un-furrows his brow. He’s less concerned by the precipice below than the rock wall above. Recently descended loose shale lies scattered across the road and he peers up in the air, accelerating forward at the slightest trickle of dust.
We’re all relieved as Guil Gorge widens and we slowly wind down to river level. Hugging the torrent of a river we snake along the dark shadows of the mountains, the low brown hills, and the long and winding road that twists and turns. We head over the tame Vars pass with every intension of stopping in Vars. However, the aire was extremely dusty and with a change in the weather to light rain and gusts we departed Vars in a cloud of dust.
Not long and we spot a crumbly fort in the distance. We head on over and pull up in the deserted car park and look up. The slopes lead the eye remorselessly upwards to the solitary fort of Tournoux.
The information board is in French and our French is not great. However, process of elimination tells us it was built in 1843 and if you want a tour go see tourist office. We park on the foundations of the military building and enjoy our evening meal to the sound of a thousand crickets.
Our Bumble wild camping at La Condamine Chatelard GPS position: N045.951260, E006.738647