July 2010

part 3: Toulouse - Pont Saint Esprite - Troistorrents

June is about to end, same as my stay at Barcelona. I load once more my bike early in the morning trying to skip the heatwave and I am already full of sweat before hitting the start button. I take the C55 heading North without anything special on the way. Via C16 I continue North and fortunately I leave the heat behind as I go up the Pyrenees. After a point though as I was approaching the beautiful “Cadi-Moixero” National Park, I actually start feeling cold as I wear nothing under my summer jacket. As I start thinking about stopping to wear something more it's already too late: I enter a tunnel that I hadn't noticed earlier in the map which is actually a 5km long fridge where I froze my ass off and felt like it took me an age to make it to the other side following the speed limit while ducking behind the windscreen to keep me warm.

I continue on N152 in a pleasant and flat scenery with nice contrasts of white and blue in the sky. The architecture of the houses shows me that I must be close to France and a bit later I pass the French border at Bourg Madam. It is time for the Ν20 now to take me North and while the weather seems to get worse with dark clouds in the sky the route gets more and more beautiful following a river for a while. If you are not in a hurry after Porta don't do the mistake to continue on N20 and enter the toll tunnel. Take the N320 instead which follows a much more scenic route going up the mountain through Porte Puymorens. I make one more deviation a bit later and take the Ν22 in order to go to Andora. This road leads high up to Pas de la Casa at 2400 m, the watershed of Pyrenees. Interesting route but not under this heavy rain that wets me now hence I soon take the road back to Toulouse.

Here I am on the N20 again, leaving the cold rainy mountains behind for a more friendly landscape. After a lot of km in flat cultivated fields without any bends I arrive at Toulouse. Now I have to find my connection there, Clement, who runs with his family a youth hostel there and offered to host me. Being too busy at their overbooked place in the center of the city his father takes over to lead me to their other hostel. He on his tiny scooter, me following on my full loaded bike. He drives like a maniac flat out all the time filtering cars like crazy and I had to undust my Athens heavy traffic skills to catch him after so many civilised km in open roads. On every red light I managed to stop beside him he always gives me the "put you in trouble eh? haha" smile. To add more on how funny the whole thing is, his son is the perfect opposite of him. We arrive in one piece after this time trial style riding and he shows me my bed. Before I put my stuff in place he hands me a beer straight from the fridge. I can't spare you the spoiler fact that he kept doing that every single time he met me during my stay. What a guy!

As I'm unpacked and ready I leave the hostel to walk the city. And beautiful she is!

The local cathedral of Saint Etienne impresses me, especially at night with this blue light glowing behind its large windows, unfortunately not showing in this picture:

Outside the cathedral I spot this wonderful Porsche - such a time machine scene:

This city is really very beautiful and personally speaking maybe she was the one who touched me the most. Really felt like "she" to me. Could be the old part of the city to blame for this, or the nice parks, or even more the Garonne river offering unique colours day and night.

You can start your walk close to the sunset when colours are more warm:

Then pick a bridge of your choice (mine was Pont Neuf) to watch the sun flooding the sky with purple:

And for dessert enjoy the smart lighting:

Totally magical.

One night, as I walk back to the hostel solo I see cars with flags of Ghana waved by screaming passengers who were almost upset that I look so indifferent to their happiness. Next day I learned that Ghana had won USA in football so I could finally partially understand their excitement. The world football championship was still going on and I was experiencing screaming fans from town to town but this was the last thing that I was interested in.

My days at Toulouse are over, June is over too and I have to thank Clement and his father for their amazing hospitality before I continue my way East. The route is easy with low traffic on D888 and I enjoy the shade as there's lots of trees on both sides of the road:

The route is crossing lowland fields and beautiful villages for long but later the scenery changes, especially as I leave A75 on exit 39 to take the N88 driving east:

Higher altitude, more trees, less heat and the first dark clouds appear in the sky. I take the N106. This road crosses the Cevennes which is a very beautiful forest making the route more exiting. Somewhere in the middle of this forest I hear a thunder so loud as if it ignited just an inch above my head. This was the starting gun for a heavy rain that doesn't allow me to enjoy the whole scenery as much as I want to. It goes on on for quite a few km when I finally leave the mountain and the cold back for more friendly lowland places once again and via D6 I arrive at Pont St Esprit where I decide to stay overnight. Definitely not because I am attracted by this town - it's actually by far the least attractive I've seen in France. However, I had already a lot of km on my back and some of them under heavy rain so I needed a rest and this place is like a hostel village. I pick a mediocre hotel and when I ask the owner for a place to park my bike he leads me to his house's yard where his cute kids are playing. Fortunately they didn't play with my bike while I wasn't there so I am able to leave that place next morning.

It's a new day, it's a new destination and I'm feeling good. Perfect weather definitely helps for the latter. My goal is to make it up to Le Mutaret, a village North East of Grenoble. The first km didn't have anything special to remember except some lavender fields which I couldn't pass without a necessary photo:

Next interesting moment was after Puy Saint Martin where D6 follows a very beautiful route that goes uphill and after some bends behind the trees I see a forest of wind generators. I experienced an even greater surprise later on D70 after Mirabel et Blacons. This is a relatively narrow road that crosses a full green forest where you often drive under the shadow of the trees which is really a joy on a hot sunny day.

That's the beauty of riding in the Vercors National park:

Grenoble looked nice to me on first glance while crossing it without a long stop and few tens of km later on D525 the landscape is once again full green and nice. After Saint Pier d' Alevard I make a stop at the lake Bassin du Flumet, a must relaxing pit stop. Images might convince you:

Only a few km later I am at La Mutaret, a wonderful location where I am welcomed by the lovely family of Simon and Estella plus their two kids. They all do their best to make me feel better than home. I have the attic of their great and spacious house all for myself and later in the afternoon they invite me for a BBQ that took place at a nearby village up at 1000 m where I had some delicious local food:

Next morning I have to leave one more fantastic place and a few lovely people behind. The weather is perfect, Simon is staring at my loaded and ready to go bike and I can read his mind that he would like to ride his as well (he hadn't done so for the last 2 years being a busy father).

Next destination: Troistorrents, a Swiss village close to the French border.

Driving on D1212 heading North-East the landscape is rather pleasant. Once more I ride my bike in a forest with rich vegetation while various tunnels make the road even more scenic. The pleasant experience on D1212 is complete after I pass through Megeve which is located at a nice spot with great view. Next km are also nice but the exceptional spot is on the E25 close to Mont Blank tunnel. Crossing the tunnel is not the best thing to do especially on a bike but this spot on E25 close to Less Bossons gives you the chance to picture the snow and the Glacier of ice that goes down the mountain like a sculpture river. I pull over and immediately capture it:

I get closer to the Swiss border and after beautiful but touristy Chamonix the D1506 takes me to Switzerland in the most pleasant way, following the Arve river and going uphill on nice full green bends. After the border the 203 (Le Plan) is at least as scenic. Here's a couple of shots 2km into Switzerland close to Gorge Mysterieuses:

It's the first meters ever that my tires roll over Swizz soil and I am already amazed. Is there a country designed to be a bikers heaven? This must be. Few km later but few hundreds of meters higher I reach the Col de la Forclaz which lies just over 1500 meters. One stop there is not a bad idea at all. I am lucky enough to see some antique cars that made it up to the pass and their owners kept them in immaculate condition making the whole view there even more attractive. Look at this beauties under the Swiss sun:

A few more km after Forclaz though there was an even more impressive view waiting for me: The first curves going downhill unveil little by little, each one from different altitude, the valley – plateau where Martigny is located. This is an absolute must and the only bad thing is that you can't choose which spot is the best one to take your photos:

I leave Martigny behind and via 21 I go North till I arrive at Troistorrents, a beautiful village in a great location but this is something typical for Switzerland as it is well known for the beauty of its countryside. Tobias and Arianne are my next hosts at their lovely house (again the latter is no surprise in Switzerland) which totally matched them being the loveliest hosts I could have there. The view of the balcony offers all shades of green:

They both did everything possible to make my stay there a great rejoicing pit stop and I really needed one as I was already 2 weeks on the road. The BBQ we had on the same night was very tasty and with a little help from the red wine I had a sweet deep sleep.

Tobias, like me, is a dedicated biker so next morning we take our bikes for a trip up to St. Bernard pass. We take the 21 back South and after Martigny we are once again riding in a gorgeous mountainous route. The higher we go the colder it gets and after passing a few tunnels we see more and more snow:

As we arrive at the Grand St. Bernard pass around 2500m above sea level, I can't resist writing my name on the snow in the middle of the summer:

This is not even exotic though compared to the insane beauty of this pass. Let the pictures do the talking:

This mirror lake reflecting the surrounding rich beauty will keep a top place in my memory forever. As we take a walk around my luck offers me the chance to see the famous local breed of dogs as it happened to take them out for a walk (normally you pay a fee to visit them):

A ride around the winding road of the pass offers us even more riding pleasure and more stunning pictures (yep, that's me on the right one):

When we thought we were done (tough as it feels like you can spend the whole day riding up and down there or watching the lake) we ride the way back down to the warm hug of lake Geneva for some sunset view:

On our way back home at Troistorrents we meet heavy rain with drops big as hazelnuts. With a little patience under the roof of a gas station we skipped part of it. No worries, I've been more than lucky so far to complain anyway.

Click below to continue: