Sunday, July 15, 2007

European Journey: Part II

In my previous post, I said that normally I travel from Milan to Grenoble by car. I had made the journey a few times a prior this trip, and I knew that when you follow the obvious route - Turin, Féjus Tunnel, A43 and then A41 to Grenoble, the journey takes between four and five hours - depending on the traffic on the Turin ring road. This time, as I was travelling in high summer this, I decided that I would go a different, longer, more scenic route - if I had time. My idea was to go over the Mont Cenis pass (2,082m), then over the Col de L'Iseran (2770m), down past Val d'Isère, Bourg St Maurice, Moutiers and thence Grenoble. I thought this would take about six hours, although with mountain passes you can never be sure.

I left my morning meeting at about two-thirty; by three o'clock I was sitting in my hire car, talking myself into taking the long route. The weather in Milan was good, and the clouds over the mountains didn't look too bad.

The start of the journey ran westward along the Milan-Turin road - horrible as expected. The Turin traffic was bad and I didn't reach the A32 towards France until later than I had anticipated. The weather was also a little worse than it had been in Milan. However, as I couldn't see myself getting the opportunity to drive over the Alps in summer again, I decided to press on.

The SS25 was a good fun drive, my destination was not always clearly signposted so I was pleased I had my gps with me. The only memorable point before the Italian-French border was the Bar Cenisio. The border itself was unremarkable and unmanned. The road up the Lac do Mon Cenis was populated by keen cyclists.

Then the lake. There were very few people around; I'm sure if I did the journey a month later the area would have been packed with tourists but the end of June certainly wasn't high season. From the lake I drove on to Lanslebourg-Mont-Cenis from where there is an alternative, shorter route to Grenoble via Modane and the A43. The weather was beginning to look cloudy and there were warning about various road closures but I chose not to be seduced by Modane.

There were lots of roadworks as I climbed up to the pass. The road had only opened for the summer three weeks previously and it was evidently the time to repair the winter's damage. The temperature fell and the weather deteriorated as I climbed. At the top it was misty, snowing and subzero. I was very disappointed I couldn't see much - visibility was much worse than my photo suggests - I had been looking forward to comparing the Col in summer with the one I know from skiing there.

From the col I headed down towards Val d'Isère. The gps told me to go back down the way I'd just come up, trying to persuade me to do a U-turn as I drove down the blue piste - well road, but it is a blue piste in winder. Before long things improved, the gps came to its senses and the visibility improved. This is what I had wanted, seeing the pistes covered in grass, with the lifts looking very out of place.

I drove into into town to take a look at the Solaise bumps and La Face (above). La Face looked very lush. There was a lot of construction work going on, perhaps in preparation for the World Championships in 2009.

From Val d'Isère I drove past the ski resorts of Les Arcs, La Plagne, Les Trois Valleys. The roads seemed better than when I was last in the area, and there were certainly at lot less cars than in the winter. I was only overtaken once by a mad-man on a blind bend. Moutiers to Grenoble was straightforward and mundane, excellent roads and autoroutes. I made it to my hotel in time to have dinner before ten.

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