Driving Through the French Alps
We knew it would be slow but we still underestimated the time it would take. It was an amazing road and car test through the French Alps – hairpin turns going up and down, using the gears for control in the corners, gripping the “holy shit” handle for dear life, being crushed by quickly engaged seat belts in the turns. We tried to capture the roller coaster ride on video but this might be one instance where you needed to be there!
Our first brief stop on our trip through the French Alps was in Aix Des Bain. It is another little town on an Alps lake known for its hot springs but these were closed on Monday so it would be a brief stop. We followed the sign to “les plages” but this one turned out to be a water park with a paid entrance – so we drooled thru the bars for a bit and then sat in the grass with our pastries and water.
The route through the French Alps took us past Chambery, Grenable, Gap and Digne Les Bains enroute to Nice. As much as you could call a switchback road “straight”, we drove pretty much straight thru with only brief bathroom stops (usually on the shoulder between the car doors).
As we were driving along we caught a brief glimpse of parachutes along the mountains in St. Hilaire de Couvert. As a former skydiver, I always perk up when I see parachutes in the sky. As we drove into the town we could see them swooping overhead.
They were large gliding chutes that allowed the skydivers to stay in the air on the currents for a long time. While there was a helicopter pad at the loading zone, we remained uncertain whether the parachutes were deployed from an airplane, a helicopter or as base jumps from the cliffs. The landing pad “bullet” sat right beside the road so we could watch as they maneuvered to a perfect landing after drifting down on the mountain currents. We spent a great break from our trip through the French Alps watching the parachutes dance over the mountains.
As we careened along the mountains and valleys through the French Alps we tried to take pics and video. It was a very strong reminder of our experience driving thru the Rockies which started our summer this year. Most of the pics were not unsurprisingly similar – except for the many nestled jewels of very old architecture and the many small towns all along the mountain routes. We saw a castle at Entrevaux built into the mountain side with terraced properties surrounding the “lord’s manor”. We stopped to take pics of a castle or fortress perched on a high spit of vertical rock – after missing the pic several times out of the window.
The town of Gap seemed to be a transition point on our trip through the French Alps – from leaving the Alps to entering the French Var mountain region. It offered us a brief valley respite from constant up and down and turns.
We had two objectives to asses on the tail end of our trip through the French Alps. We wanted to be in Nice before dark to ease our search for our hotel. And I had wanted to do a “detour” to visit the “Grand Canyon” of France. We had two paths to Nice but we finally decided we had to get off the “more” mountainous route and bypass the gorge because it was just getting too late. The Gorge would stay on the “to do” list.
The trip through the French Alps had been pretty uneventful from a navigation perspective, with signs that were easy to follow from leaving Annecy to arriving in “centreville” in Nice. Getting to the hotel however would prove to be another matter – especially when travelled by a tired and grumpy driver and passenger. We would later understand that our job was made more difficult by the fact that the hotel web directions were done assuming we came into downtown from the side opposite to where we entered and the fact that there were two casinos and some direction instructions said make the turn “after the casino”. The signs were dark or non-existent at most intersections – a distinct difference from the great signage of Paris.
Traffic anarchy still reined – with “pietons” (pedestrians) oblivious and motorcycles / scooters going where and when they wanted. We did a few trips around the same construction zone before we got our bearings and found the hotel. As anticipated the hotel had no parking. While we could park overnight on the street until 9am, the tiny spot left on the block by the hotel was just not going to be big enough. So we unloaded and headed the 5 blocks up to a public parking garage. We hoped the car would still be there in the morning!
Have you done the drive through the French Alps? Did you see the para gliders? What gems did you find on the route?