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Climbing in the Alps

In queue for Tende Tunnel

Barchetta stopover

Towels dry at Italian coffee stop

Mist in the valley

Tunnel under Col de Galbier

Top of Cl de Madeleina

Lost, or is it lunch?

Ferrari, Fiat, Alfa

Ferrari in the snow

With friend Hervé

Tyre replacement Pontarlier

Rover needs fronts as well

How much a litre? Richard fills the Alpha
Graeme Gallaoway's Anglia
Montagnes de France  - 24 September to 7 October 2015
Troisième Étape - St. Jean, Pontarlier, & Wissembourg 
Story Jim Paterson.
Photos Jim Paterson, Mags Campbell, Dave Spence, Louise Wall

2500 miles through France, Spain, Andorra and Italy crossing countless 'cols' and driving great roads. This was Montagnes de France 2015.

Menton Thunderstorms hit party goers
I reported in the Nuit du Mentonnais story that while Simon and myself were getting wet in the Maritime Alps the rest of our party stayed in Menton, eating out for dinner in the evening. Well the thunderstorms that caught us up in the mountains had swept along the Côte d'Azur, reportedly the worst rain in 40 years, causing havoc, even loss of life in Cannes. Returning to our hotel the party goers found the streets awash like rivers and the rain heaving it down. With no waterproofs or umbrella the end result was as shown. A little more than slightly damp you could say. But they managed a smile all the same. A hot shower on the cards I would say.

Menton to St. Jean de Maurienne
On Sunday 4th October, suitably dried out and with the sun shining, the storm had passed over during the night though plenty of devastation in its wake, we started our tour north back into the Alps.

The start of our 230 mile journey seemed a bit of déjà vu for Simon and myself, heading back up to Sospel. However we took the north east route to Breil sur Roya, over the Col de Brouis, 879m (2900ft). Heading through the Gorge de Saorgé, hugging the La Roya river to Tende before crossing over to Italy.

On offer was the original old Col de Tende, also known as La ca Canelle climbing up to 5900ft, but that has a very loose surface near the top and suitable for four wheel drive, high clearance vehicles and motorcycles only. Ferrari, Alfa and Sprite don't meet that criteria. In the end we all opted for the Tunnel de Col du Tende. At 3200m (nearly 2 miles) long it cuts through the mountain to appear in Italy. A new tunnel was being constructed and with one way contraflow traffic we had a 25 minute wait before our turn.

We all met up at a small café for a break, Italian coffee this time, and continued  through the Italian Alps, up above the snow line to the Colle dela Madeleina, where the pass rises to 1996m (over 6500ft). We thought this would be the highest, but we were wrong! The peak marked the border back into France. 

Our route north took us through several ski resorts and over the Col de Vars. At 2108m (6916ft) marked another high peak of the tour. The 2011 Trans Alpina tour crews remembered this one. Reaching Guillestre we drove through the Gorges du Guil, pretty tight it was too, and the Combe du Queyras. To reach Briancon on our route we climbed over the Col d'Izoard 2360m (7743ft). Was this the highest on the tour? Well we had a few more to climb. Col du Lautaret 2058m (6750ft), Col de Galbier 2142m (7027ft), though some took the tunnel through the mountain, Col du Telegraphe (1566m (5138ft). It was a long descent down to the river valley to follow alongside the River L'Arc and Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, our ovenight stop.

The party was split over two hostelries and our party enjoyed a great meal in a nearby restaurant, close to the hotel.
St. Jean de Maurienne to Pontarlier

Monday 5th offered us an option for the start of the 190 mile day. Either climb the Col de Chaussy  1533m (5029ft) with 17 lacets (those hairpins) in the first 3km, up an almost vertical cliff face. Fine for Tour de France cyclists, but we all decided to take the alternative, an easier start to St. Francois-Longchamps. 

Top of Col de Madelaine
It was not long before we started climbing again, this time to the top of Col de la Madelaine 1993m (6538ft). It was glorious sunshine as we reached the peak, with views across to Mont Blanc, the highest peak in Europe at 4809m (15778ft). My MX5 co-driver, wife Rona referred to it as the little mountain in the distance!

My French friend Hervé, who used to live in Scotland for many years, and now lives nearby in France , arrived from the opposite side on his motorcylce, to meet us at the summit. Col de Madelaine that is, not Mont Blanc!  Photo shoot over we headed on with Hervé and caught up with all th news at a coffee stop on the descent.

Our route continued to Albertville, Annecy and Bellegarde-sur-Valserine, close to the Swiss border at Geneva. Following the Jura mountains to Morez and finally Pontarlier.

It was here that Richard in the Alfa Spider spotted the Ferrari rear tyres looking somewhat bare. Yup they were nearly down to the canvas, the result of Don's enthusiastic driving over the Col's. Richard also noticed that Dave's Rover 75 front tyres were approaching a similar state. Time to seek out the local 'Kwik Fit' garage. Luckily help was at hand, although Ferrari tyres rated at 200kph (125mph) were not in stock, they did have something suitable. I joked with Don that 30kph tractor trailer tyres were cutting it a bit close!

Pontarlier to Wissembourg

Tuesday 6th, the longest leg of our tour at over 270 miles. Leaving the Jura mountains we crossed the 'Belfort gap' to reach the Vosges mountains. Passing Belfort we are entering the Alsace region where the town names sound very Germanic. Not unusual as this part of France was once part of Germany and has been fought over many times over past centuries.

After passing Cernay we were into the 55 mile Route des Cretes (Route of the Peaks) climbing the Col du Grand Ballon (great round topped mountain) 1343m (4406ft). Terrible heavy rain and mist on this section, so no great views today. Most of the peaks were 'tiddlers' compared to what we have crossed so far. The Col de la Schlucht  at 3737ft, and Col de Bonhomme at a mere 3114ft.

We were passing Molsheim, home of Bugatti on our way to Saverne. I had expected a call from Ettore to say my Veyron was ready to collect, but alas it was not to be. The final leg took us round Hagenhau, home town of 9 times World Rally Champion, Sebastian Loeb, finally reaching our stop over at Wissembourg where a superb evening dinner awaited us.
Next -  The final Leg, Wissembourg to Reims

Updated 31 October 2015