Route: Lucerne over the Brünig Pass, Interlaken, past Saanen, over the Col des Mosses (altitude: 1’445 m) to Aigle and on to Martigny, crossing the Col de la Forclaz (altitude: 1’527 m) to France to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc (altitude: 1’035 m)
Overnight stay: Camping Le Grand Champ, Chamonix
The day of departure has arrived. Finally. I have prepared long enough. The wanderlust is omnipresent while I pack up the last things. Excitement gives way to nervousness. A short walk with Romeo and then I can start. I still can’t believe it. Cloudless sky and warm temperatures. It couldn’t be better. It feels great to roll over the asphalt with the Defender. The steady vibrations of the diesel engine calm me down. The beast under the bonnet has awoken and hisses like a lion during the hunt. I grin like a little girl with chocolate ice cream in her hand. Finally holidays are here.
The Brünig Pass is fun to drive.With every bend I feel getting more distance from everyday life. While passing Lake Brienz and Interlaken memories come back: my last visit was years ago. However, I can still remember as if it was today. I was on my way to pick up Kimba. At that time he was a kitten. Today Kimba is already 8 years old and with his 10 kg a cat in his best age. I’ m playing the same music as I used to: Milow.
I follow the winding country road through the Saane valley. I pass cows and goats, which ruminate or lie lazily in the sun. In the distance I see the rocks of the nature park Gruyère. They are barren and sharp-edged and stab into the sky.
Tip: Gruyère is known as a hiking and holiday region. The cheese and the fondue are a culinary highlight.
The Col des Mosses offers a great view on this mountain massif. I decide for a walk to admire the panorama. The air up here is fresh and pleasant. It feels good after the heat in the valley. Despite the calm, I still feel stressed. I want to go to France today. Therefore I continue our trip to Aigle and Martigny.
Above Martingy the mountain road winds it’s narrow serpentines through the vineyards to the Col de la Forclaz. I enjoy a last view over Martigny up to the Lake Geneva. I’m now heading for France.
Before Chamonix I get into a thunderstorm with pouring rain. Unfortunately, I haven’t looked at the weather forecast before my departure. That makes me angry, because I did not want to spend the first evening in the rain. It is cold and uncomfortable. But the thunderstorm passes quickly. When I reach the campsite, the sun is shining again. Fortunately.
The Mont-Blanc rises above the campsite. With 4’810 m it is the highest mountain of the Alps. The glacier is clearly visible from here. Illuminated by the setting sun it shimmers reddishly. This is a nice end of my first day of travel.
My rating: 1 Star
Summary: I will not come back!
Route: Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy, via the Col du Petit St-Bernard (2’188 m) to Val d’Isère (1’785 m)
Accommodation: Camping les Richards in Val d’Isère
A wonderful morning awaits me. The rocks of Mont Blanc stand out sharp-edged from the deep blue sky and the sun reflects in the glacier. There is no cloud in the sky. It will be a beautiful summer day.
But it is bewitched:
Before getting back on the road I compare the route details of Google Maps and my Navi. Oh gosh, Google reports 45 min waiting time before the Mont-Blanc tunnel. I have to get out of here quickly so I don’t have to stand too long.
But I won’t get very far. After only a few kilometres I am already in the traffic jam. Mr. Google already reports 1.5 hours of traffic jams. We are standing in the blazing sun and it is getting warmer and warmer. Water bottles are distributed, a sign indicates 2 hours waiting time. Such a crap! If I had known that, I would have been driving through the tunnel the evening before. I check again on my map whether I might have overlooked a bypass route. No, unfortunately not. All possibilities would be no time saving, rather the opposite.
Pretty annoyed I reach the toll station as I see the price for the single trip: EUR 44!! I won’t come back in the nearest future. This is far to expensive.
On the other side of the tunnel I reach Italy. Finally no traffic anymore and the next pass can be crossed: Col du Petit St. Bernard. At the top of the pass I am already back in France. Feels like country hopping. 🙂
I continue to Val d’Isère. It is already later in the afternoon when I arrive at the camping Le Richards. I bump into a few colleagues with off-road vehicles and a roof tent. Seems like I’m in the right place here.
Also tonight I am not spared from the thunderstorm. I use the time of the rain to take a shower. Shortly before I crawl into the roof tent, the sky clears up. It will get cold and I take my second sleeping bag with me.
Good night 🙂
My rating: 4 stars
Route: Col de l’Iseran (2’770 m) past Lac du Mont Cenis to Susa in Italy, off-road then via Colle delle Finestre (2’176 m) to Strada dell’Assietta
Overnight stay: at the Strada dell’Assietta
The sun comes out behind the mountain and awakens me. I slept like a little marmot. A view from the roof tent and tears shoot into my eyes. So beautiful the blue sky. In contrast the meadows and rocks of the Col de l’Iseran. Fantastic!
Pack up and off we go. Today everything runs more smoothly. I feel great. Looks like I’ve arrived in the holiday.
I start today’s tour with the music of Unheilig “Geboren um zu leben”. The song brings back memories of my journey through the Andes in Peru. Today it leads over the highest pass of the Western Alps: Col de l’Iseran.
Marmota – the marmot. Again and again I can see marmots playing and sunbathing. Here it must have thousands. They are such cute little fur noses!
It’s busy on the road. Mainly motorcyclists. I let them pass, because I don’t want to spoil their fun. Again and again I stop to capture the beautiful landscape with my camera. I arrive in the ski area of Val d’Isere. It’s a sad sight. Where there should be green meadows, one sees only flattened brown grasses. The chair lift stations with their cold concrete walls look unreal.
There is a crowd at the top in front of the pass summit sign. Nevertheless I am able to make a photo in front of it. Undoubtedly there are too many people here. Besides it is chilly up here. So I get back on the road again.
The Lac du Mont Cenis is a surprise. The lake is beautifully nestled in the mountains. It is a reservoir. I know that there is an offroad track on the opposite side of the lake. Arriving at the crossroads I decide against it. There are far too many people: campers, day trippers, hikers. In short, hell is breaking loose. Therefore I bite the bullet and stay on the road. I will come back another time, I’m sure.
Below the dam I’ll find a place for a short picnic. Romeo and I are going for a short walk. There are some great places to stay overnight. After half an hour we continue for today. The expectation makes me grin, I am curious like a little girl. My first offroad pass in this vacation is coming closer:
I’m quite surprised: he ascent to Colle delle Finestre is very well signposted in Susa. There are 26 serpentines on my navigation system, a blue zigzag. It’s fun to turn bend after bend upwards. The asphalt road is single lane. The hairpin bends are partly so narrow that I can’t take them in one go. The diesel engine purrs reassuringly and powerfully. From the pits sounds “Fahrtwind” by Christina Stürmer.
When a small parking bay appears, I decide for a short stop. My stomach is growling and I realize that I haven’t eaten for hours. A sandwich would be a great snack. One sight on Romeo and I can see that he feels the same.
I find a hiking trail and follow the sign with the inscription: Monumento Sacro Cuore Di Gesu. Can I have a look into the valley from there? The path leads through the pine forest. There is no wind. My steps are dampened by the fir needles on the forest floor. The unique smell of the pine forest fills my senses. Fresh, resinous, a feeling of peace and freedom. I inhale deeply. No sound except the slight movements of the trees. When I reach the vantage point, I am relaxed. Walking feels good. The view is fabulous. The curves have already screwed us far upwards.
This place has something magical. I take a seat cross-legged on the ground in the shade of a pine tree. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of nature. After 10 minutes of meditation I feel like newborn and fit for the onward journey.
The gravel road begins now. With Unheilig “Fernweh” I continue. I leave the forest. The path leads me past meadows and mountain huts. Always further up. Narrow, steep serpentines and long, flat passages alternate. Thunderclouds hang over the mountains. I reach the pass summit and in the distance I can hear thunder.
I’m astonished. From where do all these people come up here? The small parking lot is full. The road from the other side seems to be easier. A look down confirms my assumption. I notice the confused, partly admiring looks that follow me. In deed The Rolling Beast is a spectacular sight, full of dust and mud. With a big grin in my face I’m standing in front of the Colle delle Finestre sign capturing this moment with my camera.
The thunderstorm is approaching and wafts of mist are pulling over the ridge. I better drive on.
It is already afternoon. My concentration is dropping. Not a good condition to continue driving. I am already on the Grenzkammstrasse. The gravel road runs directly at the slope and is mostly single-lane. After a curve I discover a long extended passing bay. Is this a good site to spend the night? After a walking tour I decide: yes, an ingenious place for the night.
The thunderstorm has passed. It clears up again. I feel like on the roof of the world above the valley. Calls from birds of prey, the whistling of marmots and the rustling of animals in the grass. Nothing more can be heard. I close my eyes capturing this moment for the future. It will be a quiet night. Romeo and I climb into the roof tent and fall asleep after a few minutes exhausted.
Route: Strada dell’Assietta to Sestriere, continue to Briancon past the Lac de Serre-Poncon to Seyne.
Overnight stay: Camping Les Prairies in Seyne
In the night the fog moves through the valley and only the sounds of animals can be heard. There are supposed to be wolves here too. At night I dream of an encounter. Unfortunately it only remains a dream. In my roof tent I feel safe and the night is restful. I wake up without an alarm clock. The sun expels the last wafts of mist over the valley. A mystical sight and goosebump moment. Not only the morning coolness makes me shiver. I am grateful for my warming jacket.
Marmots are watching me from afar. They are lying lazily on the stones, warming their bellies in the sun. A very curious one dares to take a look over the edge of the path. The hunter in Romeo has awoken. Only the leash stops him from hunting. The marmot is fleeing across the meadow into its cave. It won’t be the last one today.
It is a difficult and controversial topic: which tyre pressure for which terrain. Today I decide to deflate air to 2.3 bar. 0.7 bar less than normal. A test. I am curious.
Full of excitement I start my day in fantastic weather. Today I am accompanied by Sunrise Avenue “Unholy Ground” – the live album. Behind every bend there is a new panorama waiting for me. The gravel road winds along the mountain slope. Motorcyclists overtake me. Also a German group from Hessen. I reach the pass summit, Colle dell’Assietta and meet them again.
“Wow, you are travelling alone?“
“No, I’m not alone, my dog Romeo is with me. We are on our way to Portugal“.
“But that’s quite a detour.“
I grin back cheekily.
“The direct way would be too easy and boring. I’m looking for adventures. And also I’ve always wanted to drive the Strada dell’Assietta since a long time.“
Nodding his head, he confirms: “Yes, once in a life you need to drive it!”
Asking by pointing to the roof tent: “Do you sleep up there in the roof tent?”
I nod. “Sure!“
“Aren’t you scared?“
“No, why should I?“
He thinks about it. “Well, that someone will attack you.“
“No, I always stand in remote places and mostly hidden. I’m not afraid. Besides, I can look really bad!”
I try to put on an evil look.
He laughs loudly.
“Ok, of course that’s an argument!”
We say goodbye a short time later and I drive on. But I’m sure we’ll see each other a few more times. Because I’m quite slow. Shortly before Monte Genevris the Hessian motorcycle friends overtake me again.
Time for a break. Monte Genevris offers itself for it. In the distance I can see a white Defender. He is getting closer. I’m looking forward to meeting a colleague. It looks so easy how he is winding up the serpentines.
After about 50 km the offroad fun is already over again. After a few kilometres on the tarred road I already miss the gravel road.
I am looking for a compressor to inflate my tires again. The driving feeling is spongy with the low air pressure. I better not to drive over 80. But there is no gas station in sight. In Briancon a short pit stop in a small workshop helps me out. I am served by the boss personally. 10 minutes later I am on the road again.
Lots of people and cars on the street, I’m back in civilization. Wish me back into the loneliness of the mountains. Shortly before the Lac de Serre-Poncon I’m in the traffic jam. I leave the main street to follow a narrow mountain road to the south. And it’s worth it. A breathtaking view down to the lake. For the next visit I have to plan more time.
As every day, there is another thunderstorm today. It’s raining cats and dogs and the water comes down the rock walls in torrents. I am glad that the deep puddles are no problem for the Defender. As fast as the thunderstorm was there, it’s over again.
My supplies are exhausted. The tank is almost empty. The search for a gas station and a supermarket lets me drive more than 40 km on country roads. Slowly I get nervous, because of the yellow spare light which has been on for quite some time. Seyne is the first place I find what I’m looking for. Just in time! And also a camp site is closed by.
With glowing eyes I remember the wonderful day at the Assietta Grenzkammstrasse. With the feeling of still driving on the offroad track I fall asleep.
My rating: 4 stars
Route: from Seyne via the Gorges du Verdon, the Route des Crêtes to Riez
Overnight stay: Camping Rose de Provence in Riez
This morning I take it easy and enjoy the hot coffee in tranquillity. Memories of my journey over the Assietta are still present and I again get goose bumps. An indescribable day, which I will never forget again, I am sure!
However, I have also planned something exciting for today: Gorges du Verdon in southern France. I start full of anticipation.
Just before Moustiers-Sainte-Marie a shock: a deer cow crosses the road about 10 m in front of me. The size and the speed are very impressive. The road here is curvy and narrow and I am slowly on my way. Fortunately! But the shock sits deep. I stop at the next lane to calm my wobbly knees. After a few deep breaths I slow down and 10 minutes later my pulse is back to normal. I continue.
From Moustiers-Ste-Marie, the road leads steadily uphill with many curves through the fragrant pine forest. Again and again I can see the turquoise lake “Lac de Saint-Croix” in the distance. A bruise in the distance as if a giant had spilled its inkwell.
The narrow road winds high up along the rocks. I use a narrow parking bay at the roadside to take a look into the depths. Another goose bump moment! Fascinating what nature has accomplished. The river Verdon has already made an exciting journey over rapids through the gorge before it flows into the deep blue lake.
I am not the only one who wants to enjoy the view. There is a lot going on here and I feel uncomfortable, so I hurry to drive on.
Deep gorges, steep roads and birds of prey – there is much to see around the Gorges du Verdon. The winding road offers impressive views over the canyon.
After a short refueling stop in Palud-sur-Verdon I turn off onto the Route de Crêtes. A road high above the canyon. Again and again I stop to take pictures. The white limestone rocks stand in contrast to the green bushes, deep down I can spot the blue river.
After the last big viewing platform it gets calmer. The road leads one-way, steep and curvy through the barren limestone rocks. On my map this part is marked as dangerous. Not a challenge for me as a mountaineer and offroad driver. The route goes through tunnels carved out of rock, hairpin bends and steep passages. From my pits sounds Juanes. I feel as if I had danced for hours to his Latino rhythms – sweaty, heated and excited by the impressions. No wonder, the temperatures are over 35C°.
The road gets two lanes again starting from the restaurant Chalet De La Maline. The Sentier Martel hiking trail leads from here into the gorge. Unfortunately it is closed at the moment and I only can look from above.
The trip goes back towards the main road and my starting point Moustiers-Ste-Marie.
More information about my trip including route map, video and pictures can be found here (article in progress).
I long for an ice-cold beer and a refreshing shower. Too tired to find me a free place to stay, I go to the campsite Rose de Provence in Riez. A suitable place is quickly found. The cool beer feels refreshing – finally. The beer tickles the throat and the bottle is soon empty.
Finally, connect the power cables to keep the beer cool. It is easier said than done! The cable drum and my gas stove are in the roof box and the lock is on strike. I don’t even get the key into the lock. And yes, it’s the right one! This morning it was still possible. Swearing and scolding I stand on the ladder and shake the lock. WD40 – Creeping oil – the remedy for striking screws and squeaking doors. Sprayed neatly into the castle. Waiting briefly – time for a second cold beer. Next attempt and the key can be turned easily. More cold beer and a warm meal are within reach again.
After a refreshing shower I enjoy the warm summer evening. The weather lighting in the sky is fascinating. No thunder can be heard, only the flashes of lightning in the distance give a glimpse of the thunderstorm. Around midnight I crawl into the roof tent with Romeo and fell immediately asleep.
My rating: 3 stars
Algarve – Offroad in the backcountry