Best Drives – The Col de la Madeliene
Ultimately known as one of the best drives in the French Alps, we were about to do the famous Col de la Madeliene.
This was part of a Summer tour of the Savoie region where we were about to leave the small town of Bozel. Soon our journey would take us on a route renowned for its cycling history, passing some of the most spectacular scenery in the process.
It would take us to the dizzy heights of 1993m amongst rolling green meadows, lush landscapes and stunning mountain peaks. How exciting – we couldn’t wait to get started!
Chores came first
First though, we had some chores to take care of. But fortunately for us, the towns of Moutiers and Salins-les-Thermes provided that ideal opportunity.
With empty cupboards and a bag full of washing, we needed food and fresh laundry. That’s where the Super U came in. Don’t you just love the French supermarkets?
There are so many now with a laundrette or Laverie – right there in the car park. So, with the washing in the machine and the supermarket shop finished, all we had to do was find a service dump to sort out the motorhome waste.
Of course, that didn’t take us long! No, before we knew it, the fresh water was filled, the toilet and tank emptied and we were on our way again. Oh France – we do love you!
Now we were ready for one of the best mountain drives – the fabulous Col de la Madeliene.
Fire wood and a campfire
Strangely enough, we wouldn’t get to the Col de la Madeliene quite yet. That’s because no sooner had our wheels started turning towards the route, than we happened to spot a wooden sign saying “P Camping Car”.
Well, what a fabulous little place this was. Resembling more like a wild-camping spot than an Aire. Seemingly in a quaint location below an old village, yet benefiting from an isolated feel. Taking our chances, we parked up in one of the parking bays.
Alongside us, was a grassy area complete with a picnic bench, bin and guess what? It only had its very own campfire with a metal grill for cooking and a log store!
Not to mention this was all free and provided by the local community. It was gorgeous to say the least.
Bonneval village – Col de la Madeliene
Before settling down to a night beside the campfire, we thought we’d set out on foot and take a peek at the village.
A short walk up yet another hill, brought us to the centre of Bonneval. This traditional, almost unchanged character village of rustic chalets and a pretty church also had enough vegetable plots to feed the five thousand. Last but not least – it also had a bar – now you’re talking!
Settling on the outdoor terrace with a Vin Blanc and a Bier, we happily enjoyed the sleepy surroundings. Best of all – for the bargain prices of just 3.60 Euro! Who said France was pricey?!
We felt a bit guilty though at these low prices and a free Aire in the process. So we happily handed over 5 Euro instead to the grateful bar-owner.
Now all that was left was to light the campfire and spend the evening under a blissful starry night with the sound of crackling wood and owls for company.
Lunch Stop at the télecabine
After a lazy breakfast alongside the embers of last nights campfire, the Col de la Madeliene soon called. So off we went. Driving up along a scenic mountain road before stopping for a picnic lunch at the Télecabine Celliers.
Here the cable car climbs the stunning mountain landscapes, to the well known ski resort of Valmorel above. It’s actually an Aire with a new service area too, so it would probably also be a good place for the Winter ski season.
After lunch, we soon felt the need for a little exercise, so followed a walking sign above the village. As usual in these parts, a steep hill and narrow path soon lead us higher into dense woodland. Later we emerged into a rustic hamlet further down the pass.
Phew! We hadn’t realised it would be such a hilly one and half hours! Anyway, we’re always grateful for a stretch of the legs!
Now it was time to get settled back in the campervan and continue on our journey.
Best Drives – The Col de la Madeliene
Back on the mountain pass, the road now started winding, bending and spiralling around the mountain side. Soon we were rewarded with breathtaking views across the mountains, meadows and villages.
For some reason the roads were surprisingly quiet. Maybe it’s because we were late in the day. Either way, it meant for a leisurely drive without the feeling of rushing or missing out on the scenery.
We’d expected it to be much busier, after all this was August – peak holiday season and fabulous weather too.
Because of this, we were able to stop from time to time, take a few photos and enjoy the views. The only company being an odd cyclist, motorbike and the mountain cattle.
It wasn’t long before the graceful bends of the mountain road grew less and less. Ahead of us, in the distance appeared a more open sky. Now we could sense the summit, coming closer along with a coolness to the early evening air.
Then we saw it, the summit was finally upon us. This flat, level plateau thankfully gave way to a large parking area.
For those wanting food, a couple of rustic chalets provided dining options. In fine weather, outdoor terraces made a perfect resting stop in front of the most fabulous outlook.
There was also a stall selling souvenirs along with walking routes stretching out in all directions.
At the dizzy heights of 1993m, the summit provided a sense of achievement for those cycling up the mountain.
Information boards and views
We soon pulled into a dusty parking area alongside several other motorhomes, where incredible alpine views greeted us. It was a moment to feel grateful for the chance to stop and take it all in, especially as it was such a clear day.
After a cup of coffee and with our binoculars in hand, we stepped out into the now chilly mountain air. The sun was actually just about disappearing behind the mountains, yet the early evening brought a magical appearance to the panorama.
This route of the Col de la Madeliene is not only one of the best mountain drives, but also one of the most popular.
Completed back in 1969 this high pass across the mountains also played host for the first time that year to the Tour de France.
Unbelievably, on busy days, up to 15,000 people can be on the summit!
Not only that, during peak times over 1000 motorhomes per day can drive the Col de la Madeliene, coming from across Europe to complete this famous route. It seems we’d been lucky to have the road virtually to ourselves.
Although we could have spent the night on the summit, we chose to continue on down the mountain pass whilst the weather was good. Mainly so we could complete the journey in one go but also because there was thick cloud forecast for the morning.
An overnight stop at La Chambre
We’d have been silly not to have seen all the route in such clear conditions. Over on the other side, the road gradually lead us off the mountain towards the town of La Chambre.
Here, an Aire on the edge of town welcomed us for the night. Now it was time to rest, ready for another day tomorrow in this fabulous part of the Alps.
The following morning, we woke to market day, so it would be just rude not to venture in to have a stroll and check out the goods.
This was a Sunday morning in La Chambre and the local antique stalls merged with local producers selling their home-made or home-grown produce.
The mountain honey proved too tempting to miss, so onboard it came, for the reasonable sum of 7 Euro. Just before leaving, we made our way into a local co-operative, selling everything we love about France! From cheese, meats and wines to local delicacies, it gave us an opportunity to stock up on our favourite Saucissons and a bottle of the local liquor – Genepi.
It’s a good job we did, because next we were about to tackle a mountain pass with a difference – the tight hairpin bends of the Col du Chaussy.
More of that next time!
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