The Col du Chaussy
Our Summer tour of the French Alps suddenly took us to a whole new level! Yes, a mountain pass with a difference and the hairpin bends of the Col du Chaussy.
Think narrow, steep and not much in the way of safety barriers and you’ll get a bit of an idea of what’s to come! Add in tight hairpin bends and this soon makes it a ride with a thrill attached.
First though, this isn’t a drive for the faint-hearted or for anything larger than a mid-wheel base Sprinter campervan. In fact, we hold our breath as we begin this spine-chilling ride from the nearby town of La Chambre.
Clinging to rocky cliffs
Up we go, winding steeply up the mountain side with each hairpin seeming tighter than the last. The road is narrow, the views superb and the heat strong through the open windows of the cab.
We need every bit of fresh air we can get. Anything to cool us down in the heat of the moment, as we anticipate the road ahead.
This is one of those routes where we just hope that nothing other than a speedy cyclist comes our way. We’re in high Alpine country – home to the cycling enthusiasts who dream of completing these kind of routes, following in the footsteps of their Tour de France heroes.
Beside us are cliffs of solid rock. Tall slabs of stone lead the way up the mountain, guiding each new bend with a greater sense of excitement.
There’s no crash barriers in these parts, instead just an ornate looking wrought iron rail separates the edge of the hairpin from oblivion.
There’s also no photo’s of the hairpins, instead my sweaty palms are clinging to the iPhone, filming the drive to capture the moment. Yes – you’ve got to watch the Youtube video to see it in the flesh!!
The best picnic spot
We soon find ourselves high above the valley floor, where each hairpin is now stacking on top of the lower one. It’s a beautiful sight but we’re lucky – the road is quiet, even in peak season Summer. For us, it’s just the best driving experience but maybe that’s because we haven’t met anything coming the other way!
It’s one of those where we hope, keep fingers crossed and just get on with the drive without the thought of what if! Thank goodness, we make it to a wide clearing, the hairpins now left behind out of sight. We’re at a crossroads where a sign for a picnic area seems a sensible option to follow.
Along a dirt track we drive, heading towards grassy meadows, surrounded by forest on this plateau on the mountain.
Just beyond a small hamlet of mountain chalets we come across a few picnic benches, laid out beside a camp fire. The perfect place to park up, relax with our locally bought produce and take a walk through the trees.
Eating our saucisson and Beaufort cheese seems even tastier in these mountain surroundings. We think this would make an idyllic place to spend the night. But we want and need to get the drive finished and we’re only half way up the mountain!
A snake in the grass
Inquisitive as ever to discover just where the dirt track leads to, once our lunch is finished, we set out on foot to explore.
Before long, a narrow track branches off through dense woodland. We follow it, enjoying the isolation and shade from the strong sun. It’s not long before something catches our attention, slithering across the grass, I let out a scream at the realisation it’s a snake!
Why do we feel so much more scared of these creatures here in Europe than we ever did of all those venomous snakes down under?
Soon we reach an open grassy meadow, complete with perfectly rustic farm buildings and high peak views. It brings a totally different feel to the walk.
The dirt track is also an off-road driving route but the narrow, pot-holed road without passing places is not our idea of fun for the Sprinter.
After a couple of hours, the circular track brings us back to the campervan. We’re refreshed, re-fuelled and ready to re-join the Col du chaussy and the summit at 1533m high.
The Col du Chaussy summit in sight
Merging back onto the tarmac road of the Col du Chaussy brings a different feel to the first section. This doesn’t seem quite as hair-raising, have we already done the most extreme part of the route?
Maybe not! Ahead are a couple of very narrow sections of mountain pass. We feel like we’re driving on air – help!
Cyclists whizz by, their downhill speed going at a phenomenal rate down the mountain. The drop at our side is immense – a tumbling, rocky outcrop of nothing!
We continue on, hoping once again that we don’t get to meet another vehicle of any kind! We’d rather have the road to ourselves and luckily we do – all the way to the summit.
A small village appears before opening out into grassy pastures and finally the summit sign. We’d arrived!
The Summit Col du Chaussy – 1533m
This level plateau of the Col du Chaussy summit is rather uneventful but lovely all the same. We park up easily at the large car park beside a restaurant.
Outside, the last few bikers sip on cold refreshments – whilst we take an opportunity for a few pictures and a bit of a look around.
It’s not one of those summits that takes the breath away, there aren’t panoramic mountain views or sheer drops here.
Instead it’s a laid back affair, a place to turn around, stretch the legs and get ready for the drive back down the mountain.
There are however, plenty of walking routes up here. It’s a pretty place of Alpine goodness, wild flowers and cattle bells.
Down to the valley floor
Our return drive takes us down the mountain the same way that we came. Well that is for some of the route!
Instead of taking on the dense hairpin bends again, we choose a different direction at Montvernier, making an easier option to the valley floor.
Once driven, there was no real need to drive down those difficult hairpin bends again, I think we’d rather do the up than the down!
Before we know it we’re off the mountain, back to the wide roads of the valley and ready to continue along normal roads again.
Valloire – not so campervan friendly
We head to the functional town of St.Jean-de-Maurienne. We’re now about to turn off for Valloire – an upmarket ski resort at the top of the Col de Télegraphe. The drive is along more functional mountain roads, where fine alpine views lead us towards the town itself – Valloire.
The description of this swish resort should give a clue that it’s not motorhome friendly at all! Signs of “camping car interdit” pretty much dominate the town. That basically translates to “motorhomes forbidden”, so despite there being a service point next door to a campsite, there is no where to park for the night – Aire or otherwise.
We want to walk around the town, after all it looks super classy and typically rustic. Never mind, we have to give it a miss – although the campsite does look a nice option if we really wanted to explore more.
Wild camping under the stars
However, all is not lost! About 10 minutes out of the town, heading towards the Col du Galibier and we find the perfect parking spot for the night.
Settling in for a bit of ‘wild camping” with a few other motorhome folk, we find a space beside a river just in time for darkness to fall.
So, it’s a goodnight from him and a goodbye from me as we settle under another starry Alpine sky.
Until next time…..