After setting off from a wild camping spot beside a river, it’s not long before we notice an intriguing looking dirt track. Although our drive for the morning is supposed to be the 2642m high Col du Galibier by campervan, this will have to wait for a minute.
Sometimes, we find one of those “must look” places and this is one of them. Without further ado, we’re driving down an off-road dirt track to take a closer look.
This is August, not only is it peak season but the sun is also red hot. Above is the clear mountain air, bringing an incredible outlook and breathtaking scenery.
So where are we exactly? Well this is not far from the classy resort of Valloire, in the heart of the French Alps. Unfortunately this well-known town is not so motorhome friendly, with “no motorhome” signs dominating any feasible parking places.
This had meant giving an overnight stop at the town a miss. Although there was a “Flot Bleu” service area and a campsite right in the centre of town. For us, the campsite in the depths of the virus pandemic was too much to bare. But probably in better times we’d have paid the fees and enjoyed the facilities for the night.
Back to the dirt road and the steep bumpy track soon lead us to a dead end grassy bank. We could see walking routes leading off in all directions, as well as a wooden bridge spanning the relatively empty river bed.
Several people were out on foot, exploring the wide valley which seemed to go on forever. Surrounding the scenic landscapes from our parking spot were almost volcanic-like peaks. Typically pointed and rising towards the sky.
We couldn’t resist taking a look around this place, so grabbed a quick coffee before checking out a walking route.
So, off we went on foot, crossing the wooden bridge then following the marked walking signs above the river. It’s not long before we’re surrounded by colourful butterflies and bright red crickets in flight.
The sounds of those mountain Marmots fill the air, echoing around us as we walk further along the path. It’s truly beautiful and in the distance we see a group of people on horseback. Taking a pony ride through the valley must be magical.
We hadn’t noticed the elevation gained, but before long, we were walking way above the river bed. Now, our campervan looked like a dot in the distance.
After about an hour, the mountain path became more rugged, merging into a steeper route. Soon, this would have taken us higher up again.
For us, it was time to turn round. But not before hearing the local shepherds herding their flocks of cattle across the higher slopes. The sight of the animals moving en-masse across the ridge was pretty awesome.
The stretch of our legs had us ready for the drive ahead. Now refreshed with the blood circulating and the mind active.
Back behind the wheel of the campervan, the time had come to hit the road again. This time, the Col du Galibier was calling.
I was in the driving seat as we took off along the craggy panoramic route of the winding mountain pass. Rising up out of the valley, the scenery has changed to a more dramatic, rocky landscape. Gone are the rolling grassy meadows. Instead, the landscapes look like a victim to some sort of mass earthy phenomenon in the past.
The giant boulders, craggy overhangs and shale slopes bring a harsher feel to the route. We are now entering a new region of the Hautes-Alpes, heading towards the Parc National des Ecrins.
There’s no snow on the ground this time of year. Although, we imagine what it would be like in Winter -harsh, desolate, dramatic springs to mind.
Along the well-formed pass we meet cyclists, motorbikes, cars and other motorhomes – it’s popular yet not too busy so far.
There are a few stopping places, but we choose to drive on towards the summit. As we reach the top of the mountain pass the road forks off in two directions. One for up to 3.5t, the other for over 3.5t. We take the lower weight limit, winding closer, more tightly round the hairpins to the top.
Then we arrive – greeted by the familiar sight of people. Lots of them, taking photographs on foot and on bike at the summit sign.
There’s a small car park, where enough space allows us to pull in and take a photo of our own. We know only too well by now that this is no easy task! These mountain summits attract thousands of visitors and all want that souvenir photo snap alongside the well-worn sign.
Eventually we manage a quick photo without too many strangers in the shot! Then it’s back in the campervan for the drive off the Col du Galibier and a lunch-stop in a warmer location.
Yes – the heat may be on in the valley, but at these dizzy heights there’s a real chill in the air. The route continued, taking us down the pass along with a fair bit of other traffic.
Cyclists overtook us, those that didn’t, crept up behind, almost clinging to our bumper it seemed. We had to have eyes in the back of our head. Watching those on their bikes as they tried to beat the sound barrier off the mountain!
As we left the winding route behind, the roads opened out again onto a wider, flatter area. A few shops and restaurants for those wanting food and rest awaited.
We find a parking place amongst lots of other motorhomes in a large, flat parking area. We could have stayed overnight but the cool air deterred us. Instead we opted for lunch in the van and a walk around before carrying on.
Here the road branches off – towards Briancon in one direction or Genoble in the other. We took the route towards Briancon, where the road once again merged into open green meadows.
Our day ended at a motorhome aire in Montier Les Bains. It’s a really pretty town, where the local Gendarmarie collected the 5 Euro parking fee. They were building a new Aire here and a brand new service area was just being finished too.
It would be a handy place to park any time of year, as the Télecabine, was located just across the road. After a walk around the town, it was time for local sausages and fried potatoes. Our day ended looking out towards the mountains with a good glass of wine – perfect!