We’re continuing our Summer campervan tour of The French Alps and so far it’s a trip dominated by drives and some of the best in France at that. Now, it’s time to sit back and relax, because we’re about to try another amazing route – the 15 mile “Route des Balcons” of The Gorges du Cians.
Above all, this is a route of hair-raising bends, plenty of jagged rocks and incredible carved out tunnels. Now, we’re just hoping that the Sprinter will glide through all of it with ease!
First though, comes a short drive South, as we head along the Gorges de Valabres, towards the village of St.Sauveur sur Tinée.
This is a region in The Alpes-Maritime, just over an hours drive from the Mediterranean resort of Nice. For us, it seems a world away from the busy metropolis of the French Riviera.
Winding our way along the narrow, hilly roads soon brings an interesting sight. Ahead of us, clinging to the rock face is the hilltop village of Roubion, lying 1336m above sea level.
As usual in France, motorhome parking isn’t far away, meaning we can park up with ease. The sign for the Aire de Camping car takes us a couple of km further on, to the ski resort of Les Buisses. Now, all we have to do is follow a marked footpath towards this fascinating looking village.
After around 10 minutes, we arrive at ancient Roubion itself, and it’s an absolute treat. Here, a mix of intricate, tiny alleyways bring us into a bygone era. On top of that, there’s an artistic flare, where locals have painted scenes of local life to their front doors. Those ancient stone buildings clinging to the rock face behind.
Amidst the cobble stones comes the only sign of life – a couple of low key restaurants, where visitors are eating lunch. Splendid views surround the village, looking over the great vastness of mountains, valleys and the mountain pass.
Back on our route after our own lunch in the campervan, soon the village of Beuil appeared. So did the signs for the Gorges du Cians – now the butterflies started!
We always have to double check our dimensions before venturing onto any winding pass, especially those that involve rocky tunnels and narrow bends.
Signs gave the public a reminder too…setting out the dimensions for what lay ahead. For us, we were good to go, with our Sprinter being 5.93 long, 2.83 high and 2.04 wide, we should fit through nicely!
The only thing getting in our way now was the rain, which had just come in to dampen the spirits. Never mind – it can’t be sunshine and flowers every day of the week.
Soon, the deep red rocks of the gorges take all our attention – Wow! Not only is it dramatic, but the road is littered with small rock falls, tumbling off the crumbling cliffs above. Surely something could come rolling off the cliff face any minute – our eyes are watching every little movement.
Now, it’s not often that we’re grateful for rain, but I think we’ve hit a winner today! Yes, the rain is bringing all those red colours of the rock to life. The result – a colourful mix of red, all shining as water flows off the surface, it’s simply beautiful.
Crikey, things really start to get interesting quickly. Soon, we’re navigating craggy overhangs of hollowed out cliffs. Not only that, but rock is protruding in a pointy, jagged sort of way, as if we’ll be pierced at any moment!
So much so, that we’re checking above waiting, watching but thankfully nothing happens – What a relief!
As our close encounters of the rocky kind keep coming, so do the phew moments! To be honest, it’s not all that bad, but care is the name of the game, along with the hope that nothing too large falls off those cliffs.
The rain may bring a shiny glow to those rocks, but the downside comes in the photo’s. I don’t know about you, but I really do prefer a bright blue sky in my photgraphs, today though we have to make do with grey.
My time is taken by cleaning the camera lens rather more often than I’d like, but then comes an opportunity to pull over and take a walk. It’s also a perfect time for a quick photo stop, alongside the gorges which we’ve sort of forgotten about until now.
By the way, the Gorge du Cians isn’t just about the drive, as we’re about to find out! Entering a footpath beside the craggy tunnel beside the river, This place is like a forgotten land, so much so, it reminds us of something out of a Jurassic era!
We drive further, taking our time along The Gorges du Cians, where soon we’re entering what looks like a rainforest! However, this is where things go a bit wrong, or should I say – we make one bad move!
Suddenly, we notice a road off the main route and low and behold there’s a motorhome parked there. Gosh, this looks like it could be interesting, especially as there’s a road sign pointing to another gorge.
We quickly check the map, but there’s no marking on the atlas for a place called Pierlas. However, there is a road sign showing a 3.5T limit, but nothing more.
Most importantly, there is no sign to show a width or height limit, so because we’re under 3.5T, we decide it should fine for us. Then, after several km of climbing a very narrow, winding mountain pass, we’re begin feeling a little uneasy. First, the road is tight, next comes a very narrow bridge spanning a gorge and leading to a tight series of bends in the road.
Nigel is uneasy, I’m even more so! We may have made it across the bridge, but now it looks like we could be about to get stuck! These bends are so tight for the Sprinter but Nigel glides around the first corner, edging closer, higher up this tight section of road.
Next, we have to make a decision to turn back, the road is single lane with tightly packed hairpins that we just weren’t anticipating. Turning the Sprinter into the neatly stacked bends simply becomes too difficult, the campervan may be smaller than many, but we can’t take a chance here.
Nigel turns the Sprinter round, knowing it’s best to turn back now, while we can. Soon, we’re back along the same route, where rockfalls grace the route as the rains fall and mist descends.
However, it’s another lesson learnt – just because there’s no sign to say a height and width limit, it doesn’t mean to say it’s ok!
In the end we re-join the last stretch of the Gorges du Cians, enjoying the fabulous scenery along the way. Now, the road is wider, better still, we catch sight of something rather intriguing!
Yes – it’s The Tour de France and it’s heading this way tomorrow. Well, that means only one thing – time for a bit another detour to watch this world famous cycling event!
Join us next time, to find out how we get on as we watch the first mountain stage of The Tour de France.