The Combe Laval Balcony Road drive is a “must do” route, during our Summer trip through South East France.
So, we’re leaving Vassieux en Vercors behind as we head towards Saint-Jean-en-Royans, located within the beautiful Vercors National Park.
For us, it’s been a few months of travel in our Campervan. Taking to the simple life again, when lockdown ended back in July 2020. It was then, that we drove South, escaping while we could and taking advantage of the easing of rules in Europe. Now, it’s September and the crowds have gone, leaving these thrilling mountains with a calmer feel.
How good it has felt to be free, scenic travels through the golden sunshine of a French Summer have been a tonic to our soul. Now it’s time for the cliff-hanger of a drive – The Combe Laval Balcony Road!
Do you have a favourite travel guide? Well, a few years ago, we bought a book that ended up being a true inspiration during our own campervan travels. Above all, it brought so many new and challenging routes to our road trips, that it all became a bit of a competition – simply to do as many as we could find!
So, the book “1001 Drives You Must Experience Before You Die”, is how we first discovered the Combe Laval Balcony Road. There’s so many inspiring routes in the book, but this one was definitely one we didn’t want to miss!
Well, the book certainly got us motivated. Which is why we’re here now, about to start the 20 mile route above the most mesmerising sheer cliffs.
Are you wanting to know more? Good, because here’s a little bit of background information. First off, the Combe Laval Balcony Road was built in the late 1800’s and took over 40 years to build. We love a good drive, but it’s imperative to do a bit of homework!
First things first – double checking the dimensions of our campervan or should I say – triple checking? Then, we always read and re-read about the route – will we definitely fit? Is it in our driving capabilities? What are the overhangs like? Ok, so you get the picture.
Finally, as we approach the start – this bit is really important – reading the warnings leading up to the route! The last thing we want is to be on the road and be caught out – yes it happens! We think about jagged edges of rock, narrow sections of road where there may be only room for one vehicle despite something coming towards us and finally – those sheer drops!
On first sight, the sheer scale of the cliffs and valley’s of the Vecors Regional Park, remind us of The Blue Mountains in Australia. A similar haze of almost blue in colour, skims the cliff faces and forests as far as the eye can see.
We brace ourselves for the point of no return. Now, we’re facing a labyrinth of hollowed out rock, the balconies brining light and views alongside. For a moment, we must pause to take in the landscapes around us. Thankfully, a small lay-by awaits, where a few motorcyclists are already snapping selfies above the mass of cliffs.
Luckily, the Sprinter just about fits into a vacant slot. It’s an opportunity for reflection above the most beautiful scenery imaginable, not to mention a quick photo call!
Ahead of us stands a name sign, splattered in stickers of those gone before us – once again, it’s like our Australian trip all over again.
After a photo call with views across the mountains, it’s time to hit the road. Now, we brace ourselves, because right ahead is the first of the hollowed out rock of the balconies. This is the moment of anticipation – have we made the right choice? One thing’s for sure, there’s no going back!
Soon, the hollowed out jagged rocks are dangling above and beside the campervan. Our Sprinter is the biggest vehicle on the road, mostly it’s motorbikes taking to these winding heights.
The rocky tunnels and sheer drops beside us, lead into oblivion, bringing escalation to the thrill of the drive but nervous anticipation with it.
This road is just incredible – an engineering masterpiece without the fancy finish. Not only is it narrow, craggy, charismatic and probably dangerous, but it’s also somewhat humbling.
I don’t know why, but there’s something about the rawness of this route that reminds us just how magnificent our predecessors have been.
We wonder, if and how this road would be built in today’s modern world. Would there be anyone willing to blast through the cliffs, if it ever got to that stage of construction in our era bureaucratic red tape? That’s before the Health and Safety aspects are mentioned!
For now though, we glide around the cliffs, surrounded by windows hollowed out of the cliff face, where the views bring gasps of wonder to the drive.
Still, we duck as we head towards more rocky edges of blasted out rock. These tunnels are left in there natural hollowed out state, so any error by the driver could result in a very nasty gash in the campervan.
We feel as if we could touch the rock face, but we manage to avoid any contact with the solid stuff. Instead, the drive is a pleasure. It’s filled with everything this route should be and more. In fact, it’s probably one of the best Balcony Roads we’ve driven, if not the best!
No wonder this place is a right of passage for the thrill seeking driver or athletic cyclist.
This road is just incredible and thankfully we only had to share it with a few lonely motorbikes – all heading the same way! Of course, that’s just good fortune and to be honest, I don’t think we’d have appreciated meeting too much more en-route!
Finally, when the last balcony window passes us by, we pull over for another photo call. Strangely enough, the first thing we say to one another is “let’s do it again”!
However, we decide to let this one-time drive stay as it is – a fabulous one!
Looking back at the last window of the balcony behind us, once again, we realise just what a fabulous world we have. Above all – how fortunate we are to experience these incredible locations that bring lasting memories.
Well, all good things must come to an end, so we’re moving onwards along the winding road off this cliff top.
Now, the road becomes wider, as we head towards our next destination – Saint-Jean-En-Royans. The heat of the day and clear skies has made the drive an unforgettable one. Not only have the views across the deep valleys and forests been incredible, but the experience has been awesome.
These drives aren’t for everyone, but for us, it’s a special part of our trip. Each drive brings a unique element, but this one has been just superb in every way.
Not only that, but to think, this is right here in the heart of France. It’s another little corner of paradise right on our doorstep here in Europe and one that brings a deepened fascination with what we have relatively close to home.
Last but not least – these routes aren’t for everyone, but we love them and can’t wait to discover more!
Next time: Pont-en-Royans and some rather strange footprints!