Alps 2013, 6/04, Briancon to Castellane

Best day of the trip so far. By far.

OK, so the French really know how to make croissants. I lost count of how many I had at breakfast, but it was an unhealthy amount. The weather could not have been nicer and we had a great route planned for the day. The lady at the front desk of the hotel gave us a website to check for real-time pass closure information for France, and the news it gave was not good. At least a half-dozen passes Peter had planned for us to ride were still closed. The orginal route had us going over Col de la Bonette, but that was closed so we sat down after breakfast and did some quick planning.

We headed south on N94 toward Guillestre, which was pretty but not a particularly interesting road. Once we approaced Col de Vars (D902) the road began to improve dramatically. Great pavement, a good mix of hairpins and sweepers and some terrific views got the day off to a fantastic start. There was a sport car rally group taking a break at the top with some interesting cars I haven't seen before.

Working up Col de Vars

Full-res pano available here

Near the top of Col de Vars

Sports car rally stop at the summit

Ford Escort RS Cosworth

Hot-rod Celica?

This guy had a unique way of packing

Um, OK...

After the bumpy ride down the south ramp of Col de Vars the next item on the list was Col de la Cayolle. We went west on D900 through Barcelonnette, then continued on D902. We started to see big yellow signs with "ferme" and "Cayolle" on them, but these were bigger than just the "pass closed" signs we had seen before. We sent Peter back to snap a picture of the sign, and the three of us did our best to translate the French. Since there were some times on the sign we came to the conclusion that the pass was closed at certain times. Or open at certain times. Either way, since we had a lot of time to reach our destination today we decided to press on and see what happens. Turned out to be a very good idea.

Col de la Cayolle was the highlight of the trip so far. It traversed very diverse scenery, from low canyons to deep forest to canyon-wall-hugging ribbon of tarmac to bridges over waterfalls to a snow-capped summit. The pavement wasn't the best on the north ramp, but the scenery made up for it.

Eventually we got to the road closure area, and it turned out to be a direction-controlled one-way temporary bridge they were using to replace a section of road. Lots of loose gravel covering the metal bridge made for a fun crossing. We didn't know if this was just the beginning of the construction, but that little bit was all there was.

Our first hint of the canyon riding to come

Full res pano available here

Some other riders passing by

Not a lot of room left over

Dave heading up Col de la Cayolle

Looking back on Col de la Cayolle, the best is yet to come

Col de la Cayolle was nothing if not scenic


That's Dave on the bridge

Dave on Col de la Cayolle

The top of the pass was really cold and snowy, with ice and snow in patches on the road. There was barely enough room for one car to get through some of the snowy sections.

The south ramp of Col de la Cayolle may not have had the varied views of the north, but the pavement was perfect and super-twisty. A proper pass, almost (but not quite) good enough to be mentioned with the greats like Sella and Giau. I just wish that section was longer.

Looking down the south ramp of Col de la Cayolle

Curvy goodness

Crosstourer on Col de la Cayolle

Full-res pano of Col de la Cayole here

"Action" shot of Peter nearing the bottom of Col de la Cayolle. I brought the smaller Nikon D3200 body instead of my normal D300, and I was finding it much harder to get any good action shots. I don't think it has the horsepower to track moving objects as well as the D300 does.

And here comes Dave

Unusual high-angle for a shot like this. You can see his giant Garmin 276C on the right side of the bars

Route des Grandes Alps indeed

We stopped for lunch at the base of the pass at a little cafe that had a couple friendly dogs to keep you company.

Very cool knife

Dave's lunch

"You're not going to eat all that by yourself, right?"

My buddy for the meal
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After a very tasty lunch we continued south on D2202 out of Entraunes and soon found ourselves in the Gorges de Daluis, a gorgeous deep canyon with red rock walls. This was like nothing I'd ever ridden through before, and completely unexpected. Pretty much all my previous European rides have been over mountain passes, simiilar to Col de la Cayolle earlier in the day. Snaking through impossibly deep canyons was a surprise - little did I know we would be riding many more (and larger) canyons in the days to come. Because the road hugged the canyon wall there were only a couple places to stop the bike and take photos.

One of the coolest things about this particular canyon ride were all the one-way tunnels.There are 17 tiny one-way tunnels in the space of a mile or two - traffic going south went through a tiny tunnel, opposing traffic looped out on a tiny overhang to go around the tunnel. I'd never seen anything like this before and loved it. I made several passes up and down the canyon wall.

Check out the blue truck high up on the canyon wall in the Gorges de Daluis

Road disappears into tunnel in upper right of photo

One of the many tunnels

One of the wider tunnels

Looking back through several micro-tunnels

This shot kind of shows how cool this road is - oncoming traffic goes through the tunnel, this side goes out around it.

Dave in the Canyon

It's a long way down

Looking down into the gorge. Full res version of the panorama here.

The Gorge Circuit map

After the gorge we continued south on D202, passing Lac de Castillon, and arrived at our accomodations late afternoon. We were going to be in Castellan for 3 nights, so we decided to be frugal and take a chance renting a modular "home" at a campsite a short walk from the center of town. The host was very nice and directed us to our unit, then took some time to show us how everything worked. While the space was fairly tight for 3 people we all had our own beds and a common seating area. Considering the cost was about $22 per person per night we weren't complaining.  There were a group of 4-7 BMW GS riders in the unit next to us, so maybe we were in the biker section of the campground. We unpacked the bikes and got things organized in our rooms and took the 5 minute walk into town for dinner.

We explored the center of Castellan a bit and wanderied down some side streets before choosing a place on the main square for dinner. We had a very fun waitress that was practicing her English skills with us. I was delighted to find some Belgian beer on the menu and ordered a couple bottles of Chimay Grand Reserve for Peter and I.

What a great day.

Just a few minutes walk from the center of town

Our home for the next 3 nights

Living room

My room

Dave and Peter had to share a room.

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