You can stand under my umbrella-ella-ella

The amazing views from the Col de Lauteret
The amazing views from the Col du Lautaret

Ah, there you are! It’s been a few days, glad you could drop by.

The walk to Vars from Vince's parking spot
The walk to Vars from Vince’s parking spot

We were in Vars last time we spoke, with a plan to head off on Sunday morning as the weather was pretty poor. As we woke up to bright sunshine in our free aire on the mountainside, we decided to stay put and explore a bit. We spent the morning looking round the town, which leaves you in no doubt as to where the bulk of its income comes from – skiing. There were ski shops, ski clothing shops, ski accessory shops, and countless ski hotels! The main problem in July seemed to be a distinct lack of snow.

The tourist office was busy making up for this by dishing out information on hiking trails in the area, rides up and down the chairlifts, and most popular of all – mountain biking trails, or pistes as they call them. It seemed to me that they’d found the perfect tourism combination of skiers in winter and hikers & bikers in the summer. It was far busier than I expected.

Plucking up courage to launch themselves down the mountain
Plucking up courage to launch themselves down the mountain

We bought a ticket for the télécabine de Chabrières – a grown up cable-car rather than a chairlift, and enjoyed fantastic views as it rose higher and higher up the mountain. When we arrived at the summit, naturally we found ourselves in another downpour so we sheltered under the eaves of the télécabine office and watched the mountain bikers take a deep breath, then launch themselves into space before hurtling back down the trails to the bottom. You can buy an all day ticket for the cable-car to save all that wearisome pedalling back up again!

On Monday we headed off for the promised luxury of showers and electricity to charge up all our bits & pieces, as well as having a well-overdue laundry frenzy. At our campsite in La-Roche-de-Rame (more hyphens!) we wound our long blue pound-shop rope between the trees on our pitch, so poor Vince disappeared for the day behind a screen of drying t-shirts and smalls.

This site was beside a cool clear lake which seemed to attract holidaymakers from all around. There were pedallos & kayaks, swimmers, paddlers and of course, the usual bunch of lads climbing the trees and jumping into the water to impress their lady friends. Who for the most part remained unimpressed and carried on checking Twitter and Instagram on their phones, like they do.

Scene of our evening swim - gorgeous!
Scene of our evening swim – gorgeous!

We waited until night had almost fallen, and everyone had moved on, then sneaked over the campsite fence for a quiet swim. There wasn’t a soul around apart from ourselves and I have to admit that despite the freezing water it was one of our highlights of the trip. A lazy backstroke out to the middle, then both of us treading water (it was bloomin’ deep). We just stayed there for a while, soaking up the mountain landscape and the reflections of the trees and lights from the distant town in the evening silence. The tips of the mountains were still orange from the setting sun but the forested slopes in the valleys were already in darkness. Dry towels, hot drinks and a wee sharpener were the perfect end to the evening.

We’ve been doing a few short hops through the Alps as its so gorgeous here. Our next stop was Briançon – officially the highest city in France. It has a high town and a low town – our guide rather dismissed the low town as completely charmless, and it wasn’t wrong. We left Vince there in a bit of a dodgy car park, so his alarm was set and we put the rarely-used steering immobiliser on and hoped for the best. The high town was a great place to explore. Some of the streets were so steep that they had two Tarmac strips either side for the wheels of the cars, and steps cut along the centre for pedestrians. We definitely had a good aerobic workout as we explored!

Plucky Brits keeping up appearances
Plucky Brits keeping up appearances

One of the summer features of the Alps it seems, are sunny and hot mornings, followed by enormous afternoon thunderstorms. As we discovered a few seconds after our lunch had been served in an outdoor restaurant… The other patrons fled inside or hurriedly paid their bills and ran to their cars but not us. Oh no, we were made of hardier British stuff than Johnny Foreigner. My admiration knew no bounds as Gill casually held her umbrella in one hand while using a fork in the other to continue eating calmly. We had desserts. We had coffees. Then as the only people left outside we politely asked for our bill, paid and left. As we did so I received a single nod of admiration from the owner which I returned with a steely British gaze. Churchill would have been proud.

Although we’d originally planned to stay in Briançon overnight, we still didn’t like the look of the car park when we returned after lunch so we moved on, filling up Vince’s LPG tank on the way as we were very low on gas. Searchforsites.co.uk had come up with an intriguing free aire way up in the mountains at the Col du Lautaret. We were stunned by the views after a long twisty climb and couldn’t believe our luck. There was a huge parking area up a rough track so we staked our claim to a spot in a row of motorhomes and just sat back to enjoy the view. Until a bloomin’ Belgian fella decided to s-q-u-e-e-z-e between us and the van on our right, then felt that the view wasn’t quite good enough so he pulled his van forward & left in front of us, blocking our view completely.

It's just not cricket, you know.
It’s just not cricket, you know.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt – just in case he was only stopping for a cuppa – I bided my time. After an hour however, I had to go and have a word. I ended up talking to his wife in my best French (he hid in the back during the whole exchange) and explained it was hardly sporting old chap, and would he mind awfully reversing back a bit so we could all enjoy the magnificent mountain views. His good lady refused saying they had to pull forward to get level but I’m afraid my devastatingly raised eyebrow and cynical look must have had an effect as they sheepishly slunk back a few metres, to a thumbs-up and a wink from the guy on their other side. British pride once again restored.

It was much cooler at 2000m during the night so we were awake bright and early and set off for Lake Annecy on Wednesday. First, we had to deal with the Col du Galibier – 2700m of vertigo-inducing twists and turns with fantastic views you couldn’t enjoy for fear of going over the edge. Brilliant! Not for the first time in these parts I found myself with an aching neck and shoulders from manhandling Vince round all the sharp bends. Must get more exercise.

My idea of holiday hell...
My idea of holiday hell…

Lake Annecy is a beautiful spot, but our early season fears all came true as we arrived. The place was absolutely heaving with high-season visitors. Nose to tail traffic, no room at the first two Aires we tried and silly prices for campsites – €50+ per night was the norm. Once again Mr Google came to the rescue, finding us an enterprising farmer who had set up a private aire not far from the lake. He was charging €8 per night or €10 with electricity. The electric was only 2 Amp so wasn’t really worth using. It’d keep the fridge going but would trip if we then put a light on as well so we didn’t bother. The price included services so we made sure the bits which needed emptying were empty, and the bits which needed filling were full before we left. We’ll visit Annecy again some time – it looked a really nice place, but we’ll come back when it’s a bit quieter.

It took us ages to get out of the area this morning in the traffic so we’re considering making a run north for an early ferry home. No decisions are made, and won’t be until after this weekend. Our Rough Guide says only the insane go on the roads in France on the last weekend of July as that’s when the whole country goes on holiday! Bearing that in mind, we’ve travelled to Bourg-en-Bresse today (more in the next post) and we’ll head to the municipal campsite in Mâcon tomorrow to park up for a few days. We’ll consider our options while we enjoy the weekend’s entertainment. You’ll be the first to know.

 bientôt, mes amis!

Going up!
Going up!
Vince-eye view La-Roche-de-Rame
Vince-eye view La-Roche-de-Rame
Icy-cold but very invigorating!
Icy-cold but very invigorating!
Briançon before the thunderstorm
Briançon before the thunderstorm
Briançon
Briançon
Aire at Col de Lauteret
Aire at Col du Lautaret
Aire at Col de Lauteret
Aire at Col du Lautaret
Out-take from The Sound of Music!
Out-take from The Sound of Music!
Annecy sunset
Annecy sunset
About Ken Tomlinson 201 Articles
Semi-retired biker, blogger and new-ish grandad. Doesn’t take life too seriously. Discovered motorhoming in 2015, sold up, downsized (twice!) to fund more travels. Now with added Yorkshire.

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