Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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    Two Months in the French Alps (& Europe)

    Driving from Yorkshire to Séez in the mountainous French Alps. Trips out to Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium.

    Driving Through France

    Home to Dover, 276m. 2 hours on the ferry and £10 per litre of rum. Calais to Valenciennes to Reims, 209m.

    Saw horses, cows, and a ranch of reindeer.

    Saw a vending machine for baguettes on the side of the road.

    Went to the Reims Notre Dame. All French cathedrals are called Notre Dame.

    Parked underground at a hotel. When I came back, the gate was shut. So I sat at the gate and as soon as another car entered, I slipped out before the gate closed.

    Roadtrip Day 2

    Reims to Chalons-en-Champagne to Dijon to Séez, 442m.

    Bought champagne from Champagne and mustard from Dijon.

    Spent £100 on tolls. Driving is expensive in France.


    Went to the Saturday local market. Sat outside under a veranda and drank espresso with lots of ex-pats.

    Lakes, Streams, & Rivers

    Les Bettières

    A twisty, winding drive up through the mountains to over 1,550m above sea level. Here, there’s a clear pond surrounded by hills, snow-capped mountains, and meadows of cows wearing jangling cowbells.

    This was like being in a Windows screensaver, and the further in you went the better it got. The most beautiful place I’ve seen in the French Alps.

    Wam Park

    On a drive to a lake, I get stopped for the regular journey of the cows through the village. While walking the dogs around a lake, I manage to photograph a mountain peak poking above the clouds, reflecting onto the water’s surface below. I also sneak onto an apple farm and glean 9 ripe red apples.

    I finally find my happy place in France. See how we cleverly looped back to that mention 4 paragraphs ago? Anyway, it’s the most ultimate water park I’ve ever encountered. They have wamping (floating log cabin camping), every water sport under the sun, and psicobloc. Deep-water soloing, also known as psicobloc, is a form of solo rock climbing that relies solely upon the presence of water at the base of a climb to protect against injury from falls from the generally high-difficulty routes. New for 2020 at WAM PARK Savoie, and a world first in a leisure park: bouldering above water.

    From Wikipedia:

    Deep-water soloing, also known as psicobloc, is a form of solo rock climbing that relies solely upon the presence of water at the base of a climb to protect against injury from falls from the generally high-difficulty routes.

    From the website:

    The overhang above the lake allows you to be uninsured, and when you reach the top, you will have to jump into the water. … The psicobloc is a mode of climbing that we only see during events or in natural places (creeks, cliffs, lakesides). There is, in the world, and to our knowledge, no psicobloc structure operated for the general public, which we now offer.

    Saint Germain

    Up a mountain at 1,300m. There’s a pretty pink chapel there and a mill. Also a bull escaped from a field and came to my car as I drove along the edge of a cliff.

    La Démontagnée Gourmande

    This is the biggest festival of the year for these 2 tiny towns. It’s a kind of harvest festival, symbolic of the animals coming down off the mountain as temperatures drop. The end of pasture season. In fact, they came down off the mountain to the field outside my balcony.

    La Démontagnée Gourmande in Bourg Saint Maurice is an opportunity for everyone to get together during the descent of the mountain pastures. 
    Meet up with friends or family at 10:30 a.m. for the great parade of herds of tarine and abundance cows, goats, sheep, and other animals. 
    These herds will parade throughout the town of Bourg Saint Maurice accompanied by the sound of bells and by the many musical groups: the alphorns, the Clickaine de Queige, the Harmony of Bourg Saint Maurice “Echo of the Saint Bernard and don’t miss not the Italian flag throwers who came especially for the occasion!

    Les Arcs

    Everyone lines the streets, and as a band plays, various farmers take turns parading their herd of animals through Bourg San Maurice. A herd of brown cows, then sheep, then goats, then brown and white cows. One farmer, with his son, both in flat caps, dressed their cows up in flowers. Sheepdogs keep the animals in check.

    After the parade, there’s a farmers’ market with stalls of local apple juice, Kir (blackcurrant-white wine cocktail), jams, Swiss cheese from across the border, honey with some live bees for demonstration, more brass bands, and young flag twirlers.

    Aosta, Italy

    I fancied a good bowl of pasta for lunch, so drove for a day out in Italy. The town of Aosta in the Alps is amazing – cobbled streets, outdoor lunching, roman ruins.

    In the off-season, everywhere around here is comparatively dead, meaning parking is plentiful and free. However, the 2-hour drive was the usual cliff-edge torture.

    Cormet de Roselend

    A quick drive to near Mont Blanc and there are endless mountain hikes. This went up to about 2,100m. Then nearby there’s a huge blue lake with a chapel on a hill. It’s that classic image of the Alps – blue lake surrounded by trees and mountains.

    I also nearly died here. After being ill and then climbing a mountain for a bit of altitude sickness, one of the dogs decided to run away and I tried running after her. Then I blacked out. This happened a couple of times but the dogs came back eventually and I’m alive.

    Turin, Italy

    Turin feels like a proper major European city, even though I’ve never heard of it. You certainly wouldn’t get all-day parking for £8 in London. The Musei Reali di Torino slaps hard. Have an Aperol spritz even though that’s Venetian, and an Italian espresso. Also a huge chocolate festival with cremino. Italy makes the best hot chocolate in the world.

    Geneva, Switzerland

    Geneva is the third most expensive city in the world. It has many many banks, watch shops, and chocolate. It also has a Christmas market with €14 drinks and a fondu stall sponsored by Zurich bank.

    Chamonix, France

    Chamonix basically consists of hotels, hotels, and more hotels, with enough bars and restaurants to service those hotels. That’s because Chamonix has some of the best skiing in the world. The skiing wasn’t open in November, so I paraglided off a mountain next to Mont Blanc.

    Annecy, France

    Annecy looks like France’s version of Windermere – a quaint town beside a big lake. Inside the town, there are actually old cobbled streets, pastel-coloured houses, and a castle with a river running between the buildings, like Venice. Also, the Christmas market charged €8 for a pint in a plastic cup, which is more than Geneva, the world’s 3rd most expensive city.


    Since the drive through France cost around €150 in tolls, I told Google Maps to avoid tolls on the return journey. The longer route drove through Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium. So basically, if you want to avoid toll roads in France, you can’t drive through France.

    A 90km detour to park illegally and wander around the Luxembourg Christmas market and steal someone’s bratwurst.

    Brussels, Belgium

    Apparently I’ve been touring all of Europe’s Christmas markets, as this is the 4th country’s overpriced stalls I’ve been sucked into. Still, it’s better than the European Parliament. Also, Belgian chocolate, waffles, and chips with mayonnaise (still gross).

    That’s my trip in the French Alps. There are more travel posts here.

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