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FRANCE          DIARY  2

Diary 1 2 3

From Diary 1 and the north and central France, I now enters the south.
I get an early start, but it is a long drive today. Just to be sure I got the night for free, I knock on the host's door, and get the poor lady out of the shower. And yes, it was for free.
The sun is up as well, and I have a great view from my car in the morning: A low mountain range and a green valley.

On my way back to the main-road, I passes the village, which have a bred-sloth-machine! It do amasses me how many French I see, who carry a bread under one arm. Many camping grounds offers fresh bred in the morning, given you remembered to order in the evening.
I am still in the lowlands, and the trees are green, the plants like petunias are flowering, and the birds sinning.

I start the day with the "Route des Grandes Alpes", which I believe it the old road cross the Alps (Grenoble to Briançon). It is 150 kilometres with one great view after the other. Photos, on the other hand are a bit difficult, as I drive straight against the sun. I could stop, but how many times? And here are not exactly many places to clear the road.

As the road gain height, the sun disappears, and the temperature drops considerably. I just turn on the cars heater, and remain inside. The first snow cones peaks start to show, but here are still small villages, squeezed in-between the steep mountain sides. Some of the peaks are real pointy, resembling Mt Blanc.

Here are still green meadows, and the brooms are flowering. Then it turns more barren and grey. Tunnels starts, and the river turn white or filled with matter. A few lakes owe their exciting to dams, but they are surprisingly shallow by now. I stop a few times to have a closer look at a waterfall or a river. I would have stopped more times, if it  wasn't for the rain.

I find some unfamiliar flowering plants; Asteraceas, but which? Then I reach Parq National des Écrins - without the landscape changes much. Here start to be ski-resort villages, and I actually see two fellows in full gear with ski and all. Actually, the settlements seems to continue despite the altitude.

I reach the snow, and the road have been cut right through huge dunes. The rain turn into drifting snow, and I wonder how well almost worn-down summer tires are, for this environment? Plenty of signs show some tires with chains on; might be an idea. When I look back down the mountain, I can hardly see the winding road. Then again, I can hardly see it in front of me for the drifting snow. But I got  feeling of, I might be near the top, and head on, on the white road. I have done my share of snow-driving on slick tires and it does not scare me - much - yet.

I was right, and the snow stops on the other side of the pass. Here are great views down the valleys, covered in snow, and with only a few trees. But here are still settlements, some almost covered in snow. The road descents quite fast, and soon, the meadows are green, the trees starting to have leaves, and I consider leaving the car.

On the other side of the Alps, in Briançon, I follow a giant valley for 150 kilometres towards Sisteron. At one place, I pass a 50 meter natural wall, with a town on the top. Then Chateau de Picomtal sits on a hill side, overseeing the valley. A giant river is almost dried out, but the debris bear clear signs of its former mighty. 

The valley opens op, and it is fruit-farming country. Numerous apples, pears and perhaps other orchards along with at least almonds, which are flowering by now. The vine start to show, and when I reach a town, it sure look Mediterranean! On a hilltop, La Citadelle de Sisteron can be seen through the rain.

I gamble, and choose the shortcut through the Mt Ventoux mountains. It leads through a 1912 meter pass, I want to see. The first part of the road leads past lavender fields, and then follow an area with typical Mediterranean vegetation. Here are lavender, olive trees, pine trees, and tax. But also a quite heavy rain!

At Col de la Pigiére at 968 metres height, the rain have turned into snow, and it is only getting worse. I still have 50 kilometres to the pass, and a 1000 metres in height. The road is white, and I figure this is a great place to turn around. I'm normally not a quitter, but I will not be caught in-between two high passes in my car.

I pass Sisteron again, and the Mediterranean atmosphere get another nudge with olive trees. Some areas are almost barren limestone gravel with scattered lavender and other typical Mediterranean plants. Huge vine yards, typical houses, but also rain and apple orchards. Then I pass a single field with numerous sheep on.

I am driving in a 250 kilometre "C" around the mountains to get to the magnificent Fontaine de Vaucluse, delivering 90 m3 of water a second. It been a long drive, and I drive close to it, as it is getting late - and dark. I almost run the last bit, only to meet a sign 20 metres before: Closed due to falling rocks. And they have installed quite some fence.

A closed restaurant is blocking the view from the riverside, and the best I can get, is a picture of a picture. But to judge from the green river, it must be a magnificent sight. It is after all the biggest fountain. I head on, and drive under a huge bridge, made in stones. If it hasn't look so new, I would have guessed Roman.

I am planning to get to the Mt Ventoux pass from the other side, and head back towards it, from the southern side. The GPS find a route, made of tiny back-roads and farmer's trails. I have a campsite lined up, but when I see another one, 20 kilometres before, I give it a try. The lower I stay, the warmer it is. Pretty  nice in a little town, run by the municipal, but their internet is coming in small drops, completely useless.
Day 5: Route des Grandes Alpes, Sisteron, not Fontaine and Mediterranean

13/4. It is a relatively short drive back to the Mt Ventoux Pass, but after 30 kilometres, I get a strange feeling of being lost: It has been flat the entire way, but now, the first outcrops turns out. The flat area is dotted with  apple orchards and vine fields among the shrubbery and wasteland. A single little mountain has its own castle, and a village to go with it.

Then, the true mountains start, and limestone is covered in first pine trees, then more barren ones with juniper. As I get higher, it is snow that covers them - and unfortunately also the road. I continues, although a bit slower than previous. The view are fantastic, as it is fairly clear downwards.  Higher up, the clouds are covering the peak.

At an altitude of 1432 metres, six kilometres from the top, the road is closed. Apparently, they don't bother clearing it before 15/5. I'm glad I didn't drive to the other point yesterday, in the snowstorm!
I drive slowly back, and despite the wind and frost, I just have to get out of the car from time to time.

Here are some interesting plants. Some white Alpine I don't know, some Muscari and besides from the pines, here are some other conifers. A lot of bushes have been cut in shape, and it sure look like boxwood.
Higher up, the forest is covered in frosting or snow from yesterday.

One of the stops is at Le Belvédére at 965 meters height.  Here are yet another great view over the lowlands. A bit further down, I find a large succulent and get a picture of the Muscari. I'm sure here are many other interesting plants, but it is too cold to explore today.

My next site is the gothic palace in Avignon. The old city is surrounded by a long and tall wall, and within is a rather large city, filled with impressive buildings. This must really have been an impressive power centre once. I park a bit away, and walk through the old town.

The palace is absolutely huge, and as I can't bring my camera inside, I will do with the outside. I had hoped I could circle it, but it is on the edge of the peak it is located on. From the terraces, there are a great view over the river, and the famous old bridge. Or half a bridge. Another fortress can be seen from here as well.
The connected church is one of these devoted to a female god. A large golden statue of her is paces on the tower.

I try desperately to fit the massive palace into my camera, while I at the same time fight the approaching sun. Another time of day, and some additional gear is needed. I walk slowly back to the car by some of the other streets and alleys. Then I make a cup of tea for the next 250 kilometres.

I choose a straight line, in opposite to the curved highway, hoping it will be worth the effort. It is mainly the old country-road D999, and at first, it leads through mainly endless vine fields in the lowlands. Small limestone towns sits on the small hills, while the river gentle runs in the button of the valley.

Despite the altitude only changes a little, there are a significant different from the green low areas to the almost barren hills. The lower parts look almost like Denmark - with a lot of vine plants, while the higher areas are more like southern Italy. A few Agava americana have grown to a considerable size, and Opuntia cacti thrive near the houses. Both Americans, but even in Roman films, they uses them.

I don't do many stops, as it is rather familiar, and I have a long drive ahead. Further more, it start to rain, as I meet the next set of mountains. I make some photos out the closed windows, but the rain spoils them along with the lack of light. In one place, it look like a waterfall is coming right from the peak of an outcrop.

The road passes right through many of the small towns, and here; not much have happen the last hundred years, it seems. Despite the rain, I have to get out of the car for two sets of bridges. Many of the arched bridges in this area are aqueducts.

The clouds are getting low, and the light disappears. The road leads into the mountains, and levels out at around 7-800 meters height. The vine have given over to pines and alike, and the villages are getting scares. I still try to make pictures, and I get a lot of the windshield vipers.

I drive over a large plateau, mainly with limestone and small juniper. Then I pass a pair of natural limestone columns. They are around six and eight metres high, and ought to be famous as some petrified ancient persons, or fertility symbols.

Then I get to the 343 meter tall bridge of Viaduc de Millau. I had hoped I would find a view from the side, but not even the restaurant at the visitor centre, has it. It is a nice design, but when you are use to the absolutely huge Danish suspension bridges, it is kind of small. The height come from the pillars below the road - which I didn't get to see. Well, the shorter ones.
I get some photos, which look like drawings? The great views down to the town in the valley deep down under is spoiled by the railing.

I pass the toll-booth, just to turn around - and go through the toll-booth. Next sight is in Andorra, but I will only do the first 250 kilometres today. Due to the rain, I choose the highway, as I have seen countryside enough for one day anyway. It leads pass limestone mountains at first, then it meet the lowlands.

Then I turn off the highway, and into some really narrow trails. Actually, I drive through a gravel road at one time. The landscape is dominated by conifer bushes, and at one point, I see an orchid along the road. That causes for a stop.
In some of the greener valleys, what I will call Spanish bulls, are grassing.
I finally make it to the camp, way out in nowhere. Unfortunately, they have not opened for the year, but recommend me another in a village; Alet led Bains, 26 kilometre further on.

The sun finally peaks through the dark clouds, and the evening that started at three, ends at six. I get a site next to the river, and start with dinner. I finish the diary at nine, but still have all the 250 photos and the Danish version: Yet another late night.
Day 6: Mt Ventoux, Avignon, Road D999 and Viaduc de Millau.

14/4. Despite the weather is not really for it, I choose the mountain road towards Andorra. The first great view is down to the valley town of Alet led Bains where I slept. The road soon narrows in, and zigzag its way through the Pyrenees. Trees are covered in lichen, and soon, I meet the clouds.

After the first pass, there is a plateau with green grass and a few cows. Then it is up again, and I pass Col de Marmara at 1361 metres. The snow is still here, and the road have a bit too. The next pass in the Pyrenees is Col du Chioula at 1431 metres. Then it is down again, through a juniper plateau, then a birch bushland, followed by a beech forest.

But it is just a short joy, then it is upwards again, and this time to completely snow covered mountains. Despite the weather, the mountain road of D663 has been a nice drive. Now, I reach the border of Andorra, but I will return to southern France later.
Pyrenees to Andorra.

The first stint in France was on 2580 kilometres. I took only 1612 photos - mainly due to the rain. I spend €65 on camps, €120 on Gazole, €53 on food, €14 on gadgets and €98 on parking and toll roads: €350 in total. Not much for a week's exploring.  I will return to France after Andorra, Spain and Portugal. Read about it in Diary 3

Photos   Map & Plan   Diary 1  2  3