* Between The Sea (the Med) and The Alps -- {Pronounce: ontruh la mair eh lay zalp}

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Over the Col de la Lombarde

Pass 1

I recently had an opportunity to meet an internet acquaintance in person in Milano, Italy, allowing us to get away for a few days.

Rather than take the open toll road with its 200 tunnels (my grandson and I counted them one trip) through the mountains, Doc Leo decided to take a lesser used scenic route over them.

As we didn't have time to dawdle on the way over, we came back the same way so we could enjoy it more.  I thought you might like sharing some of it with us.

As usual whenever we need to spend the night on the road, we looked for out-of-the- way camping sites.  Our needs were simple since we weren't actually camping.  We took our pup tent instead of a regular tent, and we were even willing to turn our car into a camper if necessary.  It's more difficult when we need to stay in a more urban area, but we miraculously found somewhere, twice!

Pass 2
An unlikely bedroom

The first night, when we couldn't risk being too far outside the city and running into too much morning rush hour, we found this little entrance to an abandoned farm.  While right off a semi-busy road, bushes actually hid us from being easily seen, with the little tent hidden behind the car.

Pass 3
Our breakfast companion

Talk about hiding in plain sight!

However, this cute bunny did think about joining us for breakfast the next morning.

Pass 4
Rice paddies

The next night, we managed to find this dirt road running through the (flooded) famous Milano rice paddies and corn fields. 

Pass 5
Where opportunity strikes!
The ground was high and dry by this utility station, and the occasional dog walkers in the morning didn't pay us any attention.

Pass 6
Isolated lavender field
Pass 7

This area of Italy is fairly flat (or rice paddies would run away!), so there wasn't much to see as we headed toward the mountains.

However, the solitary lavender field we came across was quite pretty, as were these two sculpted deer above eye level in somebody's yard.

The view was amazing as we got closer to the mountains.  It's not the same coming the other direction, as we started already in the mountains; entering flat ground and leaving the hills behind has a totally different feel from heading into them.  You can see the cleft we were aiming for right in the middle of the picture.

Pass 8
We will be on the other side of these masses before dark?  Really?  Yep!

I've tried to capture an image of the route we were going to be taking.  I couldn't give it too much relief or the mountains would have covered the road, which unfortunately only shows in a pale yellow.

Pass 9
Route of the Col de la Lombarde, from Italy to France

Pass 10
Start of our route

Here is where we started our scenic route, where we turned off the main highway.

And thus began our journey of about 25 miles/41 km, which could have taken only an hour and a half, but in reality took us over three and a half!

Right at the start of the actual route, we came across a really pretty mural that shows a fanciful route on the Italian side, including the spot where we ended up having lunch.

Pass 11
A beautiful mural of the route
Pass 12
Starting the actual route

Just after we got started, we pulled over to let those behind us pass so we could take our time.  I discovered these crazy butterflies that were just flitting all over the side of the road.  While I was trying to capture them in a photo (they didn't want to cooperate and keep still), one landed on my foot!  They were all different, but pretty.

Pass 13
Butterflies everywhere . . .
Pass 14
. . . including on my foot!

Because these are steep mountain roads, sometimes it takes fancy planning to create the route.  They are interesting to drive if you are not in a hurry, but they are also quite fun to look at if you can get an overview.

Pass 15
Adding manmade artistry to natural beauty

Pass 16
Pilgrims who pass on foot,
mark your route with a stone.
Pass 17
A circle of stacked stones
When we got to a certain part of the route, we saw a zillion fairly small rocks everywhere, and then we saw them all stacked up, like hikers do.  When we came to a sign and recognized it was about the rocks, we figured there was some kind of tradition.

I thought this circle was rather interesting.

Pass 19
An interesting cairn
Pass 18
Fabulous landscaping

When I was checking out this rather odd construction of all sizes of rocks, I discovered the route we'd apparently driven up and found it kind of fun-looking. 

You can also see some of the slopes covered with the crumbling mountain pieces of stone.

Pass 20
A pretty picnic spot in the mountains

As there was a little flat area right here, we decided it made a good spot for a picnic lunch.

We aren't really backed up to that mountain, it's actually across the big divide where the squiggly road is, and we could have fallen rather far if we weren't careful!

Pass 21
I'd like a drink, too
Despite being far from that butterfly haven by this time, one apparently decided to join us for lunch.  That was actually kind of cool, as it's usually nasty critters who think they deserve to share.

Pass 22
The Italian border in both French and Italian

Our next stop was all the way at the top.  The pass also marks the country boundaries, so that meant this is where we were leaving Italy. 

I remember when it used to be a big deal to cross borders.  This time, it didn't feel like we were changing anything.

I've created another relief map that shows just the Italian part of the route we took.  I really wanted to show how it feels to be surrounded by these mountains.  It was pretty awesome.  I've marked the starting point, our lunch spot, and the pass.

Pass 23
Route of the Col de la Lombarde, from the Italian start to the border pass

Here's Doc Leo marking the pass.  I have no idea what the deal is with all the stickers, as that's not typical.  We are at 7,700 feet.  I thought I was capturing the Italian mountains behind him, but it turns out that he's standing just about in a direct line with the border, so you see France on the left and Italy on the right the whole visible way.

Pass 24
Doc Leo straddling two countries at the Col de la Lombarde

And now we have the French relief map.  I've marked the pass, the route actually goes off towards the left then winds back in front of that huge mass of mountain, follows it around, then ends at its base.  We were very aware of that huge wall next to us.

Pass 25
Route of the Col de la Lombarde, from the border pass to the French end

Pass 26
Headed home!
Of course, if we were leaving Italy, we were entering France.  I actually couldn't find a country marker for France, so this sign is just welcoming us home to our personal region.

Pass 27
French side of the border pass, including ski slopes

This view, totally in France, is in the opposite direction from the previous one, and if the mountains were not in the way, you'd see the Med.  You can also see the slopes of a very popular ski station.

As this was the direction of home, I stitched together this panorama from the pass.  I did not realize what a direct line it is towards home.  Our house is pretty much right smack down the center.

Pass 28
The French Alps looking towards the Mediterranean

Pass 29
Following the Torrent de la Guerche
Pass 30
Rippling over the stones

There was a little stream running along our route that we kept crossing on little bridges. 

My photos don't do it justice.

Pass 31
End of our route

Alas, we finally reached the end of the route.  This is the sign that would have guided us (and did, two days earlier) when starting from the French side.

Pass 32
Pretty Alpine village
The sign is also pointing to the ski resort just below the pass.

Pass 33
Charming bell tower
This is probably a pretty little village.  It's not one we know.  However, in doing the research to present this little travelogue, it seems like there is so much more to explore in this region, so perhaps one day we'll visit it more fully.

This was also the end of any pictures, as we were now on the typical homestretch.  So I will leave you with the Google Earth view that shows the rest of our trip home, which is fairly pretty in its own right.  I didn't realize our route was quite so straight, as there isn't much straight about mountain roads, but it definitely follows a pretty straight line!

Pass 34
Our route home, dropping from 7,700 feet / 2350 meters to 1,000 feet / 300 meters

I hope you enjoyed this little travelogue of our corner of the world.  I "wasted" too much time playing with the relief feature of Google Earth and Street View following our trip, which helped put everything in so much perspective.  I think it's easier to enjoy the majesty of our mountains with these tools, as we get a little too complacent with them otherwise.


  1. Great pictures! Really gives me a sense of the landscape. Thanks for sharing your skills.

  2. But how was the visit? The trip looks absolutely gorgeous and, as always, your pictures aw wonderful. So glad you got to get away for a bit as your neighborhood is probably still suffering. And Happy Birthday tomorrow!


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