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

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Vehicular Hiking

Vehicular Hiking 1The primary reason for our recent weekend up higher into the Alps was to just get away for a few days.  We wanted to go in a direction we don't typically spend any time in so might be fun to explore.   We didn't want to get too far away, yet we wanted to go far enough away we weren't still in our own backyard.

I left it up to Doc Leo to pick a spot perhaps two to three hours away.  He thought he had an area all picked out, so we headed in that direction.  But we'd gotten a later start than expected (I wanted to finish up a particular yard project!), and that ended up changing most of the itinerary.

However, what we ended up doing was mostly exploring the awesome mountains around us and a few little gems hidden within.  I realized it was almost like hiking by car, so I'd like to take you along on our drive.  Roll down your window and enjoy the fresh air!

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Rocher de Chaudeirolles, Thorame-Haute

The Alps are fully European and are the highest and most extensive mountain range on the Continent. 

As such, they cover eight different countries, have a huge difference in size and shape, and affect the European climate. 

Vehicular Hiking 3Le Chevalier, Bayasse

The highest overall peak is actually located in France, and the highest French peak of the Maritime chain is on the Italian border and can be seen from our living room.

These two examples and the one above show how varied the mountains can look even quite near to each other.  It was impossible to capture the images of all the gorges and ravines we drove into.

Vehicular Hiking 4On the route to the pass d'Allos, with its ski station

There are more than ten passes over 2,000 meters (6,500 feet), and we ended up taking two of them.  The sides of the mountains are quite steep, and they seem to have paved the roads wide enough for 1.5 cars.  Rarely is a barrier provided. 

Being summer, there were quite a few camping cars exploring the area, which led to a few nail-biting moments when we had to pass other vehicles on the really narrow parts.  (Of course, I was was on the side looking down!)  I think riding the ski lifts to the top would be even more terrifying.

Vehicular Hiking 5Proof we arrived!

Apparently, this pass is a major cycling trek, and it's been part of the Tour de France 33 times. 

It seems to be a badge of honor for cyclists to paste stickers of their clubs on the marker signs. 

It was kind of interesting to see the various cyclists position their bikes under the sign and take a load of selfies!

Vehicular Hiking 6One side of the pass d'Allos, with its hiking trail on the crest

Once we finally got to the top ourselves in our comfortable four-wheeler, the view was absolutely awesome! 

We could have taken a pedestrian hike all over the crest, but it was colder and windier than we were dressed for, and we had other sights to see.

The view over the other side was so gorgeous, I couldn't figure out which of these two photos was the best, so I'll just show them both to you, as an overlapping panorama.

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The view from the other side:  Le Petit Cheval de Bois (2754 m) & le Grand Cheval de Bois (2838 m)

Vehicular Hiking 9Navigating the route towards the pass of la Cayolle

As soon as we got back down to the bottom on the other side, that marked as far north as we were going. 

We made a sharp turn to head back south, which then took us right back over another pass! 

While this one was higher, it didn't seem nearly as nerve-wracking, although it was still a pretty tight squeeze between passing cars on one side and parked cars on the other! 

Vehicular Hiking 10Col de la Cayolle
Vehicular Hiking 11Hiking over the summit

This particular pass seemed to be quite popular for hiking.  On foot. 

Perhaps we'll make another trip in the future and join in when we might be more prepared. 

Mentally, if nothing else.

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Doc Leo learning about the region
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Alpine Queen enjoying the pass

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Feeling a little dwarfed!
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The old man

Over the other side, we had another awesome view, including of the road down and some fairly spectacular mountains. 

As we went around a curve, I saw this reclining chunky old guy wrapped up in a blanket and wearing an orange fedora.  He was apparently a bit more petrified than I was!

On the way down, we went through a tunnel cut into the rock.  It was just really pretty from both sides, both looking in and looking out.

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Entering the tunnel
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Looking back where we'd come from

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Exiting the tunnel
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Looking back at the exit

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A pretty waterfall with a bridge to cross over the ravine

It seems like wherever you have mountains, you have water.  And wherever you have water, you need bridges. 

Here are a few that we passed just alongside the road.  I'm sure we could have found quite a few more if we'd known where to look and weren't hiking by motor.

I think most of these are fairly old, built during times gone by.  But they were still beautiful in their settings.

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Over the Vaire in Le Fugeret
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Pont du Moulin, Thorame-Haute, 1685

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Roadside décor in Beauvezer

One of the most whimsical things we came across was this fun structure decorating a little turnout along the road. 

I have no idea if there is any kind of history behind it, why it's there, or how long it's been there. 

I've seen other photos with different vegetation around it, so it must be a rather amusing toy for the town gardeners to play with.

There probably isn't any countryside anywhere that you don't find dotted with various churches and chapels.  These Alpine villages and towns all used their own style when they constructed their own.

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Église Saint-Martin, Colmars, 1696
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Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Grâces, Colmars

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Fort de Savoie, Colmars-les-Alpes, 1687

As one group of mankind has always sought to achieve power over another group, it has been necessary to develop defense plans. 

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Chateau of Queen Jeanne, Guillaumes, XV
While we didn't see a huge amount of military presence in this region, we did come across a few examples.  Some have survived the passage of time a bit better than others!
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Alas, all good things must come to an end, and this little weekend was no exception.

With the mountains behind (and in front, and surrounding) us, and with the river ahead leading straight to our door, we had one more communion with nature as we tranquilly had lunch on this grassy knoll.

I hope you've enjoyed sharing the highlights of our exploration of this beautiful yet wild and untamed corner of our world as much as I've enjoyed reliving it with you. 


  1. All three of your posts are delightful. The walled villages reminded me of our Christmas trip to Loung Doc and the walled town of Carcosonne. We visited many markets and walled villages. I enjoyed all three of your posts.

  2. Wonderful trip! Narrated so well ...

  3. This was fantastic. Especially loved the petrified old guy in his blanket. I love these blogs, dear Alpine Queen! Keep them coming. The places you go are so beautiful. Must be nice to have water everywhere! We Californians wouldn't know!



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