Gorgeous Gorges

Gorgeous Gorges

It was the day of gorgeous gorges. The nice thing about following someone else’s route without any explanation is that I really have no idea what to expect every day so every wonder that I see is a fresh delight. Today was definitely that sort of day.

Woke up to a bit of mist, making the campsite look magical and natural.

At least from that angle. From the other all campers were still there.

I left Castellane a wee bit earlier than I usually manage. I am not a morning person. The town does have a cool rock in the middle that I didn’t check out. I’m not really stopping this trip, it’s all about the roads.

And the roads don’t disappoint this morning.

Cool folded hills.

And lovely river valleys.

It turned out to be a good thing I left precisely when I did. I’d seen a sign as I entered this area and was hoping I’d read it correctly or I was set up for another backtrack. Luckily my French held up. There was another Route Barre, but this one was open from 12-1, I guess for the workers’s lunch. I conveniently got there at 11:45, just in time to skootch to the head of the line, drink some water and have a snack.

I’m glad I got there when I did – it would have been a shame to miss the lovely Barles gorge, where the walls seemed to close in at points. (The Jeep seemed to know the workers, and got to go ahead of even me, but he did know the road).

It was quite amazing to drive through.

There seemed to be a lot of road work going on, and I can understand why. There are a lot of roads, which I’m guessing go way back in history, connecting every little village with its neighbours. France has the toll highways and the N roads, which are what people use if they actually want to get somewhere reasonably quickly. Then there are the spiderweb of D roads, which are usually almost deserted, and which go from village centre to village centre and follow whatever winding path grew up over the years.

So all these roads have to be maintained and renewed since the weather keeps attacking them even if they aren’t used intensively. And September is a good month to do it in. Thus not surprising to have multiple closures and detours.

There are lovely views from them, coming back down into the valleys.

Nobody around, despite approaching a village.

Long stretches of scenic road.

Photography in action.

Can’t all be fun. Sometimes the roads are straight and boring, even if it’s pretty.

Some back roads for a change, no traffic.

The villages connected by these roads also seem deserted. There are usually signs of inhabitation (though crumbling houses are also very common), but it’s rare to see actual people or even cars in the villages, and it’s common to have no shops as well. It feels like going through endless Marie Celestes – everyone’s just stepped out.

More flatness.

I waited through the whole town to get this pic. Don’t die! Or, don’t die at 70!

(Reminds me a bit of the Dutch advertisement)

The villages do vary per region. The emptiness may have to do with the car culture. People are in their houses until they’re in their cars. With few services in villages, there’s no reason to walk or cycle. At least that’s what I think as I go through another village that seems mostly empty.

The afternoon saw my last real Col – Rousset – which you get to after leaving Die. The road up is cool.

And the view from Rousset is amazing as well. I think I’m done with awesomeness for the day.

And it really seems like this. I descend from the Col and go through farmland, and it seems like I’ve fully descended and will be riding through flatland here on out.

Then all of a sudden you turn a corner and get an amazing panaroma of the Combe Laval – a big bite out of the limestone plateau you’ve actually been riding on.

Bam. This picture does not in any way do it justice. I should have taken a million more pictures.

But I got talking to a group of English bikers, older men with their wives on the back. They seemed to have a very relaxed approach – ride over, stay in a hotel and do day trips around the area for a few days and then move on. I hadn’t talked to anyone in days, so it was a bit weird to come out out my head and interact.

They did take a rare photo of my bike and me, grinning like an idiot. It really was an amazing panorama.

Then you follow a cliff hugging route along its edge for a while. Don’t look down. I wouldn’t want to do this in a car, even less in a camper.

Hope no one’s coming.

The edge of the plateau.

Looking back.

After that I really did descend for the last big elevation change of the trip. Then some divided highway and fighting through the city of Valance before heading back into the hills to camp for the night. The snack bar didn’t look open, so I dug into the soup back up plan.

Less high than previous days, but still some quick elevation changes. It’s all sharp edges.

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