We are in Briançon on our way across the Alps, and today we are going over one of my favorite pass, Col du Galibier: We will be riding exciting and varied roads, including the road over the Col de la Madeleine. Today’s destination is cozy Annecy.
The view from the old city of Briancon. The red dot marks the direction of todays highest pass, the Col du Galibier at 2642 meters.
We wake up with the view to Fort des Têtes towering over Briançon and another warm day in the Alps. A German who arrived at the hotel late last night is already idling his BMW G 700 GS and is ready to collect some more stickers for his sidecases. There was not much space left last night, and by this evening, I think both sidecases will be completely covered in stickers from the French Alps.
Our plans for today are modest when it comes to conquering alpine passes. We are starting with Col du Lautaret up in the Guisane valley riding north west from Briancon. From there we will turn north and ride Col du Galibier and on our way down to the Arc valley, we will pass over Cold du Télégraphe. When in the Arc valley I assume we will go for the quickest route to Annecy where we will stay for the night.
We enjoy a good breakfast before preparing for today’s ride. The motorcycle has been safe in the hotels backyard and has been joined by two KTMs with Austrian plates. The two elderly gents are working hard handling their bikes on the gravel. This is easy to understand, I would have had problems too if I just touched the ground with my shoe tip when mounted. The RS is perfect, it is quit heavy when loaded, and I appreciate the low seat.
Even with some clouds, the heat is starting to be a problem in the valley and it is nice to get going. There is no reason for closing the jacket as we ride to the centre of Briancon to join road D 1091 towards Col du Lautaret. Al La Salles des Alpes we have a stop to refuel. We manage to get 400 km from a tank and when in the Alps I always feel better when starting on a full tank. In the area around La Salles, there are many small places with lifts taking tourist into the mountains. The area looks like it is perfect for hiking. The road follow the river up the valley and have a steady climb. When there are a couple of kilometres left to Col du Lautaret, we get the first gentle climb of the day.
Col du Lautaret is at 2057 meters height and the ride is easy. Green fields and the spectacular mountains around makes the pass worth visiting. However, the best reason for visiting Col du Lautaret is that when you come from the south it is the gateway to Col du Galibier. At Lautaret we turn right on to D 902 and start the climb to Col du Galibier. The road is not steep, but it is narrow and on the right when riding in our direction, there are no kerbstones or nothing outside the asphalt. Once you are off the asphalt, you are lost. There are a few blind curves and the car in front of us is unlucky and meet a tourist bus in one of these curves. That takes some time to sort.The climb is gentle but the steep hillside on our right is scary at times. I rode down this road three years ago, and did not think of this. Riding up is something else. Some of the car drivers are more scared by the steep hillside than I am, and keep to the middle and even to left side of the road when possible.
Then the last climb to Col du Galibier is in sight, 2642 meters above sea level and with a parking at the top. Before we get there, we have this last and steepest climb. Should not be any problem though, except for this car, stopping in the middle of the last 180 degrees turn, scared by the narrow road, the sharp bend and the steep hillside on his right. He just stops, and I have to admit – I had to do some footwork to come past him.
You should proud when parking at Col du Galibier; you have done some nice riding to bet here. I have done several of the great alpine passes, Stelvio included, but I think Galibier is among the most rewarding. You can enjoy a fantastic view to the mountains around. Moreover, the traffic at the summit is always busy, today as well. Bikers and bicyclist are dominating. Some cyclist are coming from Briancon, and some from the north, from Valloire 18 km down the road in the direction we are going. Col du Galibier is surrounded by majestic mountains and the area is perfect for hiking and even mountain biking.
Most of those doing Col du Galibier will take the road over the pass. You can take the shortcut through the tunnel as well. The tunnel is at 2556 meters. The first road over Col du Galibier was built in 1876. The tunnel was built in 1891 and was the only road over the pass until 1976. Then the tunnel was closed due to restauration and a new road was built over the pass.
After a break at the parking at the top we start our descent on the north side. If you feel for some refreshments, there are cafes on both sides. Today the only on open is the one on the south side of the tunnel. We ride carefully down the valley and enjoy the shifting characters of the mountains. There are hillsides covered with dark stone on one side, and green fields with grassing cattle on the other. As we get closer to Valloire the valley get greener. In Valloire the traffic is busy also at this time of the year, even though I suspect this is even buzzier in the winter.
We head on to Col du Télégraphe, which is no pass, but a small hilltop in a 180 degree bend. We take a rest at the cafe in the bend and get to talk with an elderly German gentleman with a rucksack. He travel to Cuneo in Piemonte by train, and is now walking back home to Germany over some of the mountains we have ridden. His luggage is the rucksack weighing 14 kilos and that is included a small tent.
The road down to the Arc valley takes us through the forest and many bends. It is getting warmer as we get closer to the bottom of the valley, and after a short discussion, we agree to take to the mountains again. After some 20 kilometres on A43, we take the exit to La Chambre and find road D213 in direction of Col de la Madeleine. The road climbs steady through the forest and over green fields in gentle curves to Saint-François-Longchamp. The temperature is pleasant and it is time for lunch. As we have not been to Co de la Madeleine before, we decide to take the lunch in Saint-François-Longchamp. Not the most idyllic place, but the view is magnificent and the eating good.
We are closer to Col de la Madeleine than anticipated. The top is at 2000 meters and besides some shops, there are several places you can get a good lunch. Green fields on both sides of the road is not what we expect at this altitude. Lift you sight and the mountains surrounding the pass are impressive. Elin want to go trekking and before I know, she is off to get some information from the locals about route options to the highest tops nearby. However, that will be next time we pass over here. We still have some kilometres before we arrive in Annecy. I am glad we do not know what lays ahead of us.
The top of Col de la Madeleine is at 2000 meters.
We have the first surprise once we start our descent from the top of Col de la Madeleine. The road soon get narrow and twisty, and then it becomes even narrower and even twistier. On some parts it is so narrow that you should be careful even when meeting other motorcycles, and meeting cars means that one of you have to back up to find a suitable place to pass. We are riding through a forest with trees on both sides. To our right we have the treetops and outside the asphalt, there is nothing. I have to concentrate not being drawn to the edge. I cannot go to slow, I have to have a good rhythm, and still be aware of oncoming traffic. Looking to the right is no good idea. This is in fact more exhausting than the ride up to Col du Galibier.
It is a relief arriving on N90 in the Isère valley. We head for Albertville and turn northbound on D1212 towards Ugine where we enter D1508 and follow the signs towards Annecy. We have been looking forward to riding along Lac Annecy, without reason as it turned out. The traffic is heavy, the beaches are crowded and we advance much slower than expected. One leg of Tour de France is going to use a section of this road tomorrow and the campers are already lined up along the road wherever there is possible to park.
The temperature is around 35 – 36 degrees and by now, we long to get to the hotel and get out of the riding gear and sit down at a bar with some cold drink. We arrive safe and sound, find our hotel and a public parking for the BMW. We have done 200 kilometres since we left Briancon – it feels more like 400 though.
Annecy is worth a stopover. The charming city is situated by Lac Annecy and the Thiou River runs through the centre of the city. We relax and enjoy the city. Our hotel is by the church, and the entrance to Hotel de Savoie is in fact through a side entrance of the church. The hotel offers a simple standard, and the night becomes very noisy. First, we are kept awake by the nightlife at the many bars by the river, then the delivery vans with their noisy coolers arrive, and by six o’clock in the morning they start building a stage in front of the church.
The next day we ride to Geneva. Just 60 kilometres away. Therefore, we had time for another sightseeing in Annecy, and still had time to have a look at Geneva.
Besançon was our next stop. We had a nice ride going there and made a detour to Arc-et- Senans just to get a feeling of the place ahead of the evening’s concert with David Gilmour. There was no time to see Besancon this time, as we departed to the concert almost immediately after checking in at the hotel. The concert was fantastic.
From now on, it was pure transport home. The first leg was from Besancon to Schellbach and Hotel Tann-Eck in Knüllwald (664 km). The next leg took us to Hotel Hojmolle Kro on Falster in Denmark (629 km) an the third leg was home (766 km)
In total, the BMW had made a distance of 5440 kilometres since we left Oslo on the 13th of July.
Col du Lautaret, 2057 m.a.s.l.
Col du Galibier, 2642 m.a.s.l.
Col du Telegraphe, 1566 m.a.s.l.
Col de la Madeleine, 2000 m.a.s.l.
Briançon – Annecy:
NB! Google Maps may change a route if it includes a road that is closed (e.g. closed during the winter) at the time you are viewing the route.