After some days in the sun on the soft sand of the beaches by St. Raphael we are ready for our trip home. The first leg will take us over Col de Bonette, Col de Vars, Col d Izoard to Briançon. We are eager to start – Route des Grandes Alpes is waiting for us.
It is half past eight when we enter the roundabout at the end of Rue de Garonne in St. Raphael. The temperature has been around 32-34 degrees for some days, and slightly warmer inland. Cool breezes from the sea keep the temperature at a comfortable level in the morning, and I had pleasant shade where I packed the bike. This took some time, as I had to repack completely compared to what I had on my way to St. Raphael.
On my way south, I had only my own luggage, which filled a side case, a waterproof bag and the tank bag. The rest of the luggage was Elin’s motorcycle clothes; jacket, pants, boots and gloves. Women tend to carry some more luggages. Besides two side cases and one top case we now had to supplement with two sacks on top of the top case and two shoe bags, one on each side case.
With the added luggage the bike has changed character. Even if I tighten the rear spring and choose the hardest damping is the bike still very soft under the added load of passenger and luggage. I am very cautious through the first roundabouts, but when we enter the motorway in direction of Nice I am used to the new character of the bike.
We are on our way home, and we are going to Briançon, Annecy, Geneva and Besançon and over some of Frances impressive mountains before it gets pure transport through Germany, Denmark and Sweden. Today’s stage to Briançon is approximately 300 km. We will ride north by Nice airport and find road M6202 and ride by the Var river north. Then we will enter M2205 and Routes des Grandes Alpes, which will to take us across Col de Bonette, Col de Vars and eventually Col d ‘Izoard.
When we leave the Var river and follow the Tinée river the valley becomes a ravine, Gorges de la Mescla. Here the road winds its way along the river in the most unpredictable turns and is sometimes very narrow. It is impressive to look at roads that climb the sides of the ravine to the small villages at the top of. The small villages located on the hillsides have a dramatic location and roads up to them are pure works of art. After two hours of driving, we take a break in the shade at Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée. We are already starting to feel the heat. Although the road is climbing, the increase in altitude is nowhere near compensating for the rise in temperature, at least not yet.
The road becomes even more winding and unpredictable and we ride with care and very gently. At Isola the road is narrow and very winding. Here we pass the road to Isola 2000 and further on to Italy. We could have taken that route to Briançon as well, and entered in to France again over Colle della Maddalena. But we would have missed the Col de Bonette. Although we have been over Col de Bonette earlier, both on bicycle and by car, we want to make the trip over on motorcycle as well. And the weather is excellent for a trip to the 2862 meters high mountain.
As we approach Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée the road becomes a little straighter, but the valley changes character again, and as we enter the first climb after passing Tinée river and a sharp right turn we seriously start climbing. The road winds through the woods in tight hairpins, before stretching out again and we follow the river in a canyon. By Bousieyas the climbing continues, now with green pastures on each side of the road. We have to be aware of the large flock of sheep that live here; sometimes the road can be blocked by sheep just as you enter one of the hairpin bends.
Then Col de Bonette appears. The black giant towers west of us. We are in an area that had military importance during both first and second World Wars and we drive through Camp des Fourches on our ride towards Col de Restefond. On the other side of Col de Restefond is another military facility; Caserne de Restefond. The green pastures gives way for stone and more stone and the view goes from fantastic to magnificent. At Col de Restefond we can continue down the other side on the fly. Not this time, we ride straight ahead and up the east side of Col de Bonette. Sometimes this is a one way road up to the monument at the highest point of the road.
We park by the monument that marks the roads highest point, 2,802 meters. We are very lucky with the weather and the views are magnificent in all directions. There are many bikers here already. This is Europe’s highest paved pass transition. I can recommend the hike up to the top of the Cime de la Bonette. At 2862 meters altitude you have a fantastic overview of the French Alps, at least when the weather is like today.
We continue our trip and ride down the west side of the mountain towards Jausiers and Ubay valley. It’s already lunchtime and we stop at 2000 meters altitude and lunch at the restaurant Halten 2000. We enjoy a lovely pie in the sun. Col de Vars is the next mountain pass. Just make sure you get your exit on the left onto road M902, otherwise you end up in Italy. Col de Vars is not nearly as spectacular as Bonette, but offers pleasant drive, especially on the way down the north side there is a section with gorgeous curves and perfect asphalt.
Before Guillestre we stay on M902 and follow the Guil river up Gorges du Guil. The road is narrow. The road through the gorge has been repaired in recent years, but it is still unpredictable and you should take care in case you should meet a car or van around some of the blind curves. We follow M902 and the signs to Col d’Izoard and pay attention to the left turn after about 16 km from the last roundabout at Guillestre.
Those who have ridden over the Col d’Izoard in clear weather will always remember the sight around the curve just before Casse Desert. This is a popular destination for motorists, cyclists and motorcyclists so take care. The traffic can be busy. The magnificent view must be enjoyed. After a break at the top of the pass I can recommend going back to the small parking on the curve again. You will understand where it is when you are there.
We stop at Refuge Napoleon for something to drink before the descend through all the serpentines through the woods down to Briançon; We have booked a room at Hotel Cristol just outside the Old Town. Not a fashionable hotel, but affordable, neat and with a decent breakfast. We spent the evening sightseeing in Briançon and enjoyed a good dinner with traditional French mountain cuisine; raclette.
Read about the third part om the Grand Tour des Alpes 2016 here!
Col de Bonette, 2802 m.a.s.l.
Col de Vars, 2108 m.a.s.l.
Col d Izoard, 2360 m.a.s.l.
Nice – Briançon:
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.