Dave the motorhome has the most amazing view from his window, and he deserves it after the day he has had. He’s parked up for the night in the temporary Aire in La Rosiere, France (the usual Aire is having some construction work done on it) which looks out over the Tarentaise Mountains and the ski resort of Les Arcs (N45.62927 E6.85603).
Last night we struggled to stay awake. All that fresh mountain air and walking had done us all in and as the cloud had come down around us blocking all views out of Dave’s windows, we hit the sack at 9.30pm.
This morning the cloud had lifted a bit and we were surprised to see about 12 other motorhomes dotted around the lake at the top of the Col du Grand St Bernard, like us, having made the most of a free night of parking. We had our breakfast and got Dave ready for the off. We’d had an email from our friends Chris and Tina who we met in Spain and travelled around Morocco with. We had planned a rendez-vous with them in France in a week or so, but the email brought bad news; Christina, their motorhome, had broken down. We called them to see if there was anything we could do to help, but it’s all in the hands of a Ford garage at the moment. It’s a Bank Holiday in France today, and as tomorrow is Friday Christina won’t even be looked at until next week so they may have to get repatriated back home. We’ve got our fingers crossed that everything works out for them.
As Jay fired Dave up, plumes of firstly white, then black smoke belched from his exhaust, so we slowly made our way out of the car park and over the border into Italy leaving a trail of fumes. The Italian side of the pass is a wigglie beastie with barely a straight patch of road along its length. It made the Transfagarasan pass in Romania seem easy and soon had Jay reaching for his aching shoulder. Below us we could see the concrete roof of the Mont Blanc tunnel, but we had a lot more winding to do before we got to join the same road as it. We pulled in about three quarters of the way down to check Dave’s brakes, they were hot, but not too hot so we ploughed on.
Before too long we were in amongst Italian Alpine towns, which look exactly the same as Swiss and French Alpine towns except the road signs and names are slightly different. Reaching Aosta we baulked at the price of diesel and crossed our fingers that Dave’s quarter of a tank would be enough to get us over the next mountain pass and back into France. We trundled our way along the road towards the ski resort of Courmayeur (at the opposite end of the Mount Blanc tunnel to Chamonix) behind a very slow Italian registered car, which isn’t a sight we’re used to. The reason was soon explained as we could see the silhouettes of waving hands up front – the driver and passenger were deep in conversation, and of course conversations in Italian require your hands.
At Courmayeur we turned left and began our climb up to the Col du Petit St Bernard. It’s about 800m lower than the Grand Col, but the road is about twice as twisty and half as wide, as there were road works taking place all the way up it. Dave coughed his way up and round the steep hairpin bends which had taken a flashy BMW motorbike as a victim, a group were picking it up after it had stalled going around the apex – we saw it later and the damage seemed only to be to the rider’s ego.
As we reached the ski resort of La Thuile we planned to stop and get some lovely Italian ice cream, but the bank holiday (L’Assomption de Marie) crowds had other ideas and every square inch of parking space was taken. So Dave wearily crawled on with Jay’s shoulder getting worse with each hairpin – and there were lots of them. Finally we reached the top and found a cheeky space by the side of the road to pull in.
We gawped at the amazing views as we wandered around some Roman ruins (is there anywhere those Roman’s didn’t go?). Still in Italy, just, we found a cafe and I ordered a couple of boules of ice cream using an array of languages – as I struggled to remember what little Italian I knew, my brain spouted out foreign words, the were the right words for what I wanted, but not always the same language. The boules were €1 each, a bargain when you consider the location, we should have known. Not only were they the smallest ice creams I’ve ever known, but they weren’t even the lovely Italian creamy, tastiness they should have been.
After a spot of lunch we set off and within seconds we were back in France. Ahead of us the French side of the pass clung to the mountain side in a series of smooth curves on a shallow descent with a vista of mountains laid out before us. With views like this we couldn’t leave the mountains just yet, so we pulled in when we reached the ski resort of La Rosiere.
We came here back in March 2008 with two of our best friends for their honeymoon, there was a group of us and we took over a chalet and went skiing and snowboarding. We couldn’t resist a little wander down memory lane and despite the lack of snow it’s amazing how many memories came back – mainly of places Jay had flung himself down the slopes on a plastic blue disc! We spotted ‘our chalet’ and the pen where they keep a couple of St Bernard dogs in (wonder if they are the same ones as when we were here before?).
There were posters up around the place for a festival taking place, and tonight it’s an open air concert and fireworks display. I nipped into the tourist office and was given a load of leaflets – we could easily spend a week here doing all the stuff in them – and was given directions to the temporary Aire which is on a plateau above the resort. Dave made one final push up the narrow roads and flung himself onto the patch of grass. The camping chairs came out and we soaked up sunshine and the most amazing view for a couple of hours.
We took a walk back down into the town to see what was going on at the open air concert venue. We found some serious petanque being played and families grabbing the seats ready for the show which doesn’t start for another three hours. But there was a DJ and beer being served so they were quite happy to wait and make the most of the bank holiday sunshine.
Back at Dave Jay cooked us up a truly European tea of what was left in our cupboards; Swiss rosti and German roasted onion bits cooked in French duck fat, accompanied by Polish goulash and Greek white beans. It was all washed down with a bottle of Ukrainian red wine – tomorrow we really need to find a supermarket! The sun has set and the lights of Les Arcs are twinkling at us across the valley, so it’s time to make a den for Charlie under the table before the fireworks kick off.