Travel Through France on a Harley-Davidson

By Peter & Kay Forwood

France on a Harley (25/9/09 - 7/10/09)
Distance 1964 km (548628 km to 550592 km)

This is part of the fifteenth section of our around the world trip.
Complete Trip Overview & Map

Coming from Switzerland or read our previous visit to France   

25/9/09 We decided to take the Route des Grandes Alpes, for its entire length over a few days, from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean coast near Nice, a distance of about 700 km's. We have had almost two weeks of lovely weather, mostly sunny and low 20's, and headed out in similar weather, which continued most of the day, twisting through the mountains with stunning scenery, stopping roadside for snacks at a couple of the great rest areas along the road. We noticed quite a presence of police along the way, people flashing us with their lights warning, mostly at the end of expressways,Strolling through the streets of Bourg-St-Maurice where speeds were being reduced. On first appearance France, at least in this area, seems to be well equipped with what we look for. Easy to access supermarkets and lots of accommodation places, campgrounds or cheap hotels. By late afternoon we were entering Bourg-St-Maurice and seeing a sign, rooms for 40 Euro, we enquired, and took a basic room in the lovely L'Autantic Hotel and capped off a great day with some French cheeses and a wine in our room after dark.

26/9/09 It had rained overnight, clearing the skies of the pollution that had gathered during the two weeks of dry, and the surrounding mountains became clear and spectacular. We had been a little disappointed by the haze of the last few days but this had now disappeared. Comfortable, we decided to have a rest day, staying another night at the hotel, and after a Saturday morning stroll about the pedestrian area of town we took a short ride to the top of a nearby pass, 1968 metres high,The pass at Col de l'Iseran just 20km's out of town, where locals were walking in the mountains, but as we arrived early afternoon rain started falling, increasing as we waited, so it was a ride back down to the sunnier valley. The active police pulled us over, unable to recognise our registration plate amongst the many stickers and dirty rear of the motorcycle, they were polite, and suggested we clean the plaque. 

27/9/09 Still following the Route des Grandes Alpes, over the Col de l'Iseran, 2770 metres and cold at the top. Over the Col du Galibier, 2642 metres, and Col de l'Izoard, 2361 metres, along with other passes less than 2000 metres. There was snow and glaciers on the nearby peaks but nothing near the road and in lovely autumn weather, 20 plus degrees, the riding was magnificent as was the scenery. People, like us, and others, think that there is little to see in the way of mountain scenery in Europe, venturing elsewhere in the world to capture the true mountain vistas, but the scenery here, in Switzerland, Austria and the Italian alps, that we have recently seen is as grand as anywhere else in the world we have ventured. The good roads, clear air and light autumn traffic adding to the pleasure, howeverRugged mountains of France, could be Pakistan? today being a Sunday, the road racing motorcyclists were on the twisties again, almost oblivious to the scenery. Shops here are closed all day Sunday, and with little food carried we raided the apple trees in our campground, cooking a pasta, apple and sultana stewed desert meal for our evening camp in Guillestre.

28/9/09 We had been so impressed with the barren scenery, narrow mountain edge road and deep gorge on the Col de l'Izoard pass yesterday that we decided to spend another day in Guillestre, do our washing and shopping in town, then ride it again from the other direction back over to Briancon, then taking the main road back to our campground. It was no less stunning from the other direction. We stopped for photos many times, boiled the billy for tea, and lay on park benches in full sunshine to while away a relaxed day. Another laptop movie in the ablution block in the evening, there being just one other group of campers at the campground.

29/9/09 We are enjoying France. Perhaps it is getting back our trip, having completed Along the Route de Grandes Alpesour agenda of visiting friends. Perhaps it is the slower pace of travel. Perhaps it is the easy going people of France. We are finding them helpful, offering us assistance when asked, in supermarkets, looking for the laundry, or even using their credit cards in exchange for our cash, when approached at the unmanned petrol stations we are encountering everywhere. Another lovely day of sunshine as we packed up the tent. Guillestre to St Martin-Vesubie for today's ride. Still in the mountains, more great scenery the day's highlight plus a couple more above 2000 metre passes. Motorcycles are not much on this section, perhaps it is a little narrow with tight corners meaning the going was a little tight rather than smooth, but we met a tour group of nine Americans riding the mountains. Many campgrounds are already closed and tonight we arrived at one, its last night open for the season. Like our last camp it is in an old orchard, apples and pears, now ripe and dropping from the trees, so we collected a few and stewed them for a tomorrow roadside snack.

30/9/09 This morning's ride was on narrower roads, single lane for much of the day, alongside Cram packed Monaco has lost its appealmountain drop offs and narrow gorges, through forests now in full autumn colours. A detour had us riding hairpinned down a cliff face to the valley below where now near sea level we were finally at the Mediterranean Coast, and headed for Monaco to see if it had changed in the eleven years since our previous visit. It had, it was more crowded if that was possible, the streets jammed with cars and motorcycle couriers, sidewalks with tourists. More buildings crammed onto the small, less than 2 sq/km area, its tax haven status drawing more and more residents. In the crowdedness it had lost its appeal we experienced on our first visit and we contented ourselves to taking a spectator view of the place overlooking the yachts in the harbour. Mid afternoon we were in Nice, our Lonely Planet chosen backpacker hotel was full, something we have encountered more and more. Backpackers, all using the same book, now plan ahead, use the internet to book their accommodation, removing flexibility but guaranteeing a place to stay. We moved on, taking a room at the B&B Chain, a workers hotel, basic like Formula 1, but a little more comfortable.

1/10/09 Stayed anA photo can't really show the beauty of the limestone Canyon du Verdon extra night. It is easier to move a longer distance one day and stay two nights rather than look for accommodation each night. We also took the opportunity to book ahead a couple of nights with the free wi/fi at the hotel. Laterooms.com again, good deals along, but just off our route, giving us a reason to visit small country towns. Didn't leave our hotel grounds all day, just relaxed reading a book, cooking at the outdoor tables, watching the business clients arriving and leaving. Mostly blue collar workers, in vans, but a number of suits, and one or two tourists. The place was full both nights. France seems to have little of the pretentiousness of other European countries, like Switzerland or even Germany, where their cars are large, new and black. The French seem quite content with smaller, older vehicles, don't seem to need to "keep up with the Jones's" and seem more relaxed and tolerant because of it.

2/10/09 Whilst the lunchtime closing can be inconvenient it does demonstrate the relaxed approach the French have to life. Again we needed to ask someone if we could use their credit card at a petrol station to get the significantly cheaper prices the unattended pumps offer. We left Nice,Rap dancers practicing moves on the Palace forecourt, Avingnon taking the Route Napoleon back up into the mountains. A wider, more flowing road than the Grand Alps, we sat back and enjoyed the smooth flowing corners, little traffic, and great weather, the major components of any good ride. The day was topped off by the Grand Canyon du Verdon. The river has cut a massive gouge through the limestone country, finishing in a large lake, with the typical limestone blue hue to its evening colours. A popular summer destination away from the coastal heat it was now empty, more campgrounds closed, but we found one right on the lake, almost empty, and could enjoy the sunset over the barren mountains.

3/10/09 The morning was no less stunning although the lack of recent rain had caused an early haze to appear over the countryside. I like open landscapes, ones that leave little unseen, deserts, high altitude mountains, and in this case poor quality limestone soils and rocky outcrops. The tight road around the gorge gave way again to loose sweeping bends as we headed for Avignon, arriving mid afternoon after passing through fields of apples and grapes, in a region that the Romans would likely have travelled and grown crops 2000 years earlier. Whatever the tapping noise was in the engineThe old city of Avingnon at night a few weeks ago it seems to have gone for good. Nothing better than a self fixing engine. Perhaps it was a lazy cam follower that freed up, or a piece of carbon stuck, anyway the engine has now been running as it should do for the last few thousand kilometres. After setting up camp across the river from the old city of Avignon we strolled across the bridge, ate a picnic meal then watched the rapper's practicing their dance routines on the square outside the Palace of the Popes. The throngs of daytime tourist coaches had left and the area was returned to the "more locals", street buskers with their dogs, kids on skateboards, perhaps not the Pope's intended use for the area.

4/10/09 We had planned a mirror photo of our previous visit to the Pont du Gard, but after travelling to the left and right bank of the river, only to find our road now blocked, a pay parking area, information area, but it didn't now seem possible to place our motorcycle in the same position as on our last visit. I guess it is progress, traffic management, revenue raising, but we left and headed down to Arles, joining the locals for a Sunday coffee,Picadors practicing on the beach amongst bathers in the town where Vincent van Gogh had lived and painted. A little further south is the Camargue, a delta for the River Rhone, where bull fighting bulls are bred and bull fighting horses can be ridden. It was the last bullfighting arena festival of the season when we arrived at Saintes-Maries de-la-Mer, situated right on the coast, and full local tourist enjoying lunch time restaurants. Boats filled the marina, others, full, toured the river, while the bull ring sold tickets and the picadors practiced their parading movements on the sandy beach amongst sunbathers. Not into bull fights we left the culture for the locals taking a "Fasthotel" roadside near Nimes. Another of the cheap hotel chains that dot France.

5/10/09 300km's. Our route took us through more limestone country, more vineyards, a couple of cities and much of rural France. The winding scenic road to Mazamet, then south to Quillan and a small "chambre d'hote", a homestay alongside a river just 100 metres from the Pierre-Lys Gorge, one of three gorges in the area. Found via the internet, this small place is run by an ex-pat Englishman. Having no route towards Andorra we just pickedPicnicking at the Spanish enclave of Llivia accommodation in the region and headed there using the principal that if there is tourist accommodation, chances are there is something for tourists to see or do.

6/10/09 Chris runs a relaxed place and even though the, by coincidence, other Australian couple staying here last night were booked in for dinner, there was no problems with us picnicking in the extensive garden, after joining them for a pre dinner drink, us from our shop bought bottle of wine, them from their restaurant dinner bottle. As the routine jobs had again grown we spent the morning with chores, the afternoon was enjoyed viewing the gorges and in the local town, then again evening of a bottle of wine and a picnic in the garden. The Australian couple had left and a Scottish couple arrived during the day so the evening's company was changed with Chris lending his reflective stories to the evening.

7/10/09 The next location from the Most Travelled Persons list that we had earmarked to visit was Llivia, near Andorra. A Spanish enclave encircled by France this "city" of about 2 sq/km's and 1400 people seems to have beenAutumn colours coming into the mountain shrubbery left behind and forgotten a number of times in border reshuffles and consequently still remains a part of Spain within France. In 1659 the Treaty of the Pyrenees ceded villages in the area to the French but Llivia, considered a City at the time, remained Spanish property, and still does today. It was a twisty mountain ride to the enclave "City" after passing up through another lovely gorge near last night's accommodation. We picnicked at the edge of town, with not much of interest in the village, then took the twisty road up to Andorra.



Move with us to Andorra
or go to our next visit to France



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