TAKE THE HIGH ROADS
Cyclist SEB RAMSEY tackles the French Alps – and tests the temper of his better half
IT’S fair to say I’m in trouble. We’ve been cycling for around four hours, we’ve crossed a couple of chunky cols and there are a couple more to go.
It’s around 25ºC. But it’s not my legs that are protesting, it’s worse, it’s my other half ’s.
Helen had tried to warn me ahead of the trip and I’d come out with a collection of reassuring words that I am now having to eat.
“They’re small, gentle hills. Nothing like the Alps. It won’t matter you’ve not been on your bike all summer. You’ll love it...”
On my side, the ride is stunning, virtually traffic-free and we’ve got all day. Not on my side is that we’ve another 40 miles and 4,000ft of climbing to go and I’m the worst person ever to have lived.
We’ve come out to cycle in the hills around the historic French city of Chambéry.
Sitting at the southern end of the Jura mountains, sandwiched between two magnificent regional parks – the mountainous Chartreuse and Bauges – and fringed by some sizeable lakes, Chambéry is both a beautiful city and a phenomenal cycling hub.
We’d done a partial loop around the Lac du Bourget on our first evening as a warm-up and revelled in the vistas and solitude on the gentle climbs.
Next day, a 60-mile loop around the pasturelands of the Bauges national park had seen us two-abreast all day with hardly another vehicle to trouble us.
Now, leaving Chambéry and heading out into the Chartreuse national park, we’d seen a few riders taking advantage of the network of cycle paths – but ended up totally on our own.
Heading south-east towards Grenoble, we’d climbed steadily on the vineyardflanked fringes of the natural park before starting some serious climbing, zigzagging up through larch forests to the Col de Marcieu.
Again, we hardly saw another soul on this section and the roads were as scenic as any, flanked to the east by the limestone crags of the park’s highest mountains.
Shortly before reaching the ride’s high point at the 1,434m Col de Coq, we looped back west and then north around the impressive tooth-like peak of the 2,062m Dent de Crolles. One of the highest mountains in the park, its home to a worldfamous network of caves regarded as one of the birthplaces of modern caving.
Chartreuse is probably best known for its Carthusian order of monks and their locally brewed green spirit.
Heading back north through the centre of the park, the little towns are pictureperfect and we force ourselves not to take yet another café stop.
Great swathes of forest and small vineyards are peppered by white limestone outcrops, and every little crest – and there are quite a few – brings another delightful village, valley or peak.
Even with tiring legs and slightly fraying tempers, the chocolate box church and chalets of St Pierre d’Entremont force us to stop for a flurry of pictures.
They also mark the start of the final climb to the Col du Granier. I’ve been playing
the distraction game, trying to keep my increasingly displeased companion from stabbing me. But labouring up this final climb, I play my ace. I mention how good the hotel’s bath is going to be.
It can only be an hour away, it’s at the centre of an enormous wet room and I’ve seen smaller swimming pools. We’re staying right in the centre of Chambéry’s old town, a stone’s throw from the 11th Century Chateau des Ducs de Savoie, in a maze of pedestrianised streets in the beautiful five-star Le Petit Hotel Confidentiel.
Owners Charlotte Reyes-Million and husband Jérôme have developed a beautiful old town house, centred around a rectangular quadrangle and a winding stone staircase, into a seriously sumptuous haven of rooms and suites. The reminder of the hotel’s delights is a well-timed gambit and the final climb and the Col de Granier are dispatched with no little bonhomie.
The vines crowd either side of the twisting road in the shadow of the impressive Mont Granier and the high-speed descent is as fun as it is scenic. The flat pull into the city is longer than I’d remembered, though, and I can feel the vibe taking a dive as I make a wrong turn and we end up on a busy main road.
Finally reaching the hotel, Jérôme and Charlotte come out to greet us.
Jérôme takes our bikes and Charlotte looks concernedly at us and her watch.
It’s 7pm, about to go dark and we’ve looked fresher.
“Well, how was it?” she asks Helen. “It was amazing,” she replies. “Where’s the bath?”
Le Petit Hotel Confidentiel – traditonal, luxurious, and very welcome after a hard day on mountain roads Helen taking in the view of St Pierre d’Entremont at the foot of the Roche Veyrand