TAKE THE HIGH ROADS

Cy­clist SEB RAM­SEY tack­les the French Alps – and tests the tem­per of his bet­ter half

East Kilbride News - - READER TRAVEL -

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

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