Saturday, September 22, 2012

Alps (and L'Avenir)

Had a wonderful trip to French Alps, August 26-September 6, 2012. I wanted to recount for fun and to share, so others can enjoy. My mission was tagged to watch Nathan compete in the Tour de L'Avenir, a prestigious race for under-23 cyclists, the 'baby' Tour de France. The race was great, and drove my exploration of places I wouldn't have seen. But my focus was to enjoy and relax, and that I did. This part of the world is among the most stunning I've seen.

Flew overnight from Washington Dulles to Geneva via Amsterdam on KLM. On arriving Monday, drove a back way to my lodging in Valloire. My path took me 26 Km up the Col de la Madeleine, a famous stretch for the Tour de France. On Monday, the hills were green, gold and granite. Several days later, on Friday, August 31, the pass was coated with snow (below), and the Tour de L'Avenir stage over the Col had to be re-routed. Nasty for August!

The bike race week was mostly rain (or snow), but for me it was mellow. I lodged at a ski hotel in the smallish village of Valloire (about 12 restaurants). Slept in a lot, ate breakfast at patisseries, hiked or biked 3 or more hours every day, soaked in incredible scenery, and caught-up with my son and his teammates as I could.

The mountains and hills in the Alps are gorgeous, special light, verdant, awesome ... many adjectives fit. I liked several hikes I took in or after light rains, like a 12 Km trek about Lac des Cerces, the Col, and other features (top pic, below). Or the crags above Col de la Colombiere, another TdF landmark (middle pic). It was all great and sublime, stretching the lungs and, for me, soothing the soul. After the hike or bike (bottom pic), I'd settle into a nap, a great meal, and wine or beer. Surprising thing, except for the airfare, it wasn't too expensive ... my lodging was usually under 100 Euros, and meals weren't too pricey ... particularly in the rural areas.

After the bike race first week, I saw my son and his teammates off to Belgium (with a shopping bag of homemade cookies and ice cream), shifted gears and headed to Chamonix for a few days. Chamonix is at the base of Mont Blanc, and a hiker's / extreme sport aficionado's paradise. Everyone is rightly decked out for an Eddie Bauer or Yves Sant Laurent ad, it seems. I enjoyed my time immensely. Comfortable hotel, off the main square, hiked 3 to 7 hours each day (did some major pain, 5,000' descending off the massif). Hiked main routes, bookended by cafes and cold drinks, high altitude sun (up to 12,500') ... astounding views. I could spend a month in Chamonix and be half finished.

That said, my favorite place was an extraordinarily comfortable and nicely appointed country chalet, in Les Plens, above Le Grand Bornand (which, itself, is a bit east of Annecy). I was only here two nights / three days, but this was so comfortable, I could have spent my entire trip here (and drove to the race locales, Mont Blanc, etc.). I slept 11-12 hours, took long baths, and mountain biked or hiked to great satisfaction ... ate big meals (pizza like you've never had, local beer, and Genepi digestif), tuned in bike race stages ... repeat ... repeat ... repeat ... When things move to stress back in good old DC, I look over pics of these mountains, and the chalet, and settle back to what is, what will be ... so nice.

Resources listed below. Allez!

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