A fiery dawn in Marseille and fresh start for a ride up from Barcelonette to the col de la Bonette, that the French say is the highest road pass in Europe. The route de la Bonette climbs more than 1400m in altitude over about 14km length up from Jausiers. The current route, built 1963-64, passes the barracks at Restfond and some high altitude bunkers built by Maginot in 1931 as part of what became known as the “Maginot Line”. Many inscriptions in the rock and on the buildings and bunkers confirm the area was heavily associated with the Légion Etrangère.
Autumn colours in the trees in the valley of the Durance and onwards past Chorges and the Lac de Serre-Poncon to Barcelonette, Fine, dry and clear roads with just real insects hitting the visor, no police (“flics”) and no cyclists! No snow on the crags and the signs confirmed all the cols open; but time for winter leathers.
Then the magnificent col de la Bonette, practically perfect, lots and lots of corners to get the leg down and use some sidewall rubber. The corners keep on coming and they are all different. Pretty much an empty road: a few cars, a downhill board rider, then just a couple of cyclists and no flocks of sheep sprawled across the road, but there were a few marmot calls. Is this biker paradise, the place to say to the devil that I want to stay for ever? Maybe that's getting a bit fanciful, but having seen Gounod's “Faust” earlier this week at Covent Garden, I was just waiting for Mephistopheles to appear and make life hell. Maybe he didn't appear because I was missing a “Marguerite” on two wheels; I was riding alone, despite asking around both the UK or the French bike clubs of which I am a member. Anyhow, I got back to Marseille under a colourful sunset for a meal with friends at a favourite small restaurant on the Canebière; a social end to a brilliant day.
I was last up there in August 2010: Col de la Bonette, 2802m - August 2010
The col de la Bonette, 2715m, is where the route passes from the valley of the river Ubaye to the valley of the river Tinée
The highest point of the Route de la Bonette is at 2802m.
Leaving the bike and walking up a further 60m altitude (about the same as a Avon Gorge in Clifton, Bristol) one reaches the Cime de la Bonette at 2862m, 9390ft.