Magnificent autumn colours for my ride of the Col de la Cayolle (2327 m.). The road from Barcelonnette (1130 m.) passes through the narrow Gorges du Bachelard with huge slabs of rock above. Trees cling to the sides and are now showing their autumn magnificence. Not a fast road but great to enjoy the sights and the flexibility of a bike, able to stop freely.
The Col de la Cayolle has a view right down to the Mediterranean at Nice, the valley of the River Var. The road down is open as it weaves down the deep valley sides: daring bridges, dark rock tunnels with treacherous road surface. And eventually villages.
Way behind schedule but taking the time to enjoy the ride, I stopped for lunch in Guillaumes (802 m.). An entrecote at a table in fresh air and sunshine outside the bar, the local builders eating in the same place is a mark of quality. Talking with the rider of a classic GSXR 1100, newly restored after 20 years off the road. Thankful to refill with petrol as there’s a scarcity due to strikes at the refineries down near Marseille.
Back via the Col des Champs (2074 m.), a road constructed to consolidate France’s acquisition of this territory in the settlement of 1860. A stele at the col marks the work of the unit of Chasseurs Alpins; this would have been a bleak place to pioneer a road. Their route up from the road to the Cayolle is a workout on hairpin riding techniques as it climbs the steep valley side through a dense forest.
Down to Colmars (1260 m.) on the road to Allos is rural and a reminder of how these roads were when I was first riding Alpine cols: unreliable surfaces, unprotected drop-offs into oblivion but a real feel of connection with the topography. No marmottes at the top but I enjoyed a couple of red squirrel sightings through the forest.
The road to the Col d’Allos (2240 m.) has been mercilessly improved to facilitate traffic to the ski resort; it’s now fast and flowing. The col is desolate, a forlorn and conscience saving attempt at nature conservation literally in the shadows of lots of ski technology. The weather was going manky so no urge to stop along here.
Allos north side road has also been improved but it’s never going to be fast and flowing. Perilous blind bends and crazy crags with views over to the Gorges du Bachelard that I rode earlier and traces of early snow on some of the peaks.
So back to Barcelonnette. It would be hard to find another route that has such variety of thrills in one day’s ride.