15 July 2009

Piemont and the Maritime Alps

From Corsica Susan and I ship to the Italian port or Savona. We hadn`t yet determined how to continue from here. So now we need to decide between the ocean route the along the Mediterranean Cote d`Azur (via Nice/Nizza and Monacco) and the up-and-down of the Piemontese Alps. We are both pretty tired from the tough hike in Corsica but in the end opt for the more challenging but pitoresque inland route: via the provincial capital Cuneo through the steep Piemontese Stura-valley across the 1996m high "Col de Larche" pass to Haute-Provence in France. The pass will be Susan`s first by bicycle. After a good rest in the small and welcoming town of Millesimo we head to Cuneo and into the hills.
To the majority of people Piemont might only be known because its cherries are turned into the candy "Mon Cherie" by the producer of "Nutella" and golden "Rocher" balls. Tourism has not touched Piemont much in the past - the landscape is much to rough for skiing tourism or easy hiking. Additionally (or as a cause of this) Piemont has become depopulated; the young polulation continually moved away to the bigger industrial Italian cities to find employment and pleasure. But since a few years so called "Eco-tourism" has been introduced into the region and offers breathtaking hiking routes combined with an experience of the local culture and cuisine. The famous long distance route GTA (Gran Traversale di Alpi) crosses Piemont during its 60 day-hikes from Switzerland all the way to the coast of the Mediterranean - a fabulous trip that leads almost every day a steep way over a high pass and down into a new valley.
(I hiked part of the GTA in 2007 and highly recommend this trail to all long distance hiking enthusiasts!)

But for now Susan and I are riding bicycles. Considering the weight we both carry in our panniers even the lower passes are challening. The "Col de Larche" has been part of the famous "Giro d´Italia", the Italian equivalent of the "Tour de France". In two daytrips we make it to the top and cross the Italian-French border. Susan is tired but also very happy as she whizzes downhill into French province Provence.

When we arrive the small town of Barcelonette I discover that I had been ignorant to the fact that the magnificent canyon of the Verdon river lay to our left. There is only one problem between Verdon and us: another alpine pass: "Col d`Allos".
Surprisingly, Susan is all up for it. On my map the pass is indicated with an altitude of 1759m, a small cookie compared to yesterdays 1996m. As Barcelonette is already on 1100m we only have to make a bit more than 600 meters - not so terrible.

The next day we start off early any wind up the narrow pass road through breathtaking terrain. One detail that we observe is that the road is closed for motorized traffic every friday morning so that cyclists can enjoy their ride without petrolized disturbances. What a great idea. The second thing we observe is that there are little milestones on the roadside every kilometer to indicate the gradient and the actual altitude. The third thing we observe is that there is a milestone that says 1844m. Wasn´t the pass going to be at 1759m?
I verify with the map and realize that I had gotten the wrong number - the pass is at 2250m, so we actually have to cycle almost twice as high as expected!!! In the end it all works out - once you`re at it you`re at it. We are both exhausted and happy when we arrive on top and take a glance into the next valley and at the gorgeous downhill that expects us.

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