Col de Vars (2,108 m), Col de la Cayolle (2,326 m) and the climb to Valberg (1,430m)
The Col de Vars from Guillestre was a pleasure to ride up and the last of the climbs I’ve done on previous trips. The Vars ski stations are attractive villages and the views back towards the high Alps are spectacular.
We were held up by a serious accident on the descent. A motorcyclist had hit a car in a tunnel. The emergency services were there in force including an air ambulance. It looked pretty bad. The road was closed and we felt awful pushing our bikes past the scene, but there was space and we wouldn’t have achieved anything by waiting. The experience slowed us down on the rest of the day’s descents, we all felt quite mortal.
We bought lunch in a supermarket in the market town of Barcelonette which we ate in one of the town’s many squares. Barcelonette is a vibrant little community with shops and a street market. It looked like it would have been a good place to stay had it not been lunchtime.
The early part of the Col de la Cayolle takes you through a steep-sided gorge before climbing through fields to its summit at 2,326m. We saw of first celebrity of the trip here, Oleg Tinkov, the owner and main sponsor of Tinkoff-Saxo pro cycling team. He was riding down the col towards Barcelonette. I broke another spoke on the climb which I replaced at the top. The descent is one of the most famous balcony roads in the Alps. Balcony roads are the ones cut into the sides of sheer cliffs – not much fun for people with a fear of heights, but they’re great for photographs.
We took a turn signposted to Valberg which took us up a quiet climb through forests. We stopped in a reasonable sized town called Péone for refreshments before continuing the climb. It was blisteringly hot on the lower slopes and I started to suffer from the dreaded hot-foot. I poured water from my bidons on my shoes to try and cool my feet. The road to Valberg was very quiet and we can’t have seen more than two cars in the space of an hour. I began to wonder whether there was going to be anything up there when we arrived. Just realised why I started this paragraph the way I did. The turn we took to Valberg wasn’t part of the official route, we should’ve taken the next turning. The route we took was probably better through, almost traffic free.
Luke got to the town first and was eating a slice of pizza outside a café when we arrived. The proprietor recommended we try the large building opposite his bar for accommodation. They had an apartment we could rent for a reasonable price which included breakfast.
Valberg is a purpose built ski station and although it does have a short summer season in July and August it was almost deserted in June. Almost all of the restaurants and bars were closed as was the local supermarket. Encouraged by a sign saying “Ouvrir tout l’année” we tried a pizza restaurant only to find this was closed too. The busiest place in town appeared to be a hotel called Le Chalet Suisse where the convoy of classic cars that have been shadowing us were parked outside. The hotel’s restaurant was fairly busy and the atmosphere buzzing. We ate well.