Mountains, Sun, Sea, twisty sticky roads and great company – what’s not to like?
Yet again I found myself at STOP24, one motorway junction away from the departure junction for the tunnel, at 0700 wide awake with the excitement of the trip to come and looking forward to meeting my companions and fellow bikers who would be joining me on our Magellan tour.
I was not disappointed as everyone was there on time and once introductions were over, we rode off to join the queue for the Eurotunnel. What I had not realised was that this was the first day of school holidays in England and I could not believe the amount of people with the same idea as our small group – all hustling and bustling their way through to board the train however, we made our connection on time and were soon whizzing our way under the English Channel.
We were soon in France and driving on the RHS of the road on the autoroute to give us a good start out of Calais and past the more boring flat and very busy French countryside that surrounds it. We soon got to our first coffee stop and another chance for everyone to get to know one another better. Some had been with Magellan before and renewed acquaintances but for the most part we were strangers about to share an adventure together.
Our first stop was to be the war memorial at Verdun which is always somewhere that brings tears to my eyes as I see the sacrifice that was made on both sides to satisfy the whims of those in a higher station.
Our hotel that night was in a lovely village close to the Lac de Madine. We had little chance to see the lake as we were meeting the other half of our group at the hotel. They had travelled from Portsmouth to Le Harve via the ferry and made their own way here so again, it was a series of introductions then something to eat and drink prior to getting to bed.
With our group of eleven motorcycles and twelve people now complete, we left the next morning following our satnav’s in the general direction of the Vosges Mountains and some spectacular scenery. These are the highest mountains in the region and Le Grand Ballon at 1424m is where we ended up having driven some thrilling roads to get to our lunch stop just before the summit.
Off we went again to the Jura Mountains and our overnight stop in the heart of them. Some drizzly weather greeted us on arrival and also explained why the region is so green. A lovely meal with some of us trying the local Vin Jaune which is the most famous and has a sherry like taste.
The next day saw us climb into the Alps in the direction of Geneva. The views over lac Léman (Lake Geneva) were spectacular as were the roads with sharp hairpins, long straights and lovely scenery. We entered briefly into Switzerland via Geneva and out again as quickly as we travelled to another lake in France – Lake Annecy, where we stopped for lunch. Off again past Chambery and we climbed into the Chartreuse region with its rocky crags and balcony roads before we dropped down to Grenoble which is hemmed in by the Alps and the Vercors.
Our next day’s ride was to be down the famous Route Napoleon, once we navigated our way past Grenoble. Route Napoleon lives up to its reputation as being both tremendously scenic and also a driver’s road. Long sweeping bends with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and lakes. Sticky well-kept roads and not too much traffic. We then dropped down and took the road past Lac du Serre-Ponçon with its azure colour nestling amid the mountains, a quick lunch stop and we were off again to Digne le Bains then our overnight stop of Manosque where we were to spend two nights.
A lovely Family run hotel with parking in the garage for the bikes made this a popular stopover. Most of the group went off the next day to explore the Gorge Verdon which is a natural wonder often called the Grand Canyon of France! A chance to drive past lavender fields and drive without a heavily loaded bike made this day fun but some had a longer trip than others as Peter, Andy and Janice, after touring most of the Gorge, left for Nice to pick up Helen who was to join us for the remainder of the trip.
Now we were thirteen but still eleven motorcycles and our journey took us south towards the Cote D’Azure. Cannes, St. Tropes, Frejus all are name droppers but what people forget is the amount of traffic and the heat whilst cruising along the promenade at 30km/hour often stopping for crossings and lights. We all made the ordeal and got to the ferry terminal in Toulon in time to catch the overnight ferry to Bastia in Corsica.
Our plan to re-group at the first café when we left the ship was abandoned early as everyone rushed off amidst the holiday traffic and we climbed out of the lower and busier roads near the port and into the mountains. Soon our group was together again and supping coffee and nibbling croissants. The scenery here lifted everyone’s spirits after an early start from the ferry and soon we were off again enjoying lovely flowing roads and slowly climbing the mountain passes in the direction of the west coast of the island.
Lots of photo opportunities along the route with wild pigs, cows and goats all sharing the roads with us at some point. We often found ourselves stopping at layby’s to take in the wonderful vistas all around us.
Our stop for the next two nights was a lovely hotel not far from the beach in a village called Porto Orto and it would be hard to find a nicer spot. We were soon sipping beers in cafes, swimming in the pool or some braving the waves to get into the lovely warm Mediterranean Sea.
Our next day’s run was a short in distance circular route but even short distances take a long time when driving in Corsica and a three hour trip turned into a five our ride with everyone enjoying the scenery and some complaining that I had not mentioned to take swim things along as there were certainly a few opportunities to go for a dip!
Back at our base and more chance for a swim. Our resident history expert, Conrad, braved the mid-afternoon sun to walk the path up to the fort which overlooked the bay whilst others such as Andrew, Ian and Katherine were spotted licking ice-creams and window shopping.
All too soon we had to leave this island paradise however our route took us north along the coast before we crossed the small peninsula to Bastia and our overnight ferry back to mainland France. Andy and Janice managed to find a beach side restaurant where they stopped for lunch and a paddle given that we had plenty time whilst others opted for lunch at various restaurants en-route.
All together again in the ferry we bade our farewell to Corsica and retired early as we had an 0600 departure meaning a wakeup call at 0430!
Not much traffic when we drove through Toulon the next morning and soon we were back on lovely smooth winding roads heading in the direction of Arles which is on the north of the Camargue region. Arles was once governed by Julius Ceaser and our lunch stop was by the colosseum right in the centre. I thought that I was the history expert but was amazed by how much Paul knew about Roman history and he kept us entertained with his stories and anecdotes.
Our stop for the night was in Meyrueis which is near Millau and the famous bridge designed by Sir Norman Foster. The roads to Meyrueis were fantastic in the Cervennes national park with Ian and myself going faster and faster round the tight bends, grins on our faces as we bounced from a right to the left however all too soon we arrived at our lovely stop for the night.
The next morning we drove through the very scenic canyons along the Gorge du Tarn before spotting the Millau Bridge in the distance which progressively got bigger as we approached it until we were under it and looking up. Lots of photos then off to the visitor and exhibition centre where we had a bit of a mix-up with getting to the car parks. Those that did stop spent an informative hour in the centre however as we were now split into multiple groups we left for our lunch stop – hoping to catch everyone up. I figured that I was behind everyone and rushed on only stopping at a supermarket for a drink and snack only to spot Claire’s bike stopped at a lay-by along with Steve and Conrad. Very soon after Katherine, Andrew and Ian joined us – it just shows how close we all were even though I am pretty sure we took different routes. When we arrived at the hotel, John was already there and soon Andy, Janice, Peter, Helen and Paul arrived – the miracles of modern navigation!
We were to be based here for two nights and our next day’s run was to have been exploring volcanos, castles and lakes however, we went to bed that night to the sound of thunder and the morning forecast was for heavy rain showers. Maps out and some shorter trips planned for most apart from John and Ian who decided to go the full route and turn back if they were too badly affected by the weather. They turned out to be the lucky ones and had a great day without getting wet once! The rest of us visited the beautiful town of Treignac and were caught in a heavy downpour – just shows you!
Off to Chartres for our last overnight stop and a chance to see the laser light show which is on every night at various spots around the town although the cathedral has the most spectacular showing. What a wonderful evening – hard to imagine how many hours go into putting together such a show.
All too soon it was time for bed.
The next morning was time to say our goodbyes as our group was once again to split with Steve, Claire, Peter, Helen, Andy and Janice all heading for Le Harve and the overnight ferry to Portsmouth whilst the rest of us were travelling north.
We left Chartres and got caught in a rain shower. Waterproofs on then off again as the sun came out. Our first coffee stop was closed but we soon found another at the next village then it was on to lunch where I had to say my goodbyes as everyone opted to go onto the autoroute for the last two hours.
Paul had left slightly earlier from Chartres but was keeping me updated via text messages as to his progress and ended up ahead of the rest at the Eurotunnel however, the important thing was that everyone got home safely.
A fantastic tour round France, only touching the surface but seeing so much. Corsica was the most popular stop although I am sure that when everyone looks back at the photos and videos they will remember how beautiful other regions were as well. A great bunch of people to spend a holiday with and I hope that I will meet them all again on another trip.