Easing into our pedalling rhythm as we wound our way along the steep sided gorge, tracking the river and climbing towards the village of Peone marking roughly the halfway point of the ascent, we marvelled at the engineering accomplishments required to construct a road through this precipitous landscape. Looking up at the overhanging cliff faces bordering one side of the road was enough to give us vertigo at times, but we pedalled on as the temperature rose.
Peone was a very pretty little village which boasted very impressive needles of rock, Les “Demoiselles”, towering above the village. After Peone, the switchbacks began relentlessly as we had reached close to the head of the valley and so began winding our way straight up the western slope. At least the forest we had now reached helped to keep us cool until we emerged close to Valberg on the exposed mountainside with just 200m more ascending to go.
Finally, we reached Valberg to find a surprisingly busy ski station and found a handy bench to rest our weary legs and enjoy our lunch while watching families bustling through the square and enjoying the Alpine summer activities.
After our rest we decided to push on a little further on the Routde des Grande Alpe, following the signs passed Valberg and freewheeling down towards another pretty village, Beuil and then on to the Gorge de Cians, knowing that each metre further down would need re-ascending if we were to get back to Guillames later on. Following the river into the gorge, the red rocky cliffs closed in, towering above the narrow road until we eventually stopped our descending at 1150m and just before a 440m tunnel. Had we been able to complete our loop from Puget-Theniers a few days earlier this is the way we would have gone (down all the way), however, today it was time to turn around and start climbing again back to Valberg.
Reaching Valberg an hour or so later, with tiring legs and greying clouds gathering we decided it was time to head back to Guillames, this time taking a different road than the one we'd climbed that morning. Cruising over the stunning viewpoint of the Col de Valberg at 1672m, we then snaked our way down the hairpins and sheer cliffs looking out of the Gorge de Daluis and river below. I'm not sure our brakes have ever worked so hard, but it felt like just a few minutes until we arrived safe, hungry and happy back at the motorhome.