Cycling in the Durance valley - the Balcons de la Durance Loop from Guillestre

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Monday 17 August 2015

Cycling in the Durance valley - the Balcons de la Durance Loop from Guillestre

From our new base on the organic farm in Guillestre having just arrived and with the fine mid-August weather, we were eager to get out on our road bikes. However, having realised that the setup wasn't right for us on the steep climbs and long descents of the high alpine cols we were at a bit of a loss as we didn't want to keep struggling up and down, feeling unsafe. But Esther's collection of leaflets and guides from tourist offices came in handy as we identified a lower level loop from Guillestre that looked just right - the Balcons de la Durance. At 45km long with 687m of climbing over the whole distance, this tour takes in a series of towns and villages on the slopes of the Durance valley, including Embrun, Saint Andre 'Embrun, Saint Clement sur Durance, Eygliers, Chateauroux les Alpes and the especially imposing Mont Dauphin with it's intimidating fortress walls.

Setting off into the afternoon sunshine we tackled the short but steep climb to Mont Dauphin, soon entering the fort across a drawbridge and through the thick walls. A few minutes later we were descending the other from the fort side with a great view to the Ecrins in clear air. Across the bottom of the valley and passed Eygliers, the climbing began again on route towards Saint Clement when we saw 'Route Barree' signs indicating a road closure a few kilometres ahead. Hoping for the best anyway we continued but sure enough ended up turning back to the farm by retracing our pedal strokes back up and over the hill. Still we'd had an hour or so in the fresh air and would try again another day.

That other day came a week or so later as we decided to brave the main Gap - Briancon road (which is actually part of the loop) and bypass the road closure. This time, however, the stress of the huge volume of traffic on the road and getting lost meant we had to give in a second time having only seen a portion of the loop. But what we had seen was beautiful and perhaps one day we'll complete the loop in full when the roads are open once more.

17th August 2015

Update 1 - 21st August 2015: We also tried another ride in the Durance valley, this time heading towards Briancon on the western flank of the valley, climbing on the D38 to Champcella and an altitude of 1150m on the way towards Argentiere-le-Besse and following part of the Boucle d'Izoard in reverse. It was another lovely route.

Update 2 - 2nd September 2015 - On our way to climb the road to Montee de Parpaillon from Saint-Andre-d'Embrun, we followed the Balcons de la Durance loop in reverse for 16km from Guillestre. The view along the valley towards Lac Serre-Poncon was incredible with amazing turquoise waters shimmering in the sunshine and on the river below the road. Great views from this Balcony ride making us want to do the whole loop even more.

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