Exporing the Vallée de la Clarée by Bike from Briancon and Col de l'Echelle

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Monday, 7 September 2015

Exporing the Vallée de la Clarée by Bike from Briancon and Col de l'Echelle

Setting out from Briancon the day after our afternoon ascent of the Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier we had decided to explore a valley that been highly recommended by numerous people we'd met during our stay in the area, the Vallée de la Clarée. Also, the route into the valley from Briancon took us towards another named and waymarked cycling col, the Col de l'Echelle, which at just a 3.1% average gradient on the way to 1762m high point, we thought we might also investigate along the way as well. However, although we didn't make it to the col, it was the incredible scenery of the Vallée de la Clarée that took our breath away. With such unspoiled, pristine scenery on offer it's easy to see why this is one of the most popular destinations in the Hautes-Alpes during the summer.

The opening part of our ride out of Briancon was incredible flat, winding gently at around 1-2% through gentle forests hemmed in by the wooded valley sides. If we'd had ideas to climb the Col de l'Echelle we soon realised as the way markers passed us by that there would have to be some fairly steep sections before the high point if we were to cover the remaining climb in time. In fact, by the time we passed the 3km to go sign it was clear there was some 8% ahead after some 15km of 1-2% gentle ascent, an easy climb with a sting in the tail. However, with the stunning scenery of the Vallée de la Clarée ahead of us and some imposing, bare rock summits on the horizon we decided instead to leave the Col de l'Echelle for now and continue to the head of the Vallée de la Clarée instead.

Arriving in the town of Nevache (1650m) after around 20km of riding we found a map in the tourist office and estimated we had around 10km to go to the head of the valley with around 400m of climbing to the end of the road. With the sun shining and nowhere else to be we decided to give it a go.

The road, which up until this point had been quite wide narrowed quickly into a far more rural and winding ascent that varied between flat and very steep as we ground upwards. Fortunately we had switched bikes in Nevache with me back on the road bike and Esther on the hybrid with lots of gears!

But any effort in the legs was forgotten entirely as the views continued to dazzle us. From the river running through the valley to the bare rock peaks above it was like cycling through a postcard or artists impression of a mountain idyll.

In fact it was quite sad when we reached the end of the road and a small car park looking out on a wonderful cirque of rock and lakes. From here there are some amazing hiking trails up to higher lakes and it was with some disappoint that we couldn't try them ourselves that day. But we made up for it by lying in the sun and dozing for a good hour or so, just soaking up the peace and tranquility of this marvellous place.

We did eventually tear ourselves away from the head of the valley, although it was hard to roll away from that mountain wonderland, and cruised the 30km or so back towards Briancon as the sun began to dip behind the mountain tops. As on occasions before, letting people we meet guide our travels had worked out very well indeed and we felt very fortunate to have enjoyed the Vallée de la Clarée ourselves for a little while. Fingers crossed we return again.





 France or Italy, time to decide....


 The long, winding and wonderful views....


 With some steep climbing thrown in....


 But the views are well worth the effort....


 Moon hanging over the mountains....


Getting a little narrow up here...


 Nearly there alongside the river.....


 We've run out of tarmac....


 Well earned snooze...


The bikes get a rest as well....


Homewatd bound....

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