Col de la Madeleine

Saturday, 5 September 2015. Albertville to La Chambre, via the Col de la Madeleine (2000m) 66km

Today we would do one of the famous climbs from the Tour De France, the acol De Madeleine. We followed a minor road from Albertville that took us beside a highway for 20km up a flat river valley. We then turned on to the route up the Col de la Madeleine which immediately started to climb a series of switchbacks up a near vertical cliff face.

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Laurie checkout the Col de la Madeleine signage.

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Go Cadel.

There were km markers that also gave the next kms gradient, it varied from 10% to 4%, with a couple of flat sections in the middle over 24km. We had lunch and dinner on board as well as a heavier tent which added to the work. Andy is getting very fit, so led the way most of the day. Halfway up we started to feel the cold, the wind was very chilly, nearer the top it was freezing. It took us about 4 hours to climb the 24km, including lunch and morning tea, plus numerous rest stops. The view back towards Mont Blanc was very dramatic, but due to cloud we could not see Mont Blanc itself. There were plenty of cyclists and motorcycles going in the opposite direction and a few the same direction, many cyclist seem to start from the top! About 2/3 of the way up we came across a huge Cadel painted across the road.

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Looking back the way we came up.

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It was a cool and winding decent to La Chambre, which was broken when we stopped to assist a guy who appeared to have done his collarbone falling off his MTB. He was a local, so we waited with him until his father came with a car to rescue him. We ended up camping in a nice campground overlooking the mountains. It was full of road cyclists all doing the various climbs including the Col de la Madeleine.

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Chamonix to Beaufort, France.

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It was cloudy and misty when we woke, so no view up to Mont Blanc. We debated whether to stay a day or not, but the weather did not look to be improving. To our surprise, 15 minutes before we were ready to leave the clouds opened up for a good view of the Mont Blanc range.

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The hotel manager gave us directions to Beaufort and a google map printout. The first part of his route was very scenic and hilly! We did a lot of climbing and decending to move only a few km down the valley from Chamonix! Once back on the route we chose from the Cycling the French Alps book which we intended to follow we made good time. We had scattered views of the imposing ranges behind us as the clouds moved in and out. We decided to take a google maps route that cut out riding all the way down to Sallanches. Only problem we found was an extremely steep dirt track for 1km that we could only just push our bikes up. We continued on upwards for several hours until we passed Megeve and then had a nice downhill run to Flumet.  The rest of the ride was up the Col De Saisies (1605m) which was hard work but scenic, 15km at average 8%. It was very cold when we stopped at the little ski resort of Les Saisies to buy supplies. We dressed up for the descent down into Beaufort and kept looking out for a camping spot, but it was all too steep. Eventually we found a clearing near a picnic spot that we settled into. After dinner, and a bottle of wine we went to set up the tent, but to our horror we had no tent poles!!! We had left them somewhere. We ended up making a shelter with the tent fly, the bikes and some long branches. It was actually a comfortable night, luckily it did not rain.

Chamonix to Beaufort 69km

http://maps.google.com?q=45.679181,6.39616+(Albertville)

Our route over the Swiss Alps.

We followed the Rhine River from Bodensee (Lake Constance) to its source, camping near Buch and Ilanz.

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From Ilanz we climbed over a high pass to Andermatt where we camped in straw for several nights out of the wind and rain.

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From Andermatt we crossed the Devils bridge and wound down a huge valley eventually stopping near Interlaken for several nights with Warmshowers hosts. We took one of these days to ride up a fabulous gorge to Lauterbrunnen where we put our bikes on a chairlift to Mürren.

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From Interlaken we climbed and decended all day to reach Chateau D’Oex where a huge VW rally was happening.

It was mostly downhill to Montreaux where we stayed with Pierre for several days enjoying a day beside Lake Leman.

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We then followed the Rhone to Martigny and then climbed a huge exposed mountainside around the flanks of Mont Blanc and over the Col de la Forclaz, camping a night beside the Trient Glacier. This was our last night in Switzerland before a long downhill into a wet Chamonix our first stop in the alps of France.

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Switzerland – warm hearts in a cold country

We expected Switzerland to be beautiful. And it was magnificent – our photos are posted on this site to prove it. But what we didn’t expect is that people would be so friendly and generous! They rivalled Turkish people!

We spent 13 nights in Switzerland, and 7 of these were staying in the homes of Swiss people who invited us in and treated us as honoured guests.

First there was Lukas and Silvia and their two gorgeous kids. We befriended them in a camping ground in Turkey and they invited us to visit if we ever got to Switzerland – which we did 4 months later.

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Andy and Silvia outside their house.

We stayed in their renovated old farmhouse in a small village near Lake Constance and loved their family life and home cooked Swiss meals.

From there we headed up into the Alps, past the source of the Rhine and into bad weather, so headed down to the incredibly beautiful Lakes region. We put in two requests to Warmshowers hosts, not expecting responses, but both promptly said yes! So we stayed with both. Mathias and Sandra was an extremely busy architect who still made time to share a meal and a great bottle of wine with us in his delightful home in his family village, to which he has returned to live.

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View over Ringgenberg.

And then we visited the very creative Ana and Daniel in a village high on the hills above the lakes with exquisite views of lakes and mountains.

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Ana and Daniel.

They are passionate about learning to make and play Steel drums and also recommended an amazingly beautiful day ride to us (which meant we stayed an extra day with them).

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Swiss Steel Drums.

Our last host picked us up off the street. We were trying to get to Montreaux, in the French part of Switzerland on Lake Geneva, and were puzzling over our smart phone maps a few ks out when a passing rider said he would show us the most beautiful way to get there. Which he did, but when he stopped to show the final road down he said “but there is another option – you can come and stay with me”. So we had a delightful couple of days with Pierre, a French-Canadian who has lived in Switzerland for years.

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Pierre outside his beautiful apartment.

I don’t think there would be many people who would give the keys to their house to total strangers.

We never expected the Swiss to be so open, warm and generous, and can only hope that we will get the opportunity to be as generous to others who come to visit us.

Hatswill to Buchs, Switzerland 80km

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Saying goodbye to Silvia.

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Buchs lake with clocktower.

Friday, 21 August 2015 at 21:59

Hatswill to Buch, Switzerland 80km

We woke feeling refreshed after two lovely days spent with Lukas and Silvia in Hatswill. They are very generous and warm people. We spent a lot of the morning on the internet researching and booking flights home from Barcelona. It was hard to leave such a nice place Just after 12pm we set off on a route through Switzerland we worked out with the help Lukas and Silvia. It will take us up the Rhine and over several passes, one decending past the Rhone glacier and on through Interlaken to just near Montreux. The weather was clear and sunny, Lake Bodensee was shining with white sailing boats crystal clear out on the still water. We followed the lake to the Rhine and followed tracks along the river valley south. Very quickly large craggy mountain tops appeared over the horizon. Late afternoon we were looking up at steep cliffs and high mountains in all directions. We stopped in a campsite at Buch just below an old Castle.

Staying with Swiss friends.

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Mouth of the Rhine.

Our tent survived the heavy rain over night pretty well, just a couple of drips came in. We set off in cool, cloudy weather with drizzle now and again and choppy waves on the lake. We crossed the main channel of the Rhine on a cycling bridge and about 15km further on we crossed another river channel and into Switzerland. The immediate scenery changed from developed foreshore with parks and buildings up to the waterline to more open marsh and grassland, with the odd building here and there. Many buildings were nice looking unpainted vertical wooden boards. When we reached more built up areas there was interesting art works in strategic locations and nice looking furniture and infrastructure, it was all aesthetically easy on the eye.

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Lukas took us up the church tower.

We turned inland and rode small roads through small villages and farmland with orchards, vegetables, corn and lush pasture with lazy dairy cows. Lukas and Silvia live in a nicely renovated old house in a small village. We were taken on a tour of a local dairying farm and learnt how cows are kept and fed indoors. For dinner Lukas and Silvia made us a traditional Swiss dinner which was based on grilled cheese. A special electric grill is placed in the middle of the table, and each person has a small square grill that a thick slice of cheese is placed on, this is placed under the grill until the cheese bubbles. The melted cheese is scooped onto small boiled potatoes which are eaten with a selection of side dishes including small stuffed peppers, olives, gerkins, cherry tomatoes. The platter of sliced cheese and potatoes is passed around several times until everyone is satisfied. We ate a lot of cheese.

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Old Swiss Castle.

Lukas took us on a tour of the city of St Gallen we visited an old Swiss Castle now used as an event centre. We also visited the St Gallen Catholic Monastery and its famous library with books and text from 600AD. The library building was extraordinary in its architecture and art works apart from the books. There were beautiful multi-storey shelves full of ancient books, many recording the laws of the time. Examples on display included handwritten Roman Laws and many other parts of Europe. We also found particularly interesting a huge hand painted globe of the world from 1570. It included places like Indonesia, detailing Islands like Sumatra, Borneo and Lombok. It showed the Americas and New Guinea (the shape was way off), but it did not have Australia! We also climbed the Reformed church steeple (from the inside) going up past the 5 huge bells and got a great view of the city and Monastery.

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View over the Monastery.