It’s been a little while since I last updated this thread, mainly because things have been quiet on the adventure front of late.
After last years trip to France and Italy, and the fact that I knew a mini4pot would be on their way at some point during 2012, I tabled the suggestion of doing a trip earlier in the year, such as May. With all the planning done by Jan, and all hotels booked by Feb, all that was required were several long months of waiting for the big off!
With 9 days of driving ahead of us, and on average 240 – 260 miles a day on some of the best roads France had to offer, we couldn’t wait to get going, but did so on an overcast day in early May.
First day saw 4x Elise and 1x Porsche GT3 head down towards Dijon. About half way down, we got off the excellent auto routes, and onto some exceptionally quiet D roads. Although the rain was coming down hard, we still managed to make swift progress, although the local Gendarme coming the opposite direction radioed ahead to provide a welcome party at a junction. Various papers were checked, but we were free to get on our way again.
Our bed for the night was provided within the confines of a an excellent chateau, along with a fabulous dinner, with a fitting cheese course and a fine bottle of wine, courtesy of Cris, who chose to treat everyone as it had recently been his 50th.
The next morning provided sunnier skies and drying roads, for us to take in our first full day of D road driving. Aix-Les Baines was our destination. Skirting some 20 or so miles west of Switzerland, we enjoyed a fantastic days worth of driving. Quiet roads, friendly locals waving and the usual Plait du Jour to keep our energy up. Arriving in Aix-Les-Baines, we entered with the lake on our right, with some stunning scenery of a distant chateau. The hotel was far less grand than the previous nights; however the staff were young, friendly and female, so we enjoyed our stay.
Day 3 provided us with a loop of the area, as we were staying at the same hotel for 2 nights. Again, at this time of year the roads proved very quiet, and with the exception of day 1, we would never see Gendarme again!
Day 4 was a trip south and west towards another stay for 2 nights in the Ardeche region, where we were treated to truly deserted roads! So deserted in fact that upon looking for the hotel, which was in the middle of nowhere, I’d given everyone the wrong hotel address, so we parked up, unpacked and wondered into the wrong hotel.....Despite being ridiculously low on fuel, we managed to get to our correct stop for the night, which was only 20 miles further away.
We sat down to the most wonderful dinner; smoked salmon with puy lentils, followed by confit of duck, cheese course.....wine and dessert....and some more wine.
Up late the next day, we immediately headed off for petrol. All the cars were on fumes, so after spending 20 mins brimming tanks, off we went for another day of fun in southern France! Mont Vonteux was just one of the many roads and sites we took in during the day, as the weather provided some much needed vitamin D.
Tyre wear seemed to be a constant issue during the trip, with the Porka requiring a brand new set of front tyres on day 3, due to a more aggressive TD set up, whereas the 3 of us who started with brand new Yoko AD08’s (which are fantastic tyres for the Elise/Exige) didn’t worry too much about wear, but noted they were scrubbing off the rubber quite quickly! Henry was running brand new A048’s and he was getting near to the wear markers already! It appeared that the light dusting of gravel, which basically sandblasts the front of anyone following, could play a part in this, along with the grippier tarmac found in these parts.
Back to the same hotel for another quality meal and some watching of the days footage. The owner’s son, who happened to be watching some of our footage, told us all about his rallying in the area and we offered to take him and his co-pilot out for a quick blast before we left. They seemed to enjoy themselves and were surprised by the level of grip on offer by an Elise, along with the Honda in the back of mine and Cris’s supercharged Exige.
Today was a day that I’d long been looking forward to, Gorge De Ardeche, Gorge Du Tarn and Verdon! What a day it was! Just like when I visited back in 2010, the French air force were putting on their own show, with a couple of jets blasting in and out of the gorge du Ardeche. Remember looking at the Tom Tom and smiling to myself as it displayed 21 miles until the next turning. That translated into 21 miles of chasing Bob’s GT3. Just another great morning driving in the gorge.
Staying just outside the Gorge du Verdon, we tackled it first thing in the morning, before turning south towards Nice. We’d decided to head down there for a spot of lunch, and perhaps a slightly easier day. Not to mention that Bob’s rear tyres were now showing signs of protest and need replacing.
Heading back up towards the Gorge, our long lunch meant that we needed to make progress in order to secure dinner later on in the evening. Passing a public parking area, just before heading up into the gorges, we sported an old Lotus 7. He tagged onto the end of us as we came up to some temporary traffic lights. With his passenger jumping out and running to the front of the queue and taking pictures of us, Geoff, in the car behind me offered him a ride.
Now I can’t for the life of me remember the name of the road/area, but it consists of some very red rock and 7 one way tunnels quite near Verdon, that are taken rather quickly! With lights turning to green we headed off into the tunnels, with the sun getting lower and air getting slightly cooler, the exhaust emitted pops, bangs and spits of flame as we entered and exited the tunnels. The Lotus 7 was doing his best to keep up, but having been built in the early 60’s, it lacked the grunt.
Stopping at an abandoned railway station, I’d stopped at before, we all got out and waited for the 7 to arrive. It turns out that they were both brothers, who every year rent the 7 from a place in Nice and enjoy the Route Napoleon. They were great guys, and were true petrolheads, although I did comment on how immaculate their clothes were, bearing in mind they were in a 7, whilst we all looked very dirty and dishevelled!
After saying our goodbyes, we headed towards the Gorge Du Verdon and the joys of a late evening blat, with the sun setting against the fabulous canyon walls. A drive to remember.
Our penultimate day meant that we headed north, towards Gap, Grenoble and another visit to the chateau on day 1. The roads were pretty free flowing, with fast open sweepers, punctuated by longer straights, which allowed plenty of well sighted overtakes in what was a truly scorching day.
Arriving at the chateau for the last time, a couple of well earned beers were consumed, as we looked back at our trusty steeds, who had provide used with so much enjoyment over the previous 8 days. An epic trip.
A short video of fun. http://youtu.be/dg82UlTqJE0