Up to the top and back again, Col de Galibier, La Plagne – Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes, France

Start Elevation – 1670m, End Elevation – 1030m. Max Elevation – 2642m, Min. Elevation – 290m Approx daily change in elevation – 3448m

We were awake really early in anticipation of our trip over Col du Galibier. we had got an early night lulled to sleep by the sounds of the river running over stones smoothed to pebbled by the millennia. So after a quick toilet walk with the dogs we were on the road as the sun was rising.

Beautiful dawn start heading to Col du Lautaret

The road over the Col (mountain top) was due to close again at 8am today for roadworks so we knew we had to get off early. Also when we had been having a drink at the cafe the day before the closure we had seen sure how many cars, motorhomes, motorbikes and trucks were venturing over. We figured it would be much more pleasure able to have the place a little more to ourselves.

There was a gorgeous pink dawn hue of the mountains as we drove back into Col du Lautaret to take the turn up to Valloire and over the Col du Galibier. We were soon very happy about our early start when we saw the width of the road was barely over one lane on the ascent and there was no barriers on the sides. We have not got the widest of motorhomes but it must be hairy meeting stuff coming the opposite direction without any passing places to help. The drop to the side became pretty breathtaking as we gradually climbed the hairpins to the top. I was trying to grab a few photos and watch for oncoming traffic. Kev was I think just trying not to look down. As our tolerance for heights has been tested and failed already on this trip it was pretty nerve wracking!

However we passed the tunnel which passes just under the top for trucks etc. we pulled up on the small lay-by at the top to admire the view and take the obligatory photos of the sign showing we had reached an altitude of 2642m. The view has been worth it, I have never been in a position to look over the tops of mountains and have that top of the world feeling before, it is pretty spectacular, especially in the light of dawn. Also decidedly easier than walking or cycling to the top, there are regular cycle races up here 🥵 Looking down at the valley and the winding road you have just travelled up though is definitely vertigo inducing!

There was quite a few patches of solid ice remaining. We both shuddered to imagine that drive in the snow as this route is apparently kept open all year round. We had the place to ourselves and were keen to get back down before the hoarded arrived so we jumped back in for the drive down. Luckily the roads on this side actually had a white line and were (barely) two lanes.

After 2 days of listening to the chirrups of the rodent like Marmots which inhabit this area but not being able to see them, despite tales of them running freely around from previous travellers. We finally saw a marmot on the side of the road and manage to get a blurred photo before it disappeared again. Thrilled to have ticked two things off our bucket list.

First Marmot sighting

We entered the beautiful village / ski resort of Valloire at the end of the road. It had a really homely look to it and we both instantly said we must return in the snow. For now though, we made use of the free motorhome service point that have recently fitted and stopped for breakfast.

Next stop was to visit another potential winter ski destination, La Plagne. It has a motorhome aire literally next to the ski lift with power points to each spot and is pre-bookable. The highest on our list for the ski season. We opted for the faster route to get there via Albertville and set off down the beautiful wooded valley. Before long we were taking the turn for La Plagne and ascending the 20 hairpins numbered on signs to count down as you ascend.

We easily located the aire, sadly deserted in the summer with the barriers up and the electric not working. A sign said the local police would be round to collect your fees but previous reports suggested they had not seen them. We let the dogs out of the van to stretch their legs and do their business and we heard a squeeking noise from up the ski slope (no grass) beside us. We looked round to see 3 marmots scurrying for cover after the warning call from their lookout. Yikes, our border terriers are from working stock and would soon know what to do with the rodent like marmots. Luckily they had no spotted them so we bundled them back in the van quick!

Marmots running free in La Plagne

We were pretty tired by now after our early start so pulled had some lunch and went for a nap. When we got up and showered we were able to watch several marmots grazing on the grass beside us. How ironic in the middle of the National park there are so many visitors that we did not see them, but in a ski resort in the summer they find peace and are out in number. Actually La Plagne is only 60 years old as a resort and I think as such it has very few year round residents, unlike other resorts which started as a village and grew and still seem to have shops and restaurants etc open. La Plagne really did seem to be a ghost town.

We had started with fabulous views when we arrived but rain had closed in and these were descending fast. The forecast for tomorrow was sleety showers. We were feeling a little restless after our epic morning and anxious not to disturb the local wildlife with our dogs we decided to push on to our next planned stop in Chamonix.

So down all 20 hairpins again! We are feeling pretty experience on mountain roads now. We were expecting some big roads, but there was quite a long stretch down a narrow valley with frequent avalanche shelters. We passed through Megève which again looks worth a return visit in the snow.

Glaciers at the side of shopping streets in Chamonix

We parked up in Chamonix literally at the foot of Mount Blanc, though it is shrouded in cloud til probably Friday. We go under a pedestrian tunnel and into town in 10mins. I have a few adventures planned for us here so we went to get a beer and some more lovely French food before a well deserved early night after an epic tour of the Alps day.


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