Conquering the Alps part 2. We’re running late…

Turns out riding 300 miles through the Alps in one day is a big deal.

Somewhere near Saint-Martin-Vesubie we stop for coffee and call the bloke who owns the self-catering cottage near Menton we’re staying at, no answer. We’re running late and the sun is starting to go. We run the D70 on the valley floor, still well above sea-level, for an hour this fast road is another epic ride but as the sun vanishes we’ve got a choice to make; ride the quicker roads, but at over 90 miles it’s a long way or ride the 30+ miles through the base of the Alps – of course, we chose the Alps. We climb and descend with alarming regularity, it’s soon pitch black and we’re not making good time.

Eventually, very late we arrive in Menton, exhausted but manage another 15 miles over the border into Italy and Bordighera.

The remainder of the evening is spent negotiating dirt-track roads to the cottage in the hills we’ve booked via a mate, and then a thick layer of gravel to top it off. As we’ve no food (self-catering means you bring your own stuff, apparently), a kind friend nicks some meat, bread, tea and milk from a neighbour before we climb further to reach the cottage. Cold beers are in the fridge for us, we thank him and supp our coldies on the terrace enjoying this warm evening, overlooking the Italian village of Saso and in the distance, the lights of Monaco.

I wish I could call our German friend from Val d’Isere and the UK bikers we saw in Lac du Mont Cenis to tell them we’ve made it, mind you, they probably wouldn’t believe me – I almost don’t.

We get up late today, all those immense roads are taking their toll on us. Taking our breakfast overlooking Saso in the morning sun, this little cottage is perfect. Our host arrives to guide us out the hills towards Bordighera, we thank him and head off through the absolutely manic traffic of Italy. Our bikes are overheating and we’re sweating in the intense heat. Moving is the only way to stay cool but that’s impossible in this place. We cross the border again into France and ride the coast to Monaco. The traffic is just plain silly, but Stevie has got the driving mentality spot-on; ride through every gap you see, dodge the traffic and pay no attention whatsoever to road signs – it works. We both get a kick out of lining our bikes up with the F1 starting grid in Monaco, but by now its 12 noon. We park up and head for food by the harbour. This is the worst food we’ve had on the entire trip, we’re in a tourist trap now and can’t wait to get the hell out of Monaco. The 2008 yacht show starts in a few days, so the place is filled with marquees and tents, it’s too busy for us. We ride the coastal route towards Antibes, we’re tired after yesterday and agree not to do the Napoleon Route today as it would be too much, we’re gonna have a half day off the bikes and on the beach

We’ve not booked a hotel today as we didn’t know how we would feel or if would make it this far. I try a hotel on the beach which is full, reception tells me everywhere is busy as it’s the end of the holidays and the yacht show starts soon. Dammit. I ask if she can recommend anywhere, she takes pity on me and calls a friend, within minutes we’re parked up, 40 yards from the beach, in the sun drinking ice cold beer on the patio – Oh, happy days. Welcome to the Hotel Miramar in Antibes, the owner shows me how the ‘honesty’ bar works – drink what you like, write it down, pay for it when you leave. I love this place.

Stevie nicks the hotels towels, and we head to the beach for a swim. We’ve got our sun loungers, cold beers and then we take a dip in the warm waters of the Mediterranean, we point out where we’ve been on the horizon “look, there’s Nice, Oh, and Monaco”, “see those big mountains, that’s the Alps!” This is amazing and we’ve deserved every minute of this, we’re having a ball in 30-degree sunshine while the UK basks in rain once more. Nearing 6pm we take advice to go to Juan Les Pins for food, watch the sun vanish, enjoy our beers and dinner, grab a taxi and we’re crashed out early for the next day of riding the legend that is the N85.

We ride side-by-side over a bridge that sits only feet above a lake.
I know, we’re spoilt…

The Alps have been kind to us; great weather, breath-taking views and stunning roads. If this was the end of our adventure, we’d still be happily satisfied. But it isn’t, we’ve got the N85 Napoleon Route to ride today – Voted the best motorcycling road in Europe by Bike Magazine.

We’re up early packed and waiting for our breakfast at 8am on the terrace. We’ve both heard stories of The Napoleon Route; the Police bikers with heavy fines, the sheer drop off the edges and the crashed sports bikes that don’t make it back to the UK. To treat the N85 like any other road would be foolish, each corner demands your attention; we need to be on-form today.

The N85 starts from Grasse, north to Gap and then on to Grenoble and was voted Europe’s best biking road. We ride the beginning of the N85 and love every corner, there’s a few bikes around from all over Europe and they are all delighted to be here with enthusiastic waves and nods. From Ducati’s to Harley’s if you have a bike you must ride this road. After an hour we pull in for photos and to catch our breath, this is magnificent! The road is wider than I thought, the plush, smooth tarmac is a joy to ride on, you can ride every corner as hard as hell or simply soak it up, we opt for a bit of both. In 90 miles the longest straight we can remember is about 1 mile. This is now our favourite road and is worthy of its legendary status. The road is technical and very, very twisty, left corner……. scrape…… right corner, scrape……..both the VFR’s pegs touch down on the hot road surface and I don’t think I am even trying.

We pass through small villages, but the corners and cambers don’t let up on route to Gap, the sun is out in all its glory, this is one hell of ride on our 2008 trip and I can barely contain myself. I remember digging out an old copy of RiDE magazine before we set off, a picture of two bikes on the N85 riding through a stone arc over the road sits in my mind, we ride the same point and get a kick out of being here.

The Napoleon route gives up around Gap where you join a motorway before jumping back on N85, we take a diversion on the N1085 towards a lake Steve has seen on the map, somewhere on the N94 we stop in a small village and take lunch with coke and coffee, we’ve done this to avoid the motorways and make the most of today. An hour later we’re at Le Sauze du-Lac, a fairy-tale lake with the brightest blue water, more photos, more corners, more tunnels, we ride side-by-side over a bridge that sits only feet above the water. I know, we’re spoilt.

Re-joining the N85 North of Gap we ride the last 100 miles to Grenoble, the road is still blinding and quiet, I am laughing to myself. More twisties, hairpins, hills and cambers we’re in La Mure, a few short miles before the end. Grab more photos at this very beautiful part of the route, then ride on into Grenoble.

We’ve done it, ridden the finest road in Europe and loved every minute – it’s taken us all day to do the 189 miles and also the extra 70 to Le Sauza du-Lac and we’re chuffed to say the least.

Near Grenoble a statue of Napoleon stands proud in a small park on the roadside, an old inscription tells of when the road first opened in 1932. We’ve done this route deliberately to ride the N85 upwards from Grasse, if you get the chance, do the same. You’ll see what I mean when you are there. You know, reading this you’d think we had planned the whole thing.

Our night in Grenoble is similar to Dijon, lovely town centre full of bars and cafes, we dine outside and retire back to the hotel ready for the journey to the Chunnel – if it’s not still in flames. We had planned to stop in the Champagne region or Loire valley to break up the motorways back to Calais but as we head north the odd UK car at coffee stops tell of the Chunnel operating a limited service.

We make the decision to head back as quick as we can and get back to Blightly on time. This evening it’s the first time we stay in a Motorway Hotel, Etap style. Just happens to be next to a massive Yamaha dealer so we spend time playing with new bikes and taking our steaks over the road in a Campanile Hotel. Next day, we’re up on the road and at Calais for 1pm. The trip back has got flatter and colder by the hour, we can’t believe we’ve seen so much but we could be on the M6 at the minute. Another stop and Stevie’s 1150GS has developed an oil leak, we top her up and press on. The queues at the Chunnel aren’t bad at all, after we apologise for someone losing their ticket, we’re told boarding is in 10 minutes.

30 mins later, we’re in Blighty and within an hour or so, at Stevie’s house with a cold beer. Next day, I’m off back to Newcastle in glorious sunshine but with terrible traffic, I lose my temper at these insane, packed roads and overtake anyway I can. Before long I am at Weatherby sitting in the sun with a coffee, an hour later I’m home and the end of Motoeuro 2008 with 2,732 miles done.

We’ve had the time of our lives, this adventure will take some beating!
Cheers for reading our story.

The late nights before the big trip…..

We planned the route by using old copies of Bike and RiDE Magazine, the odd forum and joined up the dots with Google Maps. Stevie has an uncanny knack of finding superb roads. Unlike previous Motoeuro trips, we booked nights of accommodation in advance, this really helped us make the most of each day saving time trying to find hotels and all the palaver that includes.

It’s easy with two riders, just each other to keep an eye on. Add a classic sense of humour, a mutual love for biking and a decent map and you’re sorted for a great time away. We didn’t get hammered each night so being on the road for 8.30am was a massive advantage, too. You don’t need new bikes to do this, Stevie’s GS had 70,000 miles and my 1997 VFR had 50,000. It’s amazing what you can do when you’re determined to get away.

You could be in the Alps in one day’s ride from Calais, what are you hanging around for?
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