I frequently tell people that the view is very fine from GS Land, the mythical place that I inhabit when I am riding my old yellow GS single, sitting up above the sad little cagers, seeing the world with all of my senses. But if GS Land was actually a place, where would it be? It would be where the roads are questionable, the cows are plentiful, and there is always a little farm road or trail beckoning. The view is not of scenery, per se, but in scenery. A place of great majesty, where history is written in the stones by water and wind. Where every single sense is attacked, confronted with stimuli demanding attention and respect. It is a very good place to be.
We descend from Turini on the M70, a small road that carries us to La Bollène Vesubie. From there, we ride the M2565 north and west over the Col Saint Martin to Saint Sauveur -sur-Tinée and the M/D30, which takes us over Col de la Couillole. M appears to mean “single lane with cows” and D “double lane with sheep”. From Beuill, we head west on the D28 to Guillaumes, crossing the Col de Valberg, and ride the D2202 south through the Daluis Gorge.
Near Dèchetterie, we pick up the N202 west and cross the Col de Toutes Aures. We continue west to Lac de Castillione , where we pick up the D955 south to Castellane. From Castellane, it is the D4085 south over the Col de Luens and the D6085, the Route de Napoleon. In l’Artuby, we pick up the D21 and begin the proper tour of the Grand Canyon du Verdon, but not before first crossing the Col de Clavel. In Comps-sur-Artuby, we pick up the D71, and in Aiguines, the D19, then the D957. We get separated looking for fuel, and meet up later in Castellane. At the D952, we head east, turning off for the Route des Cretes, the D23.
The Grand Canyon du Verdon is a gorge cut through the south of France during the ice ages. Six million years of running water have left lower France scarred and wounded by nature, leaving some of the most beautiful views in the entire country. We ride the left route – Route Gauche – and look into the cavern as we ride. We travel through the Tunnel du Fayet, which will be visible from the other side. We cross the Col d’Illoire and Col d’Olivier near Aiguines. On the right side, we cross the Col d’Ayens, and then ride the Route des Cretes – a loop that takes us around the mountain and looks out over the gorge. The Route des Cretes is very poorly maintained, and for the first half, is one-way. The two-way part is rather tight with motorhomes and other traffic. This is another area that I would consider for multiple trips through in the future. Like Nufenen and Furka, it is difficult to find comparable riding and scenery all in one place.
It is on the Route des Cretes that I realize that I have found GS Land. It is the south of France, tucked in between the great gorges and bleating sheep, waiting for someone to visit.
After the Route des Cretes, the road is often covered by overhanging rock. It is breathtakingly beautiful. We follow the D952 back to Castellane and stay at the Grand Hotel du Levant, which is fully renovated inside. The view from the room is of the market place, where I capture some nougat to take home as a prize for my sons. Fog looms menacingly.