Simplon Pass to Brig

There were two options to traverse the Alps from Lake Maggiore. Over or under. Under would have taken us through the Mont Blanc tunnel from Courmayeur in the Aosta valley, Italy to Chamonix, France. Over would take us over the Simplon pass to Brig in Switzerland. We opted for over to take in the breathtaking views.

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There has been a locally used passage through here for centuries but more famously, Napoleon ordered the construction of a road way back in 1801. Thanks buddie ya really helped us out there.

At 2000m altitude it was pretty chilly at the top but the scenery was stunning. This is Emilys wtf face…

We drove along incredibly steep roads but they were super safe and well maintained. Ah, we said to ourselves. Swiss not Italian roads. Thank heavens. At the bottom of the pass about 1206m lay Brig and its beautiful castle.

As we neared the castle we could hear amazing operatic voices practicing for their performance. The accoustics and the back drop made for a pretty heady enchanting mix. We saw seats laid out and presumed the performance was tonight so we went to enquire what was on. We were disappointed to find out the performance was in 2 weeks but ecstatic to find there was an open air cinema tonight. Could it be they were showing something we wanted to watch and in english. Could we be that lucky. Well what do you know…

Emily had been raving about “Three billboards” for quite some time now after listening to the review on her podcast. It was on at 9pm and in English with German subtitles.

We wandered through the town in search of the tourist information office to purchase a couple of tickets. We then had a few hours to kill. I found a coffee shop, Emily found a flamingo top.

We then decided as it was still a bit chilly that we needed warming up with some hearty local Swiss dishes. I had a rosti with lots of melted cheese (food of the gods) and bacon. Emily had something called Cholera, which didnt sound so appealing but tasted amazing. It was basically a local pie containing potato, leek, apple and local cheese.

Suitably fed and watered we arrived early to the open air cinema to get good seats.

The backdrop of the mountains we had just driven over and the castle courtyard was too much. We couldn’t believe our luck.

As darkness decended the soft lit alcoves looked cool. They dimmed to darkness and the film began. What a cracker of a film too. Lucky us.

The journey or the destination? The Gorges du Verdon

We thought Provence was all olive groves, vineyards, Mediterranean pine forests and lavender fields. However the region, whose name is often shortened to Provence, is actually known as Provence – Alpes – Côte d’Azur. Or, in English, Provence Alps and the Riviera. Moving east from Avignon, or north from Nice, one soon gets into hill country and very soon after that into the limestone massifs of the Alpine foothills. The land is arid and in places barren; but though the climate here is generally dry, this is an area crossed by rivers flowing down from the snowy peaks of the Alps. Over millions of years, they have carved deep valleys in the limestone, none of them longer and deeper than that of the Verdon.
From its source near the Italian Border, the Verdon runs south as far as Castellane. While much of the valley is spectacular, it in is the section between Castellane and Manosque that the river has carved its impressive canyon known as the
The Gorges du Verdon.

There are those who come for the spectacular road trip round the edge of the gorge just like us ; there are those who come to enjoy some of the exhilarating hiking trails in and around the gorge.

Then there are some who come to admire the bird life – vultures, eagles and other birds of prey. Finally, there are those who come to enjoy the experience of paddling up the bottom end of the gorge in a canoe or a kayak or a pedal boat.

Our route required Harvey to dig deep into his power reserves as we climbed higher and higher above Lac Sainte Croix. All of the way up I was eyeing every bend working out how I would take it if I were on my motorbike. The drive was exhilarating even in Harvey our 3.5 tonne Motorhome. I resolved to come back one day and ride this route on VEM (Triumph Street Triple R)

After two hours of breathtaking scenery, hairpin bends and exhilarating driving, we were happy and content to arrive at our destination for the night, Castellane.

Narbonne and the bikes

In theory leaving an Aire should be quicker to leave than a campsite as you don’t get all the gear out of the garage. In practice because we used our own showers we had to refill with water and I had managed to leave the little hose adapter at the last place, doh. I thought we had a spare but couldn’t find it so I had to hold the hose to the tap whilst it sprayed half over me and half in the tank. Much to Emily’s amusement. The Aire was great and especially the morning view out of our window.

Onwards and eastwards to Narbonne to do a little shopping and see what’s going on in this small Romanesque town. Even though it is situated 15km from the shores of the Meditteranean it was once a prosperous port town. It is linked to the nearby Canal du Midi and the Aude River by the Canal de la Robine, which runs through the centre of town.

Spurred on by a fine experience of the last Aire we parked up in another about 2km out of town. This one looked less appealing but it was the only one. It did also have a massive Carrefour but more of that later.

As luck would have it the 2km into town was only 500m of shitty road followed by 1.5km of tree lined canal. A little squeak of excitement from Emily and i knew we were close to the centre. She had spied bunting.

We spent a lovely afternoon wandering around this pretty town taking in a few of the sights. Probably the most impressive was the Roman Catholic cathedral and its gardens.

Although Narbonne was pleasant enough it didn’t really set our world on fire. In the evening we decided to get out of the heat and do a bit of food shopping in the huge Carrefour. There are three additional benefits to a Carrefore despite the plentiful food. The aircon is insanely good especially after a full-on day in the heat. They have super fast free wifi for downloading movies, podcasts and spotify playlists. They have cheap AF bikes to enable us to travel further distances from Harvey.

In the morning we nipped into Les Halles food market for a mooch and a breakfast croque monsieur.

Next stop Uzes…