As part of maximising the opportunity we have to visit countries in Europe while we are living in Italy, we have been going somewhere new once a month. The catalyst for this trip was to go and see some of the tour de france. You can read more about the tour de france part of the trip here.
At the outset, having worked out which stages of the tour we wanted to watch, it made sense to hire a car. Fortunately, Pisa is close by and they often seem to have ‘cheap’ car rental options. Given we would have a car, it was decided to add on a few more stops to our trip. We locked in our time in France to watch the tour and then gave ourselves just over a week to figure out where else we might go.
Early Saturday morning we got a train to Pisa to collect the car. After breakfast in Pisa at our new favourite ‘vanilla cafè’, we left for the trip to Combloux in France. This was the only accommodation we had booked. We would decide later where to next. With it being a long drive (by European standards) to Combloux, we decided to use the toll roads. This cuts the trip down to about 6 hours rather than 13 hours. We have discovered that in most instances the toll roads are substantially quicker. There is naturally a cost to this time saving in high toll prices. The toll for the Italian part of the journey was about 45 euro which is approximately 75 aussie dollars. Given this was most of the trip (5 hrs or 450km), it seemed reasonable. The shock was using the Mont Blanc tunnel. Firstly we had to queue up. It took about an hour from when we first came to a standstill until we entered the tunnel. This 11km tunnel saves a long round trip but – WOW – 55 euro or 90 aussie dollars for the privilege.
We arrived at our accommodation in Combloux and were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. Given the shortage of accommodation with the tour on, we were very happy with our choice. The view of Mont Blanc from the lounge and our bedroom was spectacular! We had chosen Combloux because it seemed to be a great base allowing us to watch 3 stages of the tour without getting into the car. What we did not know was just how picturesque Combloux was. With a population of only 2000, Combloux serves as a base for skiing in winter and hiking and mountain biking in summer. Being in the French Alps, there is no shortage of winter or summer activities.
Most of our time in Combloux was centred around the tour de france. You can read about it here. We did have some free time in between and in particular on the Monday which was a tour rest day. On our first morning we set out for an exploratory run. The roads were quiet and it was nice having a few hills to run and down. In Lucca, our running is all flat. We had some great views and is nice seeing the Alpine houses which have there own charming style.
On the Monday with no tour to watch, we set off on a hike in mountains. In the end we did 22km of hiking and climbed from Combloux at just under 1000m above sea level to a summit ‘Petit Croisse Baulet’ which is just over 2000m. The trails are well marked, so no problem finding our way. It was not a particularly technical hike, but with enough elevation gain we were glad to have taken enough food and water. The first part is in the forest and then the terrain opens up to grand 360 degree views.
In Combloux we did mostly self catering. There was a nice bakery nearby which served us well for breakfasts and lunches. With a kitchen, we were able to cook in the evening. We did spoil ourselves one evening to try one of the local specialities – cheese fondue. It was very nice – been a long time since we last had a fondue.
Leaving Combloux we had decided to go to the Matterhorn. On our way, we stopped off in Chamonix which is at the base of Mont Blanc. All week we had been trying to get tickets to get the cable car up Mont Blanc. Unfortunately, the wind was so strong that they had suspended the cable car. When we arrived at Chamonix, we went to the cable car station and as luck would have it, they were running the cable car that day. Even better luck, they had a cancellation so we got some tickets to go up a little later. We had time for a walk around Chamonix and tried a hot chocolate. Nice, but for hot chocolate nothing beats the Italian thick hot chocolate.
In just 20 minutes, the Aiguille du Midi cable car took us from the centre of Chamonix to the high mountains, reaching an altitude of 3,777m. From here we had a 360° view of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps. Thanks to an elevator, we could access the summit terrace at 3,842m. Here we discovered more breathtaking views of the Mont Blanc. One of the attractions was a 5 sided glass box we could step into. We had more than a 1000m of nothing below us. A small step for us, a big step into the void. – (note the cool shoes)