Team orson embarks on a quickie, one-week venture across the border to the motorcycling playground that is the south of France.
Departing from team orson's world headquarters in Parma, we stick to the backroads as we make our way across the Appenine mountains to the coast. The early fall temperatures combined with the altitude serve to feed the mighty, mighty goose with a horespower boost in the form of cool, mountain air. We reach the coast by late afternoon and get a hotel room near Portofino. I didn't take any pictures, so I'll cheat and use a picture from a previous trip
In a bid to save time, the next day's route will be a blast up the Ligurian coast along the autostrada, the same stretch used by Richard Hammond to race James May in a cigarette boat. The road features dozens and dozens of tunnels cutting thru the mountains that line the coast. I can't even begin to imagine how long the trip must have taken before the autostrada was constructed.
Just after crossing the French border, we leave the highway and head up into the hills in search of twisties. As you approach Monaco, you begin to notice an increase in the amount of auto exotica. In a matter of a few hours, I must have seen four or five Bentleys and a couple of Ferraris. Porsches and Mercedes seemed downright pedestrian in these environs. This is the closest they will allow you to get to Monaco on a Guzzi.
With the purchase of an iPad, this would be the first trip where team orson traveled with any electronic devices besides a digital camera. Perhaps lured by the flashing lights and whirring noises of this strange device, the team orson navigator threw caution to the wind and drunkenly decided to make a hotel reservation with the contraption. His reckless action would very soon come back to haunt team orson.
A tip that the ride along the coast to Cap d'Antibes was enjoyable proved to be wrong, as we encountered lots of traffic and very little scenery. With the skies beginning to darken forbodingly, the decision was made to turn inland at Cannes and hit La Route Napoleon. A few years ago, BIKE magazine declared La Route Napoleon to be the "Best road in Europe." While that would be a subjective opinion for sure, in my opinion they weren't far off the mark.
Fast and flowing, La Route Napoleon may be short on photographic charms, but is top shelf stuff for releasing your inner Mike Hailwood
For about sixty blissful kilometers, there are almost no towns or side roads to slow your progress. The mostly open nature of the terrain means that four-wheeled chicanes are easily dispatched.
Approaching Castellane, the dark skies begin to release their moisture with a vengance. In the past, team orson would have retired to the nearest warm and dry hotel room. But now armed with a newfangled i-Pad, team orson felt compelled to continue onto their reserved hotel room, somm 100 kilometers distant. Harsh words were exchanged between the team orson photographer and navigator, as the benefits of modern technology were called into question.
The last fifty kilometers were a slow, wet slog along the road that hugs the northern edge of the Canyon du Verdun. Although it was raining heavily, brief glimpses of its grandeur occasionally revealed themselves. Thankfully, the rain began to taper off later in the afternoon, allowing for a few photographs thru the mist.
The following morning dawned with an improved weather forecast, and I spent the day meandering back along the northern edge of the canyon before returning along the southern edge.
Coming into a small village, I saw a large group of about 20 motorcycles leaving a gas station. My initial reaction was, "Oh great. I'm going to have to work my way thru the slow pokes." Not to worry though. This was France and these weren't a Harley parade. Within a minute, the group had blasted away. France has a fantastic moto-culture. Despite having roughly the same population as the UK, they have twice as many registered motorcycles.
I stayed the night in the picturesque town of Moustieres-Ste-Marie on the western edge of the canyon. The hotel's restaurant was fantastic and I left thoroughly bloated after a six-course meal. Even the dessert had a dessert.
Moustieres-Ste-Marie in the morning light.
We headed north towards les Alpes Maritimes. The south of France is chock full of lazily, twisting two-lane roads.
I was amazed at how little traffic there was on these roads. I stopped to take this picture, and not a single car came by during the entire five minutes that I was stopped.
The mountains begin to grow as you approach Barcelonnette.
At Jausiers, I turn south and head up la Col de la Bonette. The road signs claim that it is the highest paved road in Europe, but Wikipedia disputes this, claiming that it is only the third highest road. As I begin the climb, the skies begin to darken once more. As I reach the summit and begin the descent, I catch a glimpse of the rain waiting for me in the valley below.
Fortunately, by the time I make it to the valley floor, the rain has dissipated and I scamper off to find a hotel room. I awaken the next morning to a blazingly blue sky and turn back north. I'm not sure if this is a castle of maybe a monastery high above the valley floor.
The D-2202 between Annot and Guillaumes...oh my, my
Such a wonderful stretch of tarmac is the stuff of dreams. the pictures can't begin to do it any justice. I rate the French highway system among the best, if not the best in the world. Most of the main roads a paved with smooth, well marked asphalt.
A close up of the church in the distance.
Looking back at the D-2202 show it snaking its way alongside a riverbed.
After Guillaumes, the road narrows as it begins to climb la Col de la Cayolle. this climb seemed to go on forever.
About 10 kilometers short of Barcelonnette, I came upon this road works. D'oh! Merde Alors! I would have to backtrack almost an hour if I couldn't get by.
Using my high school French, I found out that they would open the road in one hour, so i decided to cool my heels and wait.
After topping up the gas tank in Barcelonnette, I turned south once more and headed up la Col de Maure. While the fall colors aren't as spectacular as New England, there were a few spots of vibrant color.
After a long day slaying mountain passes, the mighty, mighty goose stops to absorb some of the scenery.
The D-6202 is another wonderfully enjoyable road on a motorbike, fast and flowing, with hardly any traffic or pesky switchbacks to slow your pace. This trip to Provence has only served to solidify my belief that, the south of France has some of the best motorcycling roads anywhere on the planet. Wales & Scotland come close, but get knocked down a notch because of their infamously, soggy weather. Northern California and the south of France are the top of the pops in my book.
Once again I awaken to bright, blue skies, but alas, my time is running short. I point the goose back towards Italy for the homeward leg. I take a small detour off the autostrada in Italy to the bridge at Dolceacqua that was painted by Claude Monet.
Further up the road is the picturesque town of Apricale, perched precariously on a hilltop.
Once again, I use the autostrade to blast down the Ligurian coast. Looking back north along the coastline.
I spend the last night in Portofino. The view of Portofino harbor from the hotel room balcony.
In an effort to blend in with the local populace, team orson purchased some spiffy, Italian loafers. Whereas team orson was treated as a furriner before, now people mistake us for locals and stop to ask us for directions.
The next morning, we begin our final leg across the Appenines back to Parma. The scenic road leaving Portofino.
I stop for lunch in a small town and take a final photograph of possibly the most beautiful sport touring bike on the planet. Ten years on and the bike never missed a beat, still going strong after 80,000 km.
Distance- 2,000 kilometers
Travel days- 8
Rest days- 0
Carabinieri sightings- 3
Gendarmerie sightings- 0
Deer sightings- 0
Bee stings- 2