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Colmars-les-Alpes - La Chapelle (Parc des Ecrins)
From Fossils to Glaciers

Tour Summary


This route was a A to B tour of 5 days and 280 km's from Colmars-les-Alpes to La Chapelle in the Ecrins national park. It consisted mainly of quiet lanes and backroutes in the Southern Alps via the geological park around Dignes Les Bains before reaching the spectacular high monutains and glaciers of the Ecrins National park



Commentary & Photos

Colmars-les Alpes is a wonderful old medieval town set in the Verdon valley. In winter it is a valley dedicated to winter sports - in summer it turns into a perfect combination of mountain scenery and Provencal lifestyle. We were staying in the town for two weeks with a 5 day break in the middle to ride to La Chapelle en Valgaudemar to visit some relatives.

The area has many cyclists in summer and has been on the tour de france route on many occassions. The attraction being the climb over Col d'allos at the head of the valley.

For the mad keen cyclist there is one of the finest day loop rides in the Alps - and it starts from Colmars. The Col D'allos, Col de la Cayolle and the Col des Champs can all be ridden in a sngle day loop. The route is 108 km and climbs a total of 3500m. All the climbing is on the three cols. The route can be undertaken in either direction but our personal preference is clockwise taking in Col D'allos early in the morning before the traffic becomes too busy. Col de La Cayolle and Col des Champs are both quiet through the whole day. In particular the views and mountain scenery throughout the Col de La Cayolle are breathtaking.


The city walls and church of Colmars



Our route started out on a afternoon following one of those leisurely French lunches with Isa's family. A cafe to liven up the legs and we were away for a lovely gentle warm up descending from Colmars towards Thorame Haute. At Thorame-Haute we left the main D908 road and turned in the direction of Thorame-Basse. The first and only challenge of the day was the Col du Défend (a little over a 1200m), which links the small villages of Lambruisse and Tartonne. The road was small and quiet, sheep were dotted all around and gosh, our bellies were far too full for cycling in the full sun of Provence!



The Col du Corobin


So instead of stopping at Dignes-Les-Bains as was planned, we prematurely stopped at Barrême campsite. Barrême is a small, slightly run down town on the Route Napoleon. However, it is a world famous name if you are a bit of a geologist or a fossil hunter. We are not geology aces, but we can tell you that Barrême gave its name to a geological age: the barremian. Barrême is the start start the Haute-Provence Geological Reserve which covers a huge area of land around Digne.

The day after, we happily left the busy N85 to climb Le Col du Corobin (visited by Le Tour in 2005). The "nappe de Digne", an autochtone layer of rock which travelled a long way, a long long time ago to cover the local mountain was shadowing us most of the time.

We spotted a few places to pick up some fossils in the grey schists bordering the road. But the area being a reserve, only picking of fossils is tolerated, no hammers allowed!



The best group of fossils we spotted along the D900A on the way out of Digne. There laid a wall full of ammonites about 50 cm diameter each. It is said that some Japanese tried to buy it years ago but had to be content with taking a moulding of the whole wall back home.

Carrying on the D900A towards Barles and its fantastic gorges, there were plenty of signposted fossils sites. Within a few minutes from the road, there were some fossils of bird footprints in sand, a strange "mermaid", an icyasaurus and more odd things we cannot quite remember the names of. It is again a quiet road, with the added advantage of being a very curious one. We stopped at Le Vernet for the night, just one valley over from where we started in Colmars.


The 20 metre high ammonite wall near Dignes


The spectacular limestone landscape of of the Alps around Dignes



After the easy Col de Maures and the pretty town of Seyne, we left the D900 and turned onto the small D900C. We followed Les gorges de la Blanche. This part of the road was extremely scenic and moreover it was downhill, a double-winner for us. At the end of the road, we were on the edge of the Lac de Serre Ponçon.

We climbed to the belvédère, or viewpoint, which overlooked the wide earth dam. For those of you with a good eye, the mountains around have some small rock formations called "demoiselles coiffées", ie, with a hat. The wind had carved the rocks into strange elongated mushroom type stone hats. We stopped for the night at Chorges campsite surrounded by red squirrels.

We started the next day climbing the Col de Manse, very pleasant and quiet, especially when compared with the wide and busy Cold Bayard, which leads you into Barcelonette. We then followed the small roads east of the fast N85 and went into the valley of Le Drac up to Pont du Fossé, which is a scenic and not too taxing part of the ride. We crossed St Bonnet en Champsaur, where we had a revitalising Orangina (Isa's favorite drink) and joined the main N85 again at Chauffayer.



The descent to Serre Poncon via the Col de Maures



View towards Serre Poncon



While riding this road, we had amazing views on the impressive peaks ahead of us. We were getting closer to the big mountains. And as soon took the turn on the D985A towars La Chapelle en Valgaudemar, we were indeed surrounded by high peaks. The valley is so narrow and the hamlet of Les Andrieux hardly is without the sun for 2 months during the winter. Before meeting Denise and Gilbert, Isa's cousins, in La Chapelle, we pushed on to the end of the valley to have a look on the glaciers and the beautiful waterfall of the bride's veil. This was a steep end to our trip, but well worth it.



Beautiful weather, mountains and roads on the Col de Manse




The impressive Clues des Barles, surrounded by geological and fossil attractions


(left) The high mountains of the Parc des Ecrins towards La Chapelle en Valgaudemar
(right) The glaciers at the head of the valley nearing Brides Veil waterfall



For more information or questions please contact us at isaetterry@mac.com