Monday 22 August

(magnify) France – Italy

We get away from the campsite reasonably early, stopping in La Ros on the way up to the pass for bread and milk. Sadly the St Bernard dogs are not in residence, so we continue up to the col.

Lake below the col

There is quite a clean-up operation going on after yesterday’s festivities, though to be fair there really is not as much litter as could be expected. Rows of camper vans slumber quietly in the lay-bys.

We choose a forty minute walk around the lake just over on the Italian side of the pass. Unfortunately due to a disagreement between us concerning the likely starting point for the walk we end up wandering slightly aimlessly on a grassy hill about one hundred metres above the lake, and soon return to the van. We agree to drive on, and if we come to the car park that the map shows the walk starting from then we will park up and try again.

(magnify) Down at the lake
(magnify) Walk around the lake

We do indeed find the car park, though it is a bit further below the col than might have reasonably been inferred from the map, and finally enjoy a beautiful walk on the lake shore. The water is crystal clear and contains numerous tiny fish that make the surface erupt in a myriad of splashes when footsteps approach.

(magnify) Down by the lake

The road twists its way town to La Thuile where we plan to have lunch, and we see more than our fair share of suicidal driving, including someone overtaking on a hairpin bend, and another driver who pulls out past a queue of traffic waiting at some temporary traffic lights and disappears around a blind corner on the wrong side of the road. And don’t get me started about the motorcyclists!

We have a bit of difficulty finding an open restaurant in La Thuile. My memory of coming here last time was that there was an avenue of pizza restaurants near the bottom of the ski lifts, so we head over there first. But the place where we ate last time is closed and there is nothing else bar a takeaway kiosk. Finally we return to near to where we parked the van and in the nick of time for R we find somewhere to eat. I have a savoury crepe and then share R’s pizza, which is enormous.

Wrong turn en-route to the tunnel

We continue down the valley and then pick up the road to the Mont Blanc tunnel to take us back into France, avoiding Switzerland and the hefty but unknown fee for using their roads that we have been warned about. It is a spectacular setting, with the snow-covered mountains towering above us and torrents of water cascading down the steep river from the glacier.

But we receive a shock when we discover the cost of the toll for the tunnel, €48.70. It is too late – we are stuck in the queue and cannot turn around. We wonder whether in fact the Swiss route would have been cheaper after all.

Once through we set the Garmin for Gex, which we think will be a suitable stopping point for the night. But Lady Garmin seems utterly determined to take us through Switzerland anyway. We decide to ignore her route and skirt around the edge of the country, paying no heed to her increasingly insistent demands that we should in two hundred metres turn right.

Now that we are down from the mountains the weather has become markedly hotter and poor R is suffering once more. The air conditioning in the van is feeble at best so we have both windows wound fully down. But it is 37°C in the shade.

We skirt around the edge of Geneva to the south but just when we are almost clear of Switzerland, Lady Garmin and a half-seen sign conspire to take us through the south-western most tip of the country.

The moment we cross into Swiss territory the road narrows dramatically so that I have to slow right down and drive on the verge to let oncoming vehicles past. Fortunately we cross the Rhône back into France at Le Longet before any official notes our incursion and pulls us over to demand payment. Looking back at the map it was an entirely pointless detour and we should have disregarded Garmin and the signs, remaining on the main road – even if we hadn’t been concerned about road tolls.

We reach Gex at about half past five, very hot. The municipal campsite is fairly empty and the man at the desk suggests that we take a pitch next to the woods to get a bit of shade – though we note that this will not actually provide any useful shade until the morning.