Jack & Bruce Cycling Austria, Switzerland and France travel blog

Centre for fine arts in the middle of the Rhone river, Geneva

An old power station turned into a performing arts centre in Geneva.

Steps leading up to the Mont Blanc area of Geneva.

United Nations building. I have no idea what the giant chair signifies.

Bruce rounding a hairpin on the way up Alpe D’Huez. He even...

A view of Bourg-d’Oisans and some of the hairpin turns.

Above the cloud layer and there is no more Oisans valley.

At the real Tour de France finish of the climb up Alpe...

At the summit of the Col de Sarenne.

A view of spectacular rock walls and distant mountains from the viewpoint...

An interesting cottage on the route. Note the TV aerials.

A view from the Balcons down into the Oisans valley.

Geneva rest day

After breakfast we said goodbye to those of the Edelweiss Epic who were leaving during the day. Bruce and I wandered into the city of Geneva looking for interesting buildings, squares or other cultural items. Sadly we were somewhat disappointed. Geneva does not seem to have an ‘old’ quarter and even the Catholic basilica, when we found it, seemed rather subdued. We kept walking until we found a bridge over the Rhone river and saw, at last, some interesting buildings. The first was almost in the middle of the river and looked to me like a market hall. Further research indicated that the building used to be part of a power generating plant (hydro?) and is now a performing arts facility. On the other side of the bridge was a small island on which perched a building which is now a fine arts centre.

As we walked along on the Southern side of the river I noticed a cobbled ramp next to a rock wall leading upward. We decided to investigate and finally found some cobbled laneways and small streets leading up to an area known as Mont Blanc. Although the buildings were small and clearly older than others we had passed there was a sameness about them. Not much colour - mainly grey. There were few people about, Bruce commented that the area didn’t seem to have any vibe. I looked into a few store front windows and saw people working on skilled tasks - perhaps watchmaking or instrument making. Few buildings had invitation to come in. However, the area was much nicer than on the North side.

Returning to river level we found ourselves in the centre of the watch selling area. Just about every famous name of a watchmaker seemed to have a store or a presence here, along with Bvlgari, Prada, Luis Vuitton and other expensive brands. Bruce suggested that a Rolex Yachtmaster priced at 58,000CHF should be perfect for me. By now it was getting warm and also close to lunchtime so we headed back towards the hotel, purchased a sandwich and a Coke, and settled in for an afternoon of watching the Tour de France. It’s great being able to do this in day time rather than during the night and early morning as in Australia.

After the race we took another stroll, this time through a nearby park that led down to the water’s edge of Lake Geneva (aka Lac Leman). As in previous cities the area was full of people, sun-baking, playing various games, cooking BBQs or just hanging about. Some brave souls were even swimming in the lake. At 6pm we met up with Ruth and Callum and went off to dinner in an Italian restaurant. They entertained us with stories of their travels which are quite extensive and with stories of the daughter who works as a lawyer for the Red Cross and seems to have had even more adventures in her young life. Back at the hotel we packed our bags in preparation for tomorrow’s departure.

Geneva to Bourg-d’Oisans

As breakfast was not included in our exorbitant hotel fare we walked to a nearby patisserie and used up almost all of our remaining Swiss francs. Then we hopped aboard our bikes and cycled to the airport to collect our hire car. Bruce has made the arrangements for this and will be the only accredited driver. It took us a while to wok out how to get to the airport via a combination of cycling and pedestrian routes but we made it eventually. We entered the terminal building at probably the furthest point away from the car rental depots so had a long, long walk wheeling our bikes.

It took ages to get to the counter for Bruce to fill in the paperwork due to other people being very slow. Eventually however, Bruce got a car but not what we had ordered. Instead of a Golf station wagon we ended up with a Skoda Scala which is a smaller station wagon than the Golf. It was going to be a real squeeze to get everything into this car. I was unhappy with the size of the car but they were not prepared to offer us anything bigger so we had to accept it and hope for the best. Back at the hotel we had half an hour to check out which we managed and then started squeezing two bike bags (empty), two large cases, two smaller backpacks, sleeping bags, helmets and two partly disassembled bicycles into the Skoda. Amazingly it all fitted in sort of neatly. It should be easier, I think when we finally pack the bike bags properly for the flight home.

The trip to Bourg-d’Oisans was relatively uneventful although it was a bit stressful leaving Geneva and not always knowing which lane to be in. I was navigating using Google maps because the promised GPS was not in the car. We used the toll roads to get to our destination as quickly as possible but still a 2h 43m journey took nearly 3 hours. Bruce is conscious that when we leave for the airport it will be Bastille day so there may be some issues on the road. We’ll probably err on the cautious side and leave ourselves at least 3 and a half hours to get back. Just as we arrived the rain, which had been threatening most of the way down started and continued for the next few hours. The forecast for tomorrow however is for a sunny day. After checking into our rustic cabin for the next 5 nights we headed to the local supermarket to stock up on breakfast items and buy something for dinner.

Bourg-d’Oisans - Alpe d’Huez loop

We were a bit disappointed when we woke to find low cloud covering all the nearby peaks. Although the rain from last night had stopped the air felt humid and cool. Bruce and I procrastinated a bit hoping for an improvement but eventually by 9:30 we decided to go. Our route for the day would take us up to Alpe d’Huez across to the Col de Sarenne, down past the Calvin’s and up to the Balcons d’Auris before returning to our accomodation.

The first few kilometres of the road to the Alpe were, as many would know, very steep but eventually the gradient eased a bit. (11% to 8%) The views into the valley were stunning and we stopped to take in the scenery and make a photo or two. There were many, many cyclists on the road most of them passed us but occasionally we actually passed a few others. Some who passed us, of course, had the assistance of an electric leg. This was something that I did not see eight years ago on my first trip here. As we climbed we rode through the low cloud cover and emerged in bright sunlight with fluffy white cloud below us filling the valley of Oisans. We cycled straight through the village, where there is a ceremonial ‘finish’ to the place where the real Tour de France finishes when it comes to the Alpe (1860m). There were far more cyclists at the fake finish than at the real one but there are many more eating and drinking places near the fake finish. We noticed the large number of MTB riders at the village. Many were getting lifts further up the mountain by cable car before riding down with gay abandon on trails and slopes which, in winter, are ski runs.

After taking the obligatory photos we cycled to a nearby cafe for a celebratory coffee and croissant before setting out further to the Col de Sarenne. The road was easy to find and it wasn’t long before we were out of the touristy village and into some wild alpine country. The road surface was a bit rougher and narrower now that we were away from the main tourist route but the scenery was much nicer. Eventually, after a few more ups and downs we reached the Col at 1999m. Nearby there was a viewpoint that required us to scramble about 20m further up for some spectacular views of distant mountains and a steep valley down to the villages of Clavans.

The descent was a bit tricky due to the rough, steep and narrow road. Eventually we reached a better quality road and were able to speed up a bit. We passed through the Clavans villages, Haut and Bas, looking for some food but not finding anything. In a town of Mizoen we found some ice cream as well as a couple of cyclists from Kalgoorlie. I’m not sure how a cyclist from Kal gets to have good climbing legs but this guy had done a ‘triple’ climb of Mt Ventoux in a day - no mean feat. He was also a Bike Dreams veteran but not from any trip I have been on.

There was one more climb on the route to the Balcons d’Auris which turned out to be steeper and longer than we had expected but once again the great views made up for all the efforts. By now the temperature on the road had reached the low 30s so we were suffering a bit also getting sunburnt because we hadn’t sun-screened properly. At last the road turned downwards and we flew down through three tunnels and a few avalanche shelters reaching the Alpe d’Huez road again at hairpin 17 (from the bottom so at least we had a chance to cycle down this road if only for a small section. A quick stop at the supermarket and the bank meant that we were back in our cabin by 4 pm to have lunch. Altogether we cycled around 59km and climbed almost 2000m in just over four and a half riding hours.

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