Sunday driving...

Route: Grenoble, Vizille, Sechilienne, Allemont, Col de la Croix de Fer, St. Jean-de-Maurienne, St Michel de Maurienne, Valloire, Col du Galibier, la Grave, Bourg d'Oisans, Grenoble.

The barrage de Grande Maison holds back a half-full pool of sky-reflecting blue. The only sound the water falling from the still-melting patches of snow. Before the barrage, coming down from Allemont (then up again), vertigo-inducing hairpin bends, a roller-coaster ride... above the barrage and lake, the Croix du Fer, look down the flower-strewn valleys and imagine snow and ice instead of this brilliant sunshine... it's easy, it isn't far away...

Mountain villages of Dutch holiday-makers, wooden houses, good bread and the occasional belled cow.

Down to St. Jean and St. Michel de Maurienne, could have been anywhere between Huddersfield and Halifax, an industrial grey valley bathed in a clean sunshine unknown in the English Pennines.

Winding up to the Col du Telegraph, a journey soon to be repeated by the Tour du France: the car didn't like the climb... imagine cycling it (and many do... you stop for a pause to look at the view and a slowly-passing, slowly-climbing cyclist calls, "bonjour" and smiles on his uphill way).

Pass through Valloir and on up and up towards the Col du Galibier. Forty kilometers of green desert: no trees, no shrubs: hot, dry, green-desert-with-flowers. Landscape-moonscape. Sharp peaks and smooth slopes, crumbling rocks and stepping-stone grass. Sit in the hot sun and feel the cool breeze whisper of snow. It's still there in folded patches, white and grey now.

At the Col, 2646 metres above, immense views over this summer-revealed landscape: the sounds of motors climbing to the top are hushed by the silent mountains. No-one talks. All are looking, looking at nature revealed in this short hot time between spring and autumn. Worthy of a long journey: a pagan pilgrimage to nature's altar. See it now: tomorrow it may gone: next year is a long way away...

From la Grave you can see the glaciers that hang over the town as the sun is melting the street. And then a waterfall drops out of the sky, white spray blowing away like a cloud from a mountain peak.

Grenoble is hot and grey and heavy after this.

Alison, July 1998

All text and images copyright Alison Toon.