Road trip through Europe: Valensole to Chamonix

Last summer, we did a 10 day road trip through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and France. Our itinerary was: BerlinWeimarHeidelburgFreiburgLucerne Lake ComoLa-SpeziaCinque TerreBussana VecchiaMonacoÉzeGorges du VerdonMoustiers-Sainte-Marie – Valensole – ChamonixTübingenSwäbisch Hall – Berlin. 

On day 8 of our road trip we drove from the rustic villages of the lavender region of France to the foothills of the highest mountain in Europe west of the Caucasus peaks, the majestic, snow-capped 4810m high Mont Blanc. We were now on our way back to Germany.

We had arrived in Valensole the previous evening and navigated the narrow, hilly streets lined by tall medieval buildings to find our Airbnb accommodation. During our trip we stayed in a mix of apartments and Airbnb rooms in people’s houses, and this helped us get into the local atmosphere. The Airbnb in Valensole seemed to be the room of a daughter who was away at college, and this added to the atmosphere of being at home in a French village.

The next morning our hostess gave us a nice breakfast of homemade jams and bread. Afterwards we headed out to talk a walk around the village and post some postcards.

Interesting street art…maybe more goes on here than you’d expect? 😉

In the town you can see a laundry spot from medieval times, where women used to gather to do the washing in water troughs. Everything was very lavender themed, as Valensole is in the lavender region of France. You can buy little scented sachets filled with lavender all over the place, as well as soaps and paintings of countryside scenery. We also found a great bakery and bought some treats for the road trip ahead.

My choice: tarte citron and a coffee eclair

Unfortunately, as our hostess had told us the previous night, we had missed the lavender season as the last lavender had been recently cut. No surreal purple fields for us as I had hoped. Nevertheless, it was still worth visiting Valensole as the village and the region are beautiful – and it’s good to leave a few dreams for later in life.

Driving from Valensole, we passed through lots of scenic French countryside, with castles and vineyards. We stopped to visit the ruins of a castle which gave us a great view over the village below. Unfortunately I didn’t note down the names of the places we stopped at between Valensole and Chamonix. Maybe some of you will recognize the photos!

 

Finally as the day drew on, the first mountains began to loom on the horizon. The temperature began to grow cooler as we drove higher in altitude. The view ahead of us was shrouded in clouds. Suddenly, as we approached, the clouds parted and the beautiful vision of Mont Blanc appeared before us. We hadn’t even realized it was there, and it was breathtaking.

Soon after, we arrived in the outskirts of Les Houches (near to Chamonix), where we would be staying in an Airbnb. As we got out of the car, we realized it was a lot colder here than in our previous locations, and I shivered a bit in my summer clothes. Our welcome to the Airbnb was also a bit cold, as the host had confused me with another person with the same first name as me who had cancelled a booking for later in the month, and hadn’t expected us to arrive. After the confusion was sorted out it was ok. They offered us house shoes, and we went into the cosy wooden chalet.

After changing into some much warmer clothes (luckily I’d packed a jacket knowing that we would try to go to go up the mountain in a cable car), we drove to the centre of Les Houches. It was funny to suddenly be in a cold place, and my husband and I felt very excited to be near Mont Blanc.

Our friend is not a mountain person, but also seemed to enjoy suddenly being in different surroundings, with the little wooden chalets and the promise of a fondue or raclette for dinner in a cosy restaurant. We decided to go for raclette, since we’d never tried it the traditional way before. Basically a giant wedge of cheese is stuck on a metal device and heating at the edges (usually a good strong mountain cheese). You take turns scraping the cheese off as it melts and eat it on bread or potatoes. We really had fun eating it and managed to do a pretty good job working our way through the cheese.

After dinner we headed back to our accommodation and spent some time chatting to our host about Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains. We wanted to take the Aiguille du Midi cable car up to the mountain the following morning, to have a look at the beautiful views, and gaze onto Mont Blanc. He said the weather was a bit iffy as at the moment it was covered in cloud, but we would see if we were lucky the next day. He also said that the queue to the cable car is extremely long, and we should go early so that we wouldn’t have to wait too long. With that in mind, we soon said our goodnights and went to bed, hoping to beat the crowds.

 

 

 

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