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Herewith, the first part (four in total) of my travelling report from the fourth edition of the E34 ///M5 meeting in the Swiss, Italian and French Alps.

Please do not post comments in this thread as it will be expanded with three sucesive parts in time. Comments and questions can be added Here.

Thank you and enjoy reading.

References:

Story:
- Raymond Woertman
Pictures:
- ZweifelM5
- Dominik
- Kons
- Raymond Woertman
Review
- Stevie
- Kees

Previous editions:

- 2002: First edition Parts I & II, First Edition Part III
- 2003: Second edition
- 2004: Third Edition
- 2005: Fourth edition
 

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The fifth edition of the annual Alps tour for E34 ///M5 owners was created to be something special. During the previous four editions, we visited almost all passes (or cols) in the Austrian, Italian, Swiss and French Rhone Alps. The primary goals for 2006 were: 1) As many Col’s as possible, 2) Villages and urban areas only when necessary, 3) Col’s that were driven during earlier events only when needed. After some analysis, we (the OC) concluded that these requirements could be met in two regions of the Alps. For this year, we selected the French/Italian Mediterranean Alps as destination. Ultimately, this allowed us to include three of four passes in Europe that are over 2700mtr high.

Unlike earlier years, when all the OC-members were familiar with the passes and roads, this was just the case for this year’s route on Friday afternoon. This part provided a challenge, especially as the majority of the participants had to drive more then 700km before reaching the gathering point at_ Col de Gr St Bernard (2469mtr). A pass located in the French speaking part of the Wallis canton in Switzerland, where we were scheduled to arrive at 1.00PM. To reach Parc National du Mercantour in the South-East of France within a day and a half of driving, it was necessary to drive as far South as possible on the Friday. In other words, the route for Friday afternoon consisted out of three large Col’s covering a total of almost 280km!

The driving distance between my home and the gathering point on the Italian/Swiss border near the Mont Blanc is little over 950km, mostly over Swiss and German autobahns. The shortest route towards Basel leads alongside the French / German border. When we visited the Swiss / French Alps two years ago, I managed to cross the Swiss border at Weil am Rhein at roughly 9.00AM. This year we left at 4.40AM in the morning, roughly thirty minutes later then planned, but a 9.30AM crossing would still be early enough so the schedule should be manageable. Compared to two years ago, there was significantly more traffic on the autobahns, especially between Frankfurt and Basel. This reduced my progress to it being 8.15AM before I passed Karlsruhe, leaving 190km to cover to Basel. With an average speed of roughly 100km/h this meant that we would need at least another hour on top of schedule to reach Basel, where we would meet with Dominik and a few other participants. Despite the intense and slow traffic, we arrived at Rast-Statte Pratteln Sud around a quarter past ten, where Dominik and Ollie were still waiting. Dominik informed me that some of the others that would meet at the other advance gathering point in Zug also were also delayed by traffic, so we skipped the central gathering point near Bern. Instead, both groups drove directly from their respective _ gathering points towards Martigny in the South of Switzerland.

After we left the last autobahn tunnels just South of Diegten the weather and visibility were exceptionally, as the entire Berner Oberland emerged itself in full glory on the horizon. The Jungfrau (4158mtr), Finsteraarhorn (4273mtr), Schreckhorn (4078mtr), Eiger (3970mtr) and the Monch (4099mtr) could clearly be recognized. Given the distance (estimated at 100km) from the north side of the Schweizer Mittelland, this meant that the high pressure weather zone was stable enough for the next days to bring bright and sunny weather.



The travel to Martigny isn’t really worth mentioning. With all three ///M5’s in a convoy, we completed that section within the permitted speed limits and we reached the crossing between Col de la Forclaz (1576mtr) and Col de Gr St Bernard shortly after noon. Before ascending the large Col, we took the opportunity to refuel the cars, which for me was quite due as I completed the last 700km on a single (90ltr) fuel tank. The route over the St Bernard is an ancient one, dating back several hundred (if not more) years. With forty-five kilometers, the north side of Col Gr St Bernard is one of the longest and largest ascents that one can find in the Alps, during which the Col ascends a little over 2000mtr. The first thirty kilometers of these are being driven on the modern road that during the years has been expanded to cope with the increasing traffic from and to Italy. Roughly ten kilometers past Martigny, one cannot miss the North-Eastern flanks and glaciers of the Mont-Blanc massive.



Due to the wide lanes, the main road isn’t that difficult nor that challenging yet contains quite a few hairpins that can be fun to drive, yet this depends on the traffic situation. Dominik increased the pace and as the main road is so wide and large, the gap between him and Oliver and from Oliver and me increased rapidly. At this point, I noticed that it seemed my car lacked full-power, since it was impossible for me to keep track of Oliver. After roughly twenty kilometers, the valley narrows and the road leads through a series of half open tunnels to protect the traffic from falling debris and avalanches. Nowadays, the main road towards the Aosta valley in Italy runs through a large toll-obliged tunnel. The old road however, over the 2469mtr high Col de Gr St Bernard still is open, albeit only for light traffic. The entrance to the old Col is located at the end of one of these tunnels and although timely indicated, it is easy to miss the exit.

The bumpy surface of the tarmac of the old Col was perfect to test my new suspension that has recently been fitted. Many say that the Nordschleife is ‘the place’ to thoroughly test a car. To some extent, this is true, especially when tests have to be repeated and the result must be verifiable. However, the large majority of those people who privately track their car on the Nordschleife hardly drive more then four of five successive laps. Between the track sessions, ringers socialize at the gathering points near and around the Nordschleife. This limits the continuous endurance to maybe one hour. With other words, even those who drive twenty laps per day, an equivalent of 416km (!) hardly see more then maybe 35% effective driving time. During the other 65%, the car is allowed to cool down. With the Alps tour however, the effective driving time is more then 75% and most of it is at full welly. The Alps tour endurance therefore is much harder then even the most vigorous track day on the Nordschleife. Engines, fluids, tires, brakes and suspension components don’t get the time to cool down. If a part is tired and/or not up to a job, it will fail. Fortunately, the E34 ///M5 is extremely well engineered, but only perfectly maintained cars are capable of surviving such endurance.

To test my new suspension, the old Col the Gr St Bernard was the perfect starter. On the Swiss side, the tarmac is far from smooth with almost a continuous series of bumps, some of which more then ten centimeters high and seemingly endless series of repair-patches. In these conditions, a tired or poorly designed suspension will result in stability problems. To some extent, one can anticipate by calculating some margin when turning in, but often this means choosing a line on the opposite side of the road. This is not so much of a problem when visibility is OK, but if that is not and one approaches a car from the opposite direction who does the same, not to mention the same speed, one gets his hands full with controlling the situation. A well damped suspension _makes the difference between being able to control the situation or not. Compared to earlier years, I could notice the difference almost immediately. Although too early to make a full analysis, ascending the Col de Gd St Bernard proved to me that shelling out €2,5k for a new OEM suspension was the right decision. The strange suspension noises and excessive steering play that I observed during an earlier trip to the Nordschleife were gone. A slight vagueness in the centre of the steering remains, a common problem on most E34’s and cars with slightly worn tie-rod ends.

Some may remember the original version of the movie ‘The Italian job’, in which a gang robs a bank somewhere in Turin, after which they used BMC Mini’s to escape to Switzerland over the Col de Gr St Bernard. Although I haven’t seen the film in along time, I still remember the scenery and to some extent, it seems as if nothing has changed. The rough scenery, the narrow roads, steep abysses and beautiful mountains in the near vicinity, everything is impressive. On the highest point of the Col, the Swiss still have the hospiz, which is open to this day, but nowadays more has a tourist function. Today, a Col can be crossed in a few hours, but in the days before motoring became available, crossing a Col was a matter of days. In the modern comfort and safety of a car, it is unimaginable that in the old days, the conditions for crossing Col’s could be so harsh and even dangerous.



After crossing the highest point and entering the south side valley, approached the Swiss/Italian border at around 1.50PM. First, the Swiss for the outgoing check, and as usual, the Swiss waved us through without looking at passports. Oliver however, was stopped and had to open his trunk for some reason. The Italians were more thorough with their work. Each and every car was stopped and the passports of the occupants checked. At first, they ordered us to park near the road and wait. Said and done, and when I stepped out of my car, the Italian Carabinieri returned our travel documents and waved us through. At that moment, Oliver approached the border and like us, he had to handover his travel documents to the Italian Carabinieri.



Between the hospiz on the northern side and the Italian customs checkpoint on the south-side, a small idyllic mountain lake attracts many tourists. The gathering point was just 50mtr behind the Italian customs on the southeastern side of the lake. I almost missed it as the entrance to the parking area was a bit hidden between a small restaurant and the wooden fences around the lake. After parking my car in the E34 lineup and shaking hands with Hermann, who stayed with the cars, we waited for Oliver to pass the Italian customs check point. To our surprise, we saw Oliver driving back into Switzerland. A quick call by Hermann revealed that Oliver forgot his car registration papers, and the Italians didn’t accept that. The Italians weren’t that difficult and were prepared to accept a fax-copy of the registration papers, hence why Oliver returned to the hospiz to arrange that.



We had scheduled an hour for supper anyhow, so Ollie had some time to arrange things. Whilst some of the others were inside the restaurant for a war meal, my father and I stayed outside. After all, we had just driven close to 1000km and with the weather being so nice, it was a shame to stay inside. After roughly forty-five minutes, Oliver returned, but missed the exit to the gathering point and drove towards Aosta. Since Oliver couldn’t have the route details towards Lanslebourg yet (these would be handed out at the table), Konstantin and Hermann drove off immediately to catch up with Oliver. The rest of us left a few minutes later. Unlike the northern (Swiss) side, the tarmac on the southern (Italian) side is relatively smooth and a bit wider. Like the Northern side, the scenery is spectacular, especially on the old road up to the crossing with the Tunnel du Gr St Bernard. It only took Hermann and Konstantin a few minutes to catch up with Oliver to hand over the route details.









The old Col descends for about fifteen kilometers, after which it joins the main road coming from the Tunnel St Bernard. Until this point, one can drive relatively freely without being delayed too much. In the main traffic stream towards Aosta though, this is far more difficult due to a few construction sites in combination with the traffic situation. Therefore, it was inevitable that our group got separated a few times, mostly due to the fact that it is impossible to stay in convoy in the various villages and that it was impossible to pass other cars between them.

Our main goal was the A5 towards Chamonix and Geneva. This required some toll to be paid, but the bonus was that we didn’t have to drive through the town traffic of Aosta itself. I think this worked out well for some of us, but for me personally, Italy was the fourth that day and since I was driving close to non-stop for more then ten hours, I lost my concentration and read Geneva for Genova. I noticed the directions to the Monte Bianco when it was too late and had no choice other then entering the A5 into the wrong direction. Normally not that big a problem as on simply takes the first exit and returns. Simply a matter of paying some toll, drive over the bridge and enter the highway into the other direction. Hmmm, maybe so, if one is able to understand the Italian language. The toll station was unmanned and featured a man-machine interface without the possibility to select another language then Italian. Furthermore, one couldn’t pay with cash and before I am prepared to use my credit card, I’ll need some clear and understandable instructions. After a few minutes of meddling around, the gates opened and I could pass. Oliver had problems like I did and followed the same procedure, whilst Tobias tried entering his credit card which worked.

After this funny experience, we found ourselves driving back over the provincial road towards Aosta from were we could enter the A5 to Morgex and Monte Bianco, this time in the right direction, we hoped. By the time we reached the entrance point towards the A5, Oliver hesitated to follow me, but he eventually did so. Tobias however took the provincial road to Morgex to avoid paying toll again. The A5 towards Morgex isn’t worth mentioning apart from many Italians disregarding the speed limits in the tunnels with quite some margin. After exiting the A5 near Morgex, we had to pay toll off course, which worked well this time since we could pay in cash.

Our next goal, Col du pit St Bernard (2188mtr), connects La Thuille in Italy with Bourg St Maurice in France. Although not as large as the similarly named Col du Gd St Bernard, the Col du pit St Bernard offers a challenging route with a spectacular view on the Mont Blanc massive just before entering France. Actually, there are two roads towards la Thuille and the Col du Pit St Bernard. First, the main road through Morgex and second the smaller but more technical Colle san Carlo (1903mtr). Since for some reason the participants didn’t have the route-document, no one but me was aware that this small but lovely Col was part of the route.





The north side of the Colle san Carlo is located on road SS26, a few hundred meters outside the eastern outskirts of Morgex. At first, one drives through a series of small villages, basically suburbs from Morgex itself, but soon after leaving the last village, road SR39 enters a forest that limits the panoramic view onto the surrounding valleys. Nevertheless, from a driving point of view, the Colle San Carlo is considered to be a technical drive, mostly due to the many consecutive hair-pins that follow each other closely. The landscape doesn’t change until reaching the Col’s highest point at approximately 1900mtr above sea level. The south side is steeper, but not that long and ends after a few kilometers in la Thuille. Whilst driving through this village, my father spotted a mobile fruit-stand near the road. Just for the fun of it, we stopped and looked at the products on the mobile display. Lovely large peaches, oranges, grapes, strawberries, apples and bananas, all of these looking better then the usual local supermarket products. Despite all that quality, there was no one to serve customers. We waited a few minutes, walked into a house nearby, but still no sign of a salesman. Then, we heard someone brambling something in Italian, but instead of serving customers, he stayed at a distance. We did wait for another five minutes, but with no one willing to make some money, we resumed driving towards the next Col. After all, we still had two large Col’s to cross before reaching our destination for Friday, roughly 100km further south.

The Col du Pit St Bernard is the main road between Italy and Bourg St. Maurice in France, the gateway to various ski-resorts in the French Rhone Alps. From a driving point of view, the north side of the Col du Pit St Bernard is nice to drive but not really difficult, but it makes one aware that 360Nm of torque isn’t really that much, especially when driving in third gear with speeds down to 70km/h. Second gear isn’t really an option as one continuously needs to down-and up shift, which is either time consuming or very hard on the gearbox. I have to admit that a certain Orientblau V8 equipped model with a manual gearbox would be very appropriate on roads like this, but only with a properly sorted out suspension. A test for next year perhaps?

Just before entering France, we joined Tobias and Patrick who stopped for a sightseeing stop just before the border. Unlike us, they didn’t drive the Colle San Carlo so they must have passed us when we were trying to buy some vitamins in la Thuille. For a large part, the route of Friday afternoon directed us around the Mont Blanc massive. We were fortunate with the weather and despite the large distance; we could still enjoy a clear and bright view of the south side of this sub 5000mtr peak,



From a photography point of view, there is a difference between taking snap-shots and taking pictures. When taking snap-shots, one points the camera to an object and relies on the automatic exposure-compensation, shutter and aperture selections of the camera. Although one can obtain good results with this, they are often far from optimal. That aside, point shoot camera’s hardly have a usable telezoom range, especially in the upper focal length range when light-sensitivity is often reduced by factor two due to the limitations in the optical system. Furthermore, I want full control over my camera and only a SLR offers the flexibility that I require. The picture below was shot at a focal distance of 90mm with the smallest possible aperture opening to increase the depth of field.



After roughly ten minutes, we resumed driving, entered France and started descending the twenty-eight kilometer long south side of the Col du Pit St Bernard. Being a main traffic connection, this Col has two relatively wide lanes, one for each direction. Depending on the car, I rate this a third/fourth gear descent during which it is not that difficult to approach the speed-limit of 90km/h. However, a fourth gear descend is hard on the brakes when entering the hairpins. That may be the reason why the few other cars that we saw, were all traveling much slower then us. Fortunately there are enough opportunities to pass for which I even used a few of the parking lots on the left side of the road (off course). These allow an ideal approach in the case that the car that one wants to pass suddenly decides to cut-off the bend and uses the other lane as well. The funny part is that whilst doing so, one has to cope with the difference in slope between the road and parking areas, causing the car to lift for a brief moment before it settles on the tarmac again.



During the first few kilometers, high alpine vegetation like small trees and wild grass determine the landscape, low enough to offer an unrestricted view to the sub 3500mtr high summits in the Tignes and Val d’Isere region. Eventually, the trees grow higher and start to dominate the mountain-slopes. This stays that way for a while, but there a few open spots through which one can see a glimpse of Bourg St. Maurice in the valley. During the last seven kilometers, the forests make way for a cultured landscape with a mix of farmland and small settlements. This is by far the most twisting and challenging part on the south side. We arrived in Seez much quicker then expected, and entered the D902 towards Val d’Isere.

Through the years, the growth in tourism forced mostly all winter-sport regions to improve their infrastructure. Especially the higher located regions faced some tough challenges in constructing and maintaining high capacity roads that must be opened during twelve months a year. This means that through the years, unsecured and/or narrow spots have been improved, but this also means that from a driving point of view, roads like these are often a bit boring. The landscape is lovely though and eventually, the road ascends in front of a large dam, were one also finds the intersection with Tignes. The ongoing road to Val d’Isere is routed around the hydro-reservoir itself, after which the mountains to the east and west merge into a small and narrow canyon. The road itself runs through this canyon, after which one enters a high Alpine valley at roughly 1900mtr above sea-level. Val D’Isere is the largest of a few similarly named villages further south in the valley and is surrounded by summits that all reach more then 3000mtr. Whilst driving through the settlements, the road hardly ascends until the end of the valley, were the bridge across the Pont St Charles is crossed during which one makes a large U-turn, after which the hard work starts with an eight to ten percent steep ascent.

Even though the North side isn’t that long as for instance the Col de la Bonette, I rate the Iseran as one of the most challenging drives in Europe. The vegetation is low and open and the scenic view is breathtaking, but for those that are afraid for height shouldn’t look into the abyss on the left and lack of Armco-fencing doesn’t make things better. This gets better above roughly 2300mtr when one reaches another high Alpine plateau were also a significant part of the lift installations of Val d’Isere are located. The road itself isn’t that narrow, but passing other cars can be an undertaking, mostly due to drivers not willing to seek the unprotected outer left part of the road. For the rest, it allows to be driven quite aggressively, but the hairpins can be voraciously when one holds the brakes whilst turning in. It is better to approach some hairpins with excessive speed and rely on the car’s balance then to brake hard upsetting the otherwise stable vehicle.

With every progressing meter, one becomes fully aware that one enters the high Alpine environment and although beautiful to look at, one must be aware that this is a very hostile environment for all forms of life, hence why only a few species can survive day in day out. Unlike many other passes, one won’t find any settlement on the Col d’Iseran. There is a small shop annex restaurant at the Col’s highest point, but by the time we arrived it was already closed. By the time that we arrived, the sun already went down and the shade of the surrounding summits resulted not only in day-light fading out rapidly, but in combination with the chilly wind, the outside temperature felt like a few degrees above zero.





Strictly speaking, the Col d’Iseran (2764mtr) is the highest Col in Europe that can be reached by motorized traffic. Granted, the Cime the la Bonette (2807mtr) a few hundred kilometers further south ‘outweighs’ the Iseran by forty-free meters, but it is nothing more then an extension next to the Col de la Bonette, which ‘only’ reaches to 2715mtr. The 3199mtr high Pico Veleta in the south of Spain doesn’t compare either, simply because it is not paved nor opened for motorized traffic. The south side of the Col d’Iseran is three kilometers shorter then the North side and ends in the village of Bonneval Sur Arc, which coming from the north is the first village in the Valley of the Maurienne. Bonneval Sur Arc’s altitude is 100mtr lower the Val d’Isere, hence why the average rate of the descent also is considerably more. The landscape is rough, large, impressive and with the splendor of many glaciers in the direct vicinity also very unique.



The first part of the descent, takes on around a ridge, after which the road continues alongside the slopes of the summits that close on the northeastern side of the high alpine valley. The rate of the descent exceeds the ten percent mark quite often due to which the brakes are stressed highly when blasting down in third/fourth gear, which isn’t impossible at all. After a while, the high Alpine valley ends at a steep cliff, before which the road makes a large left turn over a bridge, see picture below (Please note that this picture is from 2004 in broad daylight), after which the Col continues to descent alongside a deep abyss that ultimately ends in Bonneval Sur Arc itself.



During our short stop at the Col d’Iseran, I asked Oliver and Tobias to wait ten minutes so I could find a nice location to do some action photography. Finding a spot was easy, but lack of traffic prevented me from properly fine-adjusting the exposure compensation, shutter time and aperture opening before the intended objects passed by. After waiting a few minutes, I could hear the glorious sound-track of two S38’s reflecting through the canyon. It took another minute before I had them in sight. Fortunately, I managed to adjust my camera’s settings not that far from the optimum.



The last five kilometers towards Bonneval Sur Arc are very steep with an average descent of over ten percent. Coming from the Iseran, one gets a clear view onto this small village that managed to maintain its architectonic character during the rural first halve of the twentieth century, but the main road doesn’t lead through it. Instead, the road continues a few hundred meters further, where makes a 180 degree large turn around Bonneval Sur Arc after which road D902 enters the valley of the Maurienne towards Lanslebourg, our final destination for this day.

After a long and challenging day, we arrived at our Hotel le Vielle Poste in Lanslebourg at roughly 7.45PM. Hermann already arrived a little earlier, and already completed the registration for all of us. During dinner an later that evening, Hermann and I discussed the originally planned route between Susa and Sestriere for next morning. Although only forty-five kilometers, the Michelin maps mark a few Col’s between these cities as unpaved. Furthermore, some other sources claimed that the north unpaved side of Colle delle Finestre also is closed for motorized traffic. All in all too many questions and not enough answers, hence why in the week before this event, the OC decided to skip that part in favor of the main road towards the Col de Montgenevre. Main roads are usually not that interesting and traffic situations can be rather stressful, which bothered some of the group, therefore we reopened the route-discussion for the second time in one week. The final consensus _ was to drive the scenic route, but there still was some concern about the legal status of the Colle delle Finestre. In other words: Can we get away with eight ///M5’s driving on a road that normally is closed for all traffic for the last nine kilometers towards the Col’s highest point?

Anyhow, the weather was perfect and the forecast for the rest of the weekend also looked good. The next day towards the Mediterranean Alps proved to be intense and spectacular, and with the above mentioned concerns, you can imagine that Saturday was quite an adventure. Want to know more? Stay tuned for part II.
 

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As could be read in part I, we lodged in Hotel la Vieile Poste in Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis. It’s a small but fine hotel with two young owners who, despite having little knowledge about the German language, didn’t mind trying to understand the questions from the non-French speaking participants in our group. The rooms were simple but tidy and equipped with all the basic needs. So all in all, a pleasant place to stay.



During the advance planning of this year’s route, I found a few web logs that thoroughly describe almost every pass within the entire Alps. Interesting is that especially bicyclist know the existence of a few passes that are not indicated on road-maps, but are interesting for car-and motorbike owners as well. During dinner on the eve before, we agreed that Hermann, Konstantin and Dominik would take a thirty minute lead time to explore the second Col, the Colle delle Finestre (2176mtr) towards Sestriere. The conclusions from that reconnaissance-trip would then be used for a final decision which would be made after the arrival of the second group in Susa. After having breakfast and completing the usual formalities, the first group left at 8.00AM towards Col du Mont Cenis (2084mtr). The second group left roughly half an hour later.



Before starting with the forty-three kilometer long Col de Mont Cenis_, we used the opportunity to fuel the cars at the nearby petrol station in Lanslebourg. This allowed us to drive until late afternoon without worrying about the Siesta that often affects opening times of petrol stations in the smaller communities. Beginning just outside the centre of Lanslebourg, this Col ascends at a continuous rate of roughly eight to ten percent, which is ideal from a warm-up perspective as the engines reach their operating temperatures within minutes. Eventually, after all the engines were properly warmed, the glorious soundtrack of six S38 engines echoed through the valley of Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis.

The northern (French) face of this Col is extremely well constructed with two wide lanes and large-radius hairpins, allowing one to play around with the cars balance without worrying about hitting certain ‘objects’ near the road. Unlike many other passes_ it is easy to reach or exceed the legal speed limit on this Col, which you can generally get away with, provided one follows a few basic rules. However, the hotel owner in Lanslebourg warned us about regular speed-traps on the Italian side, were most parts are limited to a speed limit of sixty kilometers per hour. After roughly eight kilometers, we entered a high alpine valley which is dominated by a huge hydro-reservoir which may be one of the largest high Alpine reservoirs in the Alps. The road itself is located alongside its eastern shores, roughly between 50mtr and 100mtr above the water-surface.

Once in Italy, on the south side of the lake, the road narrows significantly before it descends on the south-eastern side of the dam. The valley narrows and after entering the forests, the road continues towards Susa, a distance of thirty-three kilometers. Even though the speed limit outside the villages is 90km/h, the vast majority of other drivers had trouble reaching even fifty. Not so much of a problem, if not overtaking is prohibited on most parts of this Col. With the warning of the hotel owner still in mind, we maintained a careful approach and made sure that when we passed other cars we did so within the _limits. During the last ten kilometers of this Col, we drove through a series of small villages before arriving in Susa, a mid sized city west_ of Turin.

For some reason, Martin and Tobias lost track of Andy and Oliver and me in the centre of Susa were I was searching for road directions towards Meana di Susa and / or the Colle delle Finestre. This turned out to be easier then expected, as we found the right intersection almost immediately. To allow the others to find us we stopped for a brief moment, while I called Hermann who, if everything worked out as planned, should by now know if this partially unpaved Col could be driven. This turned out to be the case, and after the second group was complete we resumed driving towards Meana di Susa. Officially, the Colle delle Finestre (2176mtr) is prohibited for car-and motorcycles during the last unpaved nine kilometers. Although there is a road sign that implicates some limitations, it was rather faded and for the same reason, I interpreted it to be another unclear instruction. Furthermore, the Italians don’t seem to take this very seriously either as I_ read a few reports about locals driving up the pass on the north side for daytrips.

The road towards the Colle delle Finestre is narrow, very narrow, and resembles_ the dramatic south side of the Passo di Gavia (2621mtr) in Lombardia. The countless hair-pins are extremely sharp, requiring a first gear approach, but even then one can’t always see the exit of the hairpin! The first ten kilometers of paved road are completely hidden by trees and other dense vegetation. Other then a few farmers, land-owners and bicyclists coming from or driving to their properties high up in the mountains, there isn’t much traffic. That may be just as well since the abyss on the left is steep and not protected with Armco fencing at all. The road is so narrow, that even when approaching a single bicyclist, there isn’t always enough room to pass. The asphalt road stops after roughly ten kilometers, after which a gravel road continues to the pass-height. From this point on cars and motorcycles are ‘officially’ prohibited from entering this remote area, where apart from two cars and a motorcycle we only spotted one high alpine farm, one caravan and an abandoned fortress at the pass height.







After a few kilometers the trees become lower and further apart, and eventually one gets a clear view onto the valley that ends at the pass height. The gravel road itself is relatively smooth and lacks large rocks or other debris, as can be found on for instance the Assietta trail a bit further south. Furthermore I do not have any reason to doubt that the driving conditions are relatively stable, so this section poses no real problem.





During the last two kilometers, the road makes one large ascent alongside the steep slopes that mark the end of the valley. Especially the last two hairpins are narrow and can only be completed with an approach that is as wide as possible. We reached the pass-height with the fortress at roughly 10.30AM, roughly thirty minutes behind the first group.



To allow the organization of the Giro d’Italia to include the Colle delle Finestre in 2005, its south side has been paved with asphalt only a few years ago. Given the fact that the north side still is unpaved, I assume that either the budget didn’t allow the entire Col to be upgraded or there simply wasn’t enough time and that workers just leveled out the gravel on its north side to allow a relatively safe descend.





We took a sightseeing stop at the Colle delle Finestre for about fifteen minutes after which we resumed driving towards Sestriere. Thanks to the excellent road surface the Col’s south side provided no real difficulty. Despite the narrow road and lack of Armco fencing, it feels safe enough to descend rapidly in third gear. After a while, a few forest workers stopped the first car in the convoy. I don’t know what they told Hermann who was leading the entire group, but I assume the scream of eight S38’s descending at full throttle alarmed them a bit. On the background of the second picture below, one can see the eastern approach to the ‘Asietta trail’, an old military road towards Sestriere.





After roughly five kilometers, we reached the intersection were we had the choice between continuing the descent and turning right towards the Assietta trail. Despite that continuing the descent would be the appropriate choice, we took a gamble and turned right towards the Cresta dell’Assietta. The next 36km proved to be an endurance which has never been preceded during one of the previous Alps tour editions, nor during any other organized Alps tour for regular cars as well. The combination of Colle dell Assieta / Colle Lauson / Colle Blegier / Colle Bourget and finally Colle Basset would take us high up in the remote area of the Piemonte Alps with a panoramic view that is unique for a motorized trip.



On the eastern side, the Colle delle Assietta ascends roughly 700 meters over a distance of roughly twelve kilometers. The road has been literally cut out of the mountain slopes a long time ago and is hardly being maintained. The gamble by taking this route is that the road conditions can change by the day. Especially there were the road is cut into the cliffs, there is a continuous risk of smaller or larger stone-avalanches.





Like so many other roads in the Ligurian Alps, the Assieta ridge trail has once been constructed by the military that needed an infrastructure between its defense installations high up in the mountains. The total network is complex and large, and despite that the military has left almost all compounds decades ago, a lot of these (unpaved) roads still exist today. The highest road of the entire Alps is also in the direct vicinity of Sestriere. With 3136mtr, the Mont Chaberton is the highest (unpaved) road that can be reached by motorcycle, but_ was closed in 2003 for any motorized traffic for environmental and safety reasons. Another famous example of an unpaved high Alpine ridge road is the Ligurian border ridge trail, roughly ninety kilometers in length which reaches as south as Col de Tende (1871mtr). It is beyond the scope of this article to describe all these old off-road routes, but those that are interested simply can use the Internet or buy the Denzel Alpenstrassen Fuhrer, a German booklet that describes almost 600!! Passes and Col’s in the Alps.



Despite that active off-road enthusiasts describe the Assietta trail as relatively easy, car enthusiast should not put blind faith in that. Erosion caused by rain and wind can alter road conditions by the day, and can even lead to natural obstacles blocking the road. Off road vehicles and motor-cycles then have a significant advantage as they can maneuver around and over these obstacles whereas regular cars _need the entire width of the road. Fortunately for us everything went well, and we reached the 2472mtr high Colle dell Asietta at roughly 11.30AM.



It felt like we were invaders in this deserted area, and to be honest I still wonder why it is opened for motorized traffic. Granted the amount of cars and motorcycles that use this road is small, so damage to the environment is little, but one cannot deny that the high Alpine territories are very vulnerable to intrusions. From that point of view we are very lucky to have experienced all this natural splendor and beauty from inside a car. Strangely, the highest point within the Assieta trail is not the Colle delle Assieta, but the almost 2600mtr high Tiesta dell Assieta instead. Located a few kilometers west of the actual Col, this point is marked with a memorial statue on one of the summits near the road. I don’t know the exact reason of this statue, but I assume this remembers Battle of Assietta that was fought in 1747 as part of the Austrian succession war.



During the rest of the tour, we referred back to this ordeal as: “schotter sonderprufung”, a German phrase, as except my father and I, all the participants spoke German as their mother tongue. After roughly one and a half hour and still no end in sight, I started worrying about the time-schedule and the challenges that we were unaware off. Many spots demanded a step by step centimeter wise approach to avoid ruining the tires, damaging front spoilers or even worse, getting stranded with cracked sumps or gearbox housings. This would not only mean a sudden end to the Alps tour, but also head-aches about the repatriation of the car involved.



With every kilometer that we progressed along this old route, every one of us considered returning. However, turning around only is possible on the respective Col’s as alongside the ridges between them there simply isn’t enough space to do so. Besides, with the prospect that returning could take more time or would be more dangerous then proceeding, we decided for the latter. On some of the pictures, the road doesn’t seem to be that difficult, yet the underground literally is ‘stone-hard’. This means that in a car like a ///M5, one feels every bump, every rock and every little gravel stone. A driver has the advantage of the tactile feedback of the car, yet he/she must continuously stay focused on the road ahead. A passenger doesn’t have the advantage of ‘control’, meaning that he/she has a completely different experience. As this is tiring for drivers as well as passengers, we stopped about half way towards Sestriere.





However, near Colle Blegier, the first group with Konstantin, Hermann and Dominik were stopped by Italian customs officials at Colle Blegier (2381mtr). We still wonder what they were doing up there, but one of the carabinieris halted the first group and asked the reason why ‘three foreign ///M5’s’ were driving through the Italian ‘outback’. I can imagine their amazement as apart from a few locally registered Fiat Panda 4x4’s, a bunch of off-road motorcycles and a few all wheel drive off-road cars there wasn’t much traffic. It seems that the carabinieris were amused with these ‘strange ducks’, proof of which was the fact that one of them grabbed his digital camera and made some pictures with a big grin on his face.



Colle Basset (2424mtr), the last Col within the Assieta trail was reached shortly after noon, after which we could start the long awaited descent. Though the end was in sight, this section was particularly steep, rough and bumpy and put our off-road driving abilities to a final test before arriving in the outskirts of Sestriere. After more then two hours of ‘outback’ driving, the tires of our cars could finally be used for their manufacturers intended purpose again. Although the Asietta ridge route is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, I don’t recommend it to anyone without a proper off road vehicle. The risk of getting stranded or making a maneuvering mistake simply is too high. The only reason why we were able to complete this survival section without substantial damage or accidents is the individual driving abilities of each and every participant. Technically, the cars get a severe beating too. Not so much the engines and gearboxes but more so the steering-and suspension components were stressed to the limit. And last but not least, after thirty kilometers of driving in dust, cars that normally are Diamond-black were transferred into Sebring-Grey. Especially the cars that drove in the rear part of the group, got dust all over them. The second picture shows my ‘immaculate’ engine compartment, that otherwise is clean and shiny. Next to replacing all the air-and interior filters, this will take me a few hours to tidy up.





By the time we arrived in Sestriere, we were supposed to be on the Col d’Izoard according to schedule, were a lunch break was planned. Getting there would however take another ninety minutes, putting us past lunchtime, so I changed plans and stopped in Sestriere were we visited a Pizzeria. Dominik, Hermann and Konstantin were near Col de Mont Genevre, roughly 20km further west, and we agreed to meet them there after lunch. During our pizza meal, I thought about a solution to compensate for the time lost during the outback session. My main concern was the two small Col’s west of Cuneo in Italy, one of which not indicated on any existing road map. If the Colle dei Morti couldn’t be found, we had no choice other then a long alternative route towards Cuneo and from there to Demonte, a distance of roughly ninety kilometers. The solution proved to be rather simple. As the routes for both Saturday and Sunday used the Col d’Izoard and the Col St Martin, I could exchange the two sections. The advantage was that instead of having two navigation challenges on Saturday, we shifted one of them to Sunday, whilst at the same time reducing our distance to St Martin de Vesubie by taking the shortest possible road.

We left Sestriere at roughly a quarter past two in the afternoon. First we descended towards Cesana Torinese further west, from where we would drive towards Briancon in France over the Col de Montgenevre (1894mtr). This Col is a main road between France and Italy and thus has to cope with the demands of today’s traffic. Especially the Italians take this seriously as there were quite a few construction zones were tunnels are being built to replace twisty sections. On the French side, the road is wide enough but has maintained that nice twisty appearance that we all love for giving our cars a good work out.





Although the speed limit on provincial roads is 90km/h, this is considered a very high speed, especially on passes. Imagine a few screamers, all accelerating up to 6000 or even 7000RPM in second and third gear and French police checking out traffic from and to Briancon! Even within the speed limits some police officers regard speeds over 60km/h as too fast and stopped the front two cars of our group. The rest of us could drive through. At first we thought that we got caught by a mobile speed-trap and that they only caught get valid measurements for the front two cars, but later in Briancon we heard that the only reason for the police to stop the first two cars was that they were driving with a speed that is inappropriate for mountain passes. Yeah right!

From Briancon to the South, we enter a different part of the Alps that is also known as the Southern Alps. Here, the Mediterranean gains influence the climate so one won’t find any snow-covered summits or glaciers anymore. On the Col du Lautarette (2058mtr) for instance, one can see the huge glaciers from the La Meije massive, but 30km to the Southeast, on the also very rough landscape around the Col d’Izoard (2360mtr), the summits are free of snow and one won’t find any glaciers. There are a lot of nice Col’s in the Southern Alps, and this area offers almost the same flexibility in route planning as in the Italian Dolomites. On the north side, the Col d’Izoard starts in the city center of Briancon. Although the directions in Briancion to the Col d’Izoard are excellent, I had a small navigation-black out and missed the intersection to the city center and the Col d’Izoard. Apart from Andy, the others didn’t make this mistake. I later heard that Tobias flashed his headlights, but Andy nor I noticed that, which set us back roughly fifteen minutes.



At first, the landscape around the Col d’Izoard is lovely, but with the increasing altitude, this changes into a rocky landscape until Cervières, the last village on the Col before reaching the highest point. During this last section, the most part is driven through forests, but shortly before reaching the pas-height, this changes into a surreal rock landscape. This part also is very twisty and contains a significant amount of hairpins. Thanks to the excellent asphalt however, the Col d’Izoard is perfect for large and heavy performance cars. Whilst driving through the forests, Martin who took a pits-top in Briancon to buy some fuel passed Andy and me.



During the ascent, it became apparent that my car had lost at least fifty horses. Like on the Col du Gr St Bernard the day before, it was as if a wooden block was placed underneath the throttle-pedal. This problem couldn’t be caused by a clogged air-filter alone. No, something else must be broken, but what? Since this wasn’t something that could be solved on site I had to live with it for the time being, but as you can imagine, it was very disturbing. Nevertheless, there are many other aspects to enjoy driving in the Alps other then full-throttle. Take for instance the topographic situation of the mountains around the Col d’Izoard. During millions of years, wind and rain have eroded these into a spectacular moonlike shape. One would like to spend a few hours to walk around, but during an Alps tour, the time schedule simply doesn’t allow that. In fact, there wasn’t enough time to stop for a brief moment either so we continued driving further south towards Ville Vieille.

According to the original route planning, we would have turned left towards the 2744mtr high Col d’Agnel. However, due to the altered route for today it was moved to Sunday. We drove towards Col de Vars (2109mtr) instead. Located between two impressive and demanding Col’s, one of which over 2700mtr high, the Col de Vars doesn’t seem to be that interesting, yet it is a rewarding piece of road. Starting in Guillestre, the Col de Vars ascends approximately 600mtr in roughly eight kilometers, after which a valley high up in the mountains is reached. From there on the road hardly ascends anymore before the winter-sports villages of Vars and St Marine de Vars (1660mtr). These are the last villages in this valley, after which the Col ascends with more then 7% up until Refuge Napoleon where one drives alongside an idyllic small mountain lake. From a driving point of view especially the first part between Guillestre and the village of Vars is rewarding. There are a few spots were the rough tarmac upsets the car’s balance, so if provoked some parts of this Col could bite back rather hard. This merely depends on the chosen average speed though, so it is difficult and technical only when one wants it to be.





The Col’s highest point is not very spectacular and hardly worth a stop so we continued driving towards Jaussiers. The south side is short and steep before reaching the first village of St Paul. More then half of the total altitude difference is descended during the first five kilometers on the south side, where one also has a spectacular view of the valley with the village of Les Gleizolles deep below. The Col de Vars ends here, but the descent continues and after a while, one enters a narrow gorge with cliffs hanging over the (twisty) road, which is spectacular to drive. After a while we reached the village of Jausiers, the starting point of the massive Col/Cime de la Bonette. With an altitude of 2807mtr above sea level it is the highest round trip paved road in Europe that can be reached by motorized traffic. Actually Cime de la Bonette is a two kilometer long extension next to the Col de la Bonette, which ‘only’ reaches to 2715mtr so strictly speaking, one can argue it being the highest pass in Western Europe. In the latter case it only is the fourth highest. Nevertheless this gigantic Col provides for a unique and rewarding driving challenge, and is a must for every driving enthusiast. With a total of fifty kilometers between the villages of Jausiers and St Etienne de Tinee, it is significantly longer then the Col d’Iseran. By comparison, Jausiers is located at 1220mtr above sea level, Val d’Isere at more then 1900mtr.



Given the fact that I missed the road signs towards the Col d’Izoard in Briancon, where Andy and I lost connection with the others, I was anxious to know the exact location of the rest. I called Konstantin to ask him about his whereabouts. Making the connection was easy, but talking to him was rather difficult due to the tire-squeal coming from his car. It was obvious that he was playing around with the touring’s balance. Despite the low signal to noise ratio, I could just hear Konstantin say that they were on the way towards the Cime de la Bonette. This meant that Oliver and Tobias were somewhere halfway up the Col and Martin somewhere in between.

The decision to exchange two sections of the route for Sunday and Saturday worked out better then expected. Everyone in the group was somewhere on the Col de la Bonette well before 5.00PM. This meant that we could reach our hotel in St Martin de Vesubie within the original scheduled time. However, Andy’s fuel situation turned out to be different then mines as according to his board computer, he had just enough fuel for another fifty kilometers, roughly the distance towards St Etienne de Tinee on the south side. When driving Col’s the fuel consumption is the average of the ascent and the descent and in general a car uses the most fuel during an ascent. With the Col’s highest point at less then twenty kilometers distance, Andy could reach the Col’s highest point without worrying about the fuel situation, after which he should still have enough fuel to complete the descent towards Isola. As a rule of thumb, depending on driving style, an E34 ///M5 uses between 12ltr/100km and 18ltr/100km in the mountains.

Basically, one can separate the north side of the Col de la Bonette in three parts. The lower section with many hairpins and its diverse vegetation is roughly ten kilometers in length. The second section starts at roughly 1700mtr and marks the transition into a high Alpine landscape. This part, although narrower then the first part still is twisty, but not as steep and with only a very few hairpins.



During the second part, one won’t find much vegetation other then grass covered slopes, but by then one already has passed the 2000mtr mark. Furthermore, the French have renewed the asphalt layer in the second and third section, which provided for a very smooth road surface which is ideal for exploring the cars instable qualities that some of our group without a doubt have been playing with. The third part starts at roughly 2300mtr and from here onwards, one enters the high Alpine landscape. The hairpins return and apart from an old military settlement, part of the abandoned Maginot defense line, there is hardly any sign of human activity in this remote area.



At roughly 2600mtr one reaches a high alpine plateau that that leads to the Col de Restefond (2680mtr) shortly followed by the Col de la Bonette (2715tr). The actual crossing towards the Tinee valley is located at the latter Col, but one can also choose to drive around the 2862mtr high summit of the Cime de la Bonette. This is by far the steepest part that reaches an altitude of 2807mtr above sea-level.





By the time that we arrived at Cime de la Bonette the first group of Konstantin, Dominik and Hermann was still there. The panoramic view is breathtaking, and it appears that the summit of Cime de la Bonette is the highest in the entire region, hence why one gets the feeling of being ‘on top of the world’. There is a sight seeing point, but this requires a hike to the summit of roughly fifteen minutes. I assume that Tobias, Oliver and Martin have used the crossing at the Col and didn’t drive all the way up around the Cime de la Bonette as otherwise they couldn’t have missed the first group a few kilometers more south.





After a while, I took a ten minute lead to find a nice photo shoot location to take some action pictures from the others. It didn’t me that long to find a suitable location, after which I changed lenses and waited. Although I had good visibility on the south side of the Cime de la Bonette and Col de la Bonette, it was difficult to visually identify the cars until about ten seconds before passing. After adjusting the composition on a few other bypassing cars, I heard the sound of four S38’s reflecting against the steep southern slopes of Cime de la Bonette after which it didn’t take long for them to drive by. The first picture shows Dominik followed by Konstantin. The second picture shows Konstantin alone and last but not least, the master himself on the third picture.







After a few kilometers, we approached another abandoned settlement, which like those on the Restefond I assume to be of military origin. These days, it is hard to imagine that these were once needed, but bear in mind that the Col de la Bonette runs parallel to the French / Italian border and that both countries were at war not that long ago.





The road towards St Etienne de Tinee is twenty-six kilometers long, during which the Bonette descends more then 1400mtr. Though the asphalt layer is not new, the road conditions are good, yet due to the many hairpins and many sections that descent more then ten percent, this part is technical. Other then a few cars and motorcycles, we didn’t see much other traffic during the descent. Coming from the rough and spectacular Col de La Bonette, it is hard to imagine that one is already driving in the Maritime Alps, yet the distance to Nice and the Mediterranean from this point is less then sixty kilometers.



After a short refueling stop near Isola, we drove towards the Col St Martin (1500mtr), the last Col for this day before reaching the village of St Martin de Vesubie, our destination for today. This Col connects the Tinee valley with the Vesubie valley and can perfectly be combined with a round trip with the Col de Turini (1600mtr), the Colle de Tende (1870mtr) and the Col de la Lombarde (2350mtr), however we had to choose between the Colle de Tende or the Col de la Lombarde and the route over the Lombarde simply is shorter. Knowing what I know now, this roundtrip is manageable, even within the four day schedule of the Alps tour. Anyhow, the Col St Martin bends from the D902 towards Rimplace with almost 180 degrees, after which it ascends steadily over a twisty road towards the village of Valdeblore at 1000mtr above sea level. Due to the two separate lanes, one for each direction, this Col isn’t really difficult, but to me the landscape with dense forests on the mountain slopes looked impressive. After Valdeblore, the road continues without many challenging curves until the last part before reaching the village of la Colmaine at 1500mtr’s.

After driving through la Colmaine, the Col St Martin descends towards St Martin de Vesubie. This part isn’t that steep nor that extremely challenging so the descend towards St Martin was uneventful. This old village itself is the most interesting and certainly worth a stop. After some searching we found Hotel le Gelas in the old part of St Martin. Some of us could park the cars in front of the hotel near the main road. The others had to park their cars at a parking place about 100mtr back.



Since the Hotel didn’t have a restaurant, Hermann made some reservation in a nice establishment in the centre of the village. This proved to be difficult to find also, and at first we walked past it and after walking through the entire centre twice, we finally found it in the cellar of a book-shop. The restaurant was small but fine and despite the language barrier, we felt comfortable. As usual Hermann took his role as translator one more time, and with help of the pretty waitress, he assisted those of us that don’t speak French in making our menu selection.



Dinner took roughly two hours during which we talked through the events of Saturday. Despite all the difficulties, we looked back at the Cresta dell’Assietta as one of the tours highlight but also agreed to skip this kind of roads in the future. For the rest, we had a great day with the Col d’Izoard and the Col de la Bonette as absolute highlights. Despite the hard driving, nothing broke and all cars arrived in St Martin safe and sound. After saying goodbye to the waitress and the restaurant-owner who were very hospital and thanked us kindly for our business, we walked back to our hotel. Despite that we completed exactly fifty percent of the total route; we still had a day and a half of driving before reaching the official finish in the South of Switzerland. Since we exchanged parts of the route between Saturday and Sunday, I knew that we still had some challenging roads to drive, amongst others the 2744mtr high Col d’Agnel between Italy and France. Stay tuned for part III.
 

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After a good night sleep, the day started at 7.30AM at the breakfast table of Hotel le Gelas in St Martin de Vesubie. The breakfast buffet itself was excellent and resembled more to that what is custom in for instance Germany and Switzerland. In other words, there was plenty to choose from, including fresh fruit and yoghurts. Another advantage of this hotel is that it offers a WLAN service which Kons used during the night(!) to post some first impressions of the Alps tour on his message board.



After paying the bills, we walked to the cars and carried out the required preliminary checks before starting the cars. My engine needed approximately 750mltrs of fresh TWS, which is not bad for 1800km during two days of driving. The following picture clearly shows why I oppose to using a rechargeable wet-filter element such as those from K&N. It would simply have clogged on the Cresta dell’Assietta the day before and in that case, it needs an immediate service, reducing the parts field-availability.



Due to the yesterday’s decision to exchange parts of the route between Saturday and Sunday, the route for Sunday altered significantly. Instead of the relatively quick Col de la Bonette (2715mtr), Col de Vars (2109mtr) and Col d’Izoard (2360mtr), we now drove the longer and slower route through the Italian Liguria Alps instead. Especially the Colle dei Morti between Demonte and Ponte di Marmora could influence the time-schedule for today, hence why we skipped the round trip to Sospel with the famous Col de Turini (1600mtr) and choose to drive directly to Isola over the same road as we came yesterday, but then in opposite direction.

Since the cars were parked on different locations we agreed to gather in la Colmaine, the winter sport village at the pass-height of Col St Martin (1500mtr). Just outside St Martin, we spotted Hermann and Oliver who halted on the right side of the road. It appeared that Hermann hit a rock at the right side of the road that caused his right front tire to collapse. Since the location where Hermann got stranded was not without danger, we decided that only Andy and Oliver stayed behind to assist Hermann. The rest of us resumed driving towards la Colmaine.



Konstantin and Dominik who drove in front and thus were not aware of Hermann’s misfortune just outside St Martin, arrived in la Colmaine at least ten minutes before me, Martin and Tobias, after which Hermann, Andy and Oliver needed approximately the same time to do the same. We didn’t stay that long and one by one, we descended the Col St Martin into western direction. As written in the report about Saturday, the western side of the Col St Martin is a relatively light descent that can be driven mostly in third and fourth gear.





After reaching road D2205 in the Tinee valley, we turned right towards Isola, the starting point of the second Col, the Col de la Lombarde (2350mtr). The D2205 is a large road with two wide lanes that runs straight through the Tinee valley towards Isola and from there to St Etienne du Tinee. Between Rimplace and Isola, this road is constructed alongside impressive vertical red colored mountain walls. In the narrow sections, D2205 is twisty, but in general it is a fourth and fifth gear road, thus ideal to cover some ground. Since Tobias, Oliver and Martin didn’t refuel on Saturday; we stopped at the same petrol station in Isola as were the rest including me bought some fuel the day before.

From Isola to the pass height at the French / Italian border, the Col de la Lombarde (2350mtr) consists of two different parts. The first part of road D97 is the approach over seventeen kilometers long ‘mountain-highway’ that is constructed to secure a safe passage to Isola2000, a winter sport village high up in the mountains close to the border with Italy. Despite that this part of road D97 has been improved over the years to increase its traffic capacity towards the winter sport region, the first seven kilometers run through a narrow valley during which one has to ascent approximately 500mtr. This means hairpins, yet they have a large surface and thus ideal playing ground to practice drifting techniques, which some of us actually did. Once outside the hairpins, the road enters a higher located valley that steadily ascends towards Isola2000. This part is a full throttle stage, allowing speeds well above the triple digits, but only in September and October when the holiday season is over and the tourist industry in many higher located villages close their outlets for two month to prepare for the upcoming winter season.

After a last twisty section, the first part reaches Isola2000, where the main road continues as an urban road that ends somewhere in the village-centre that appeared to be deserted. After passing the gate that during severe winter-driving conditions blocks the second part, the road narrows down to one small lane for both directions. Even though the Col’s pass-height is a mere five kilometers from Isola2000, the slope of the climb is between seven and ten percent, meaning an ascent of roughly three hundred meters. The second part requires a complete different driving technique then the first part, and only the skilled driver is able to achieve an average speed of more then forty kilometers per hour. The first three kilometers are the steepest and contain all the hairpins that depending on the required momentum require a first or second gear approach. Eventually, a high Alpine plateau is reached on which the Col doesn’t ascend that much more, yet remains twisty. The overall quality of the asphalt is average, but the road surface is irregular and is bumpy which means that with a stiff suspension setup can be tiring; especially for a passenger that doesn’t have the tactile feedback of the car. After roughly ninety minutes, we reached the second gathering and sightseeing point at the pass-height of the Col de la Lombarde. The pass-height itself is located on the border between France and Italy, at 2350mtr above sea-level.





After a short break, drove into the Italian province of Cuneo and descended towards Vinadio, a small village between Demonte and de Colle delle Madallena (1998mtr). On the Italian side, the high Alpine plateau is roughly one kilometer in length and a few kilometers in length which means that the Col doesn’t descent that much during the first part. After a few kilometers, the plateau reaches its end after which the Col starts to descent quickly. As on the French side, the road is narrow, but since there hardly is traffic, one can maintain momentum through the corners and hairpins without much difficulty. After a while, the road ends at a junction where one can turn left towards St Anna, a small settlement around a well known monastery high up in the mountains. Since St Anna is a dead end, we turned right and continued following the Col de la Lombarde towards Vinadio. From that point, we encountered an enormous amount of traffic coming from Vinadio towards St Anna.

Due to the influence of the Mediterranean, the flora and fauna on the Italian part is one of a kind. Apart from St Anna, there is no village or winter sport region in this valley, hence why apart from regular maintenance; the northern side of the Col de la Lombarde has maintained its originality throughout the years. The serpentine shaped road is perfectly integrated in the surroundings, doesn’t disturb at all and up until reaching the forests, runs through a spectacular gorge that has been formed by water erosion during the last million(s) (of) years. The only downside for us was the enormous amount of traffic coming from the opposite direction that forced a single descending car to halt and make way more then once. To our relief, the locals that also drove towards Vinadio kept a good eye on their rear view mirrors and efficiently drove aside to allow the quicker cars to pass (thumbs up). This cooperative behavior cannot be taken for granted these days and each year, we have to deal with drivers who suddenly become recalcitrant once a faster car shows up in the rearview mirror.

After twenty-four kilometers, the Col de la Lombarde reaches road S21, the main road between Col de Larche towards France and the city of Cuneo, just outside the Alps. This part of Piemonte Alps also is one of very few regions that still is insufficiently described on the road maps and if one uses these as reference, one would believe that outside the few villages in the valleys there is nothing between the border with France and Cuneo. Yet, this is not true. Just like the French did during the past centuries, the Italians also have constructed an extensive network of military roads, some of which are now open for public driving. One example is the Colle del Fauniera, also know as Col Cuneo that combines a few small Col’s that enclose the Valle Stura, Val Grana and Valle Maira valleys. The Colle del Fauniera shines by absence on the respected road maps, yet is the only Col that provides for a short route towards Ponte di Marmora in the ‘Valle Maira’ valley. From a planning point of view, this Col is extremely important as it allows a direct approach to the Colle di Sampeyre (2284mtr) and the 2744mtr high Col d’Agnel without making an extremely long and uninteresting detour to Cuneo. I found Col Cuneo by accident when doing some research on the World Wide Web during which I found some travel reports on a bicyclist’s enthusiast site. According to one of these reports, the Col Cuneo has been paved with asphalt only a few years ago before which it was a gravel road with an unknown status. This could explain why road map developers have ignored this Col.

When coming from the eastern direction, the Colle dei Morti starts just before entering the narrow old-part of the village of Demonte. There is a road sign that points towards the Colle dei Morti, with 2489mtr the highest Col within Col Cuneo, but to spot it directly, one needs a focused eye in the first place. After the first corner, we encountered several dozen of amateur cyclists that were gathering for a climbing contest to the Colle dei Morti. Fortunately for us the contest didn’t start yet, but was about to and with help of a friendly police officer who controlled the traffic we could pass the waiting ‘peloton’ without much trouble. At first the Colle dei Morti runs through a few small settlements before ascending lightly into western direction. During the next ten kilometers, the road runs through grassland, some of which brought into culture by local farmers. During the ten or twelve kilometers, the Col ascends a mere 500mtr to roughly 1200mtr above sea level before entering San Giacomo, the last village before the Col actually starts.




With a maximum of ten percent, the south side of the Colle dei Morti isn’t extraordinary steep. But after San Giacomo, the road narrows down to just two to three meters which requires a focused eye and firm steering hand. Since there is no Armco protection and the road is constructed alongside steep mountain slopes, this isn’t a Col for those who are afraid of heights. The Colle dei Morti is not so much a place where one can play around with the cars balance, but more so a Col where one can still enjoy an authentic and desolate landscape that has not been spoiled by winter sport installations.





After roughly twenty-four kilometers and a height difference of 1650mtr, we reached the junction with the Colle di Valcavera (2416mtr). Upon our arrival, we saw Konstantin and Dominik coming out of the narrow passage. They told us that behind the narrow passage, the asphalt road ends after which a gravel road continues for about three kilometers to an old abandoned military settlement where further passage to the Colle di Valcavera is prohibited. This was a bit confused though. After some deliberation, I decided against following the asphalt road and turned left; drove through the narrow passage towards Colle di Valcavera where we entered a wonder full high Alpine valley that is surrounded with summits between 2500 and 3000mtr high.



The gravel road wasn’t that bad and could be driven in third gear quite easily. After a while, we reached an abandoned military settlement after which a road sign blocks further passage. With the Cresta dell’ Assietta still in mind, I’d rather not continue, but what if it was the only road to Marmora? Since it was such a nice Sunday, many Italians were already in the mountains for recreation. Actually, there was some sort of family reunion on this spot so I tried to contact one of the Italians. Without knowledge of Italian and the Italians lacking knowledge of English the communication was comical. Although they directed me towards the gravel road at first, another Italian that spoke a few English words could make me clear that the asphalt road also leads to Marmora. Then I remembered the Marco Pantani monument and everything became clear. Unlike Hermann, Andy and Martin who continued to follow the Colle di Valcavera, we like Konstantin and Dominik decided to return to the Colle dei Morti. The following pictures, taken by Hermann show the adventurous drive to Marmora over the Colle di Valcavera.









In reality, the Col Cuneo, is a complex series of high Alpine roads, some of which unpaved and only two, the Colle dei Morti and the 2370mtr high Colle d'Esischie paved. Once returned at the Colle dei Morti, we turned left towards Cuneo. For a few kilometers, the road ascends the last 65mtr towards the pass-height of the Colle dei Morti alongside a mountain ridge that mark the end of the Stura valley.





Due to our small detour towards the Colle di Valcavera we didn’t stop at the Colle dei Morti to visit the Marco Pantani memorial and drove directly into the ‘Val Grana’ valley that like the ‘Valle Stura’ valley is extraordinary rough and beautiful. Our next goal was Ponte Marmara, a village in the ‘Valle Maira’ valley that can be accessed over the asphalted Colle d’Esischie (2370mtr). The Colle dei Morti itself descends for roughly thirty one kilometers towards the village of Valgrana, where the landscape changes dramatically. At one point, one is driving one of the most beautiful, spectacular and highest Alpine roads and roughly forty minutes later, one is driving in lowland territory without even small hills.



The Colle d’Esischie can be accessed over a small passage in the mountain ridge, a few kilometers west of the Marco Pantani memorial. Although we did see a small road towards the ridge on our left, we didn’t take notice and thus missed the Colle d’Esischie. Instead, we were driving towards Pradleves, but didn’t realize this before reaching the sanctuary of San Magno roughly ten kilometers lower down in the valley. From a sightseeing point of view, this wasn’t that bad as the landscape still is breathtaking.







The high Alpine part of the Colle dei Morti ends at the Sanctuary of San Magno at roughly 1700mtr above sea level. With sections with a slope up to 15%, the Colle dei Morti reaches its steepest part between San Magno and Pradleves, after which the Valle Grana valley widens significantly before reaching the village of Valgrana that is merely surrounded by small hills with an altitude up to 1000mtr. Ultimately, the Colle dei Morti ends in the city of Cuneo, but fortunately we didn’t have to go that far as there is just one very small Col, the Montemale di Cuneo. With an altitude of 910mtrs above sea level, this Col is nothing compared to the impressive Colle dei Morti which if I would rate with five starts (from five), but extremely important as it allows one to drive the Colle dei Morti in the Val Grana valley without leaving the Alps. The Montemala di Cuneo connects Valgrana with the village of Dronero in Valle Maira valley where we turned east towards Stroppo. The village of Dronero is lovely old and authentic and certainly worth a separate visit, if not we’d just driven a sixty kilometers detour because we missed the Colle d’Esischie towards Ponte Marmora.

Strictly speaking, the road from Dronero into the Valle Maira valley is a dead end with only three connections to the Col’s. The Colle d’Esischie / Colle dei Morti to the south and the Colle di Sampeyre (2284mtr) to the north that can be accessed over two roads. First, the main road from Stroppo and second the small road to Elva, which according to the maps is an unpaved and steep road. Whilst driving east into the Valle Maira valley it becomes clear how remote and unpopulated this area really is. On both sides, steep mountains arise from the valley where apart from a small river there is no space for room agriculture or settlements. This remote location and small density of the population could explain why the tourist industry never got settled that intensively in the Piemonte Alps. From an environmental point of view, this is a blessing though as the entire Valle Maira has maintained its natural unspoiled beauty throughout the years. Unlike the majority of the Alps, one can still find silence and retreat, which we experienced first hand at our lunch break on the Colle di Sampeyre.

The Colle di Sampeyre is the only road that directly connects the Valle Maira with the Valle Varaita. From the south, one can approach this Col over two different roads. The western variant runs through a narrow gorge towards Elva which is an isolated village high up in the mountains. The eastern variant is a more modern road and therefore more suited to normal road cars. Next to being the most convenient road for us to take, it also provided for a challenging and interesting ride as well.



Just before reaching the open environment that leads to the last part of the Colle di Sampeyre, I spotted the ///M5’s from Konstantin and Dominik parked nearside the road next to a small restaurant. After we joined them at the terrace, Dominik told us that they drove the Colle d’Esischie towards Ponte Marmora and that Hermann, Andy and Martin continued to descend the gravel road (north side of the Colle di Valcavera) towards Marmora. In other words; the three groups used different routes, but together covered all the roads within Col Cuneo.



During lunch, we discussed the intake resonance flap, its operation and the nuance between the self test and the proper functioning of this feature. This led to an investigation into the operation of the resonance flap on all the three B36’s. At first, we tested the self-testing feature directly after start up. This test completed successfully for two cars. However, the self test doesn’t include the throttle position and thus doesn’t guarantee that the resonance flap operates under full load conditions. We tested this by manually revving the engine to above five thousand revolutions per minute, which led to the conclusion that also the cars that completed the self test properly suffered from a failing resonance flap operation. This could explain why my engine lacked that last bit of torque during the ascent of the Col du Gr St Bernard on the first day of this event



In the middle of this session, I was called back to the terrace for the polenta that had just been delivered to our table. Though a bit heavy on the stomach this Italian specialty tasted excellent. In the mean time, Hermann, Andy and Martin also arrived at the scene. They simply needed the two hours more for completing the north side of the Colle di Valcavera. By then, Dominik and Konstantin had waited long enough and after paying their bills, left first. The Hermann group already lunched at Marmora and after a small stop left shortly thereafter.



What really impressed me was the unspoiled natural beauty and the hospitality with one is received. Granted, the region is very remote, which from an economical perspective is a disadvantage, but for those seeking silence and rest, this is an ideal place. The last part of the Colle di Sampeyre begins at the junction towards Elva directly behind the road side restaurant from where one enters a high Alpine plateau that stretches out to the village of Elva a few kilometers more east and the summit ridge that separate the Valle Maira and the Valle Varaita valleys. Due to the relatively flat slopes, this part of the Colle di Sampeyre resembles more to a nice and small country road through an open and friendly landscape. The highest point of this Col is located at an altitude of 2284mtr from where one has a clear and breathtaking view in all directions.





During the descent, we spotted Hermann, Andy and Martin again who for some reason stopped for a few minutes alongside the road. Over a roughly eighteen kilometer long narrow road with many hairpins, we reached Sampeyre, one of the largest villages in the Valle Varaita valley.



At one point during the descent, we were driving in a convoy when Hermann approached a slow driving Italian registered Ford Focus. Instead of making way by moving a few inches to the right, he blocked the road by driving in the middle of it. Although Hermann and Andy could surprise him at a wider spot, Martin had much more trouble in doing so. I saw Martin accelerating and passing the Focus, but due to its driver’s recalcitrant behavior and an upcoming bridge, Martin came a few meters short for returning to the middle of the road. Eventually, we all passed the Focus not more then one kilometer later, shortly before reaching Sampeyre where we turned right towards one of the third highest Col within Europe. We followed the main road through the valley towards Casteldelfino (1296mtr), the most western village within the Valle Varaita and the starting point of the Col d’Agnel. The mountains all exceed the 3000mtr mark of which the summit of the Mont Viso that reaches an altitude of 3841mtr is the largest in the direct vicinity.



The 2748mtr high Col d’Agnel is located in remote regions of both France and Italy, but is a main traffic connection between these countries. Shortly outside Casteldelfino, road SP251 narrows down to not more then four meters and starts to ascent with a slope between eight and ten percent. The lovely serpentine shaped road brings one to a rough and beautiful high Alpine environment that still is unspoiled from human interference.











The border between France and Italy is located at the pass-height from where one has a breathtaking panoramic view towards the west and the east. During our visit, the skies were remarkably clear and I could even recognize the roughly 4100mtr high Barre des Ecrins massive roughly one hundred kilometers more to the northwest.





After a short stop, we entered France and descended the Col d’Agnel into western direction. Despite the poor quality asphalt layer on the French side, we reached speeds in excess of 120km/h during the twisty descent, that otherwise is relatively straight forward. The challenge is to cope with the uneven road surface that has an endless series of bumps, some of which on crucial points on the road where one normally would brake to prepare the car for the next turn-in point. The majority of the other cars were driving with less then 60km/h for that reason. One of these was a Frenchman in an Audi A4 2.5TDi, possibly with Quattro. I approached him with a speed difference of roughly thirty kilometers per hour and started to pass him in one fluent maneuver. He must have heard the tremble of the S38 engine that was about to pass him when suddenly I noticed that the Audi gained momentum. Despite his efforts to keep the three old BMW’s behind him, modern diesel power lost against dinosaur high revving technology one more time. He tried to follow and despite having the advantage of Quattro he had to give up eventually, probably due to the unstable behavior of his car on the rough tarmac.

Apart from the highway between Gap and Briancon, there are no suitable alternatives other then the always impressive Col d’Izoard (2360mtr) so we drove it one more time, now in the opposite direction towards Briancon. The south side of the Col d’Izoard is shorter then the north side, therefore more steep. During the ascent, we approached a 996 Carrera 4S that drove relaxed until he spotted the three E34 ///M5’s in his rear view mirror. We approached him with roughly 100km/h in third gear. He was driving maybe sixty kilometers per hour, accelerated and relied on the 996’s excellent suspension in the upcoming hairpins. With other words, we didn’t have a chance and whilst the 996 driver stayed relaxed and created a gap of roughly five hundred meters, it was impossible for the heavy E34 to keep up. At roughly three quarters up the south Col, he stopped at the sightseeing point where we passed him. We maintained pace and continued driving towards the Col when shortly before the Col’s highest point; we approached a Peugeot 306 GTI that tried to stay in front. Needless to say that despite its much lower weight, his 170 horses were not enough, but with a failing full throttle switch, passing him cost me more time then expected. Not for Tobias though, who passed him shortly before the hairpin and excited a perfect drift through the hairpin, shortly before reaching the Col’s highest point were we stopped to enjoy the breathtaking landscape. The 306 arrived a minute later and whilst he passed the Col, its occupants waved us and gave the thumbs up. The Porsche 996 also arrived at the Col shortly later and whilst he passed us passed us roughly five minutes afterwards with an enthusiastic driver and passenger who also gave the thumbs up.





It was already 5.30PM when we arrived at the Col d’Ízoard and close to 5.450PM when we drove off to Briancon. Apart from descending the Izoard, we still had one large Col and one steep ascent towards Alpe d’Huez before arriving at our hotel in that famous village high up in the French Alps. The descent to Briancon was completed quickly and efficiently. In Briancon, we turned left towards the Col de Lautarette (2058mtr) which also is the main road towards Grenoble, roughly 120km more to the west. The Col de Lautarette is build as a highway, comparable to the Felbertaurn strasse in Austria, but lacking a large toll obliged tunnel. Its layout is such that it is possible to maintain an average speed of 90km/h quite easily so it didn’t take much time to reach the Col’s highest point. It’s just fifty kilometers since we left the Col d’Izoard, but the landscape is so much more different. For instance, the impressive glaciers of the la Meye massive (3983mtr) are clear proof that the climate north of Briancon is significantly colder then in the Southern Alps.

The western descent of the Col de Lautarette is one of the longest in the Alps. We could have chosen for the excellent but very small Col de Sarenne (1999mtr), but to save time, we decided not to do so and use the main ascent to Alpe ‘Huez instead. This meant that we had to follow the Col de Lautarette towards le Bourg d’Oisans until the crossing with the steep ascent towards Alpe d’Huez. A few more words about the Lautarette though. Due to the fact that we where driving this Col on a Sunday, traffic was light and easy. Yet during normal weekdays, this is different as there are also lot’s of trucks that travel from east to west and vice versa. This result in a significantly lower average speed and one can easily need more then one hour for each side. On a Sunday, we managed to complete both sides in less then one hour very close to an average speed of eighty to ninety kilometers per hour.

The ascent towards Alpe d’Huez is legendary, at least amongst bicyclist and yes, after about one hundred meters, the road starts to ascent with more then ten percent. This is a continuous rate and though there are a few lighter spots, the average to Alpe d’Huez is close to ten percent. For bicyclists this is a huge challenge, but for cars with more then three hundred horsepower, just a small climb. The challenge with a car is to go as fast as possible. The wide road and the large surface of the hairpins allow this easily, hence it is perfectly possible to power slide through most of its hairpins at full throttle in second gear. After a short and rewarding climb, we arrived at Alpe d’Huez at around 7.30PM. Most of the village is deserted in the summer; therefore we only had to check for a few old and dirty E34’s to find our hotel, le Printemps de Juliette where we arrived roughly fifteen minutes later.

Martin, Petra, Tobias and Patrick had other obligations for the Monday so they decided not to stay the night in Alpe d’Huez and travel to their homes during the night. The rest of us checked in and gathered at the reserved table for dinner.

One of the consequences of traveling so far south is that we needed half a day more to return to Switzerland. This meant that unlike the previous editions, the organization created a route towards Chamonix and from there to Martigny for the official end of the meeting. This will bring us to a few other large Col’s that coincidentally also are the shortest route possible.
 

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Normally, the official part of our ALps trips ends on the Sunday evening during dinner at our hotel. However, Alpe d’Huez is located a few hundred kilometres from the Swiss border, hence why we extended the meeting until Monday afternoon when we reached Col de la Forclaz in south Switzerland. From that point, some of us still had to drive eleven hundred kilometres to home. Basically, the main goal of Monday’s route is to avoid the French autoroute from Grenoble to Annecy and from there to Geneva. Those who are in the know are aware that between Annecy and Geneva, the autoroute makes a strange loop that increases the driving distance with more then fifty kilometres. Two years ago, when we returned from Annecy, we shorted this loop by taking the provincial road that is a more pencil straight approach to Geneva.

The first part is similar to Sunday’s route in 2004, which is not a coincidence, given the fact that it is the shortest and most challenging route towards Albertville. The only difference is that a few kilometres underneath the Col de la Croix de Ferre (2067mtr), we turn westwards towards the Col du Glandon (1924mtr) in order to save a few kilometres and thus time towards the second Col, the Col du Madeleine (2000mtr). The Col de Madeleine ends at the highway between Moutiers and Albertville where we will turn into northern direction towards Megeve and from there to Chamonix Mont Banc. This is a distance of roughly 200km to be completed in less then four hours.

Given the fact that I already wrote a comprehensive report of the three earlier days and that from a scenic point of view the part towards Albertville is similar to a part of 2004, I’ll leave it with a picture impression added with a few explaining words.



Our hotel ‘le Primtemps de Juliette’ is located at the eastern side of Alpe d’Huez and its summer opening has been extended to host our group. The hotel is owned and managed by a senior French woman well into her seventies. Se also owns hotel Le Grande Rousses where we stayed in 2004, but that outlet was closed for renovation. Hotel ‘le Primtemps de Juliette’ was the most luxurious hotel that we had booked for the weekend, but also the most expensive.



Due to a combination of high ambient temperatures, some off road diving conditions and extreme driving conditions on the paved roads, the tyres had to endure much more then in 2005 when the weather was much colder. This 94Y rated Pilot Sort 2 saw its sidewall collapsing on Sunday. The exact cause of this defect is unknown, but did surprise us, especially since the ///M5 in question also is one of the lightest ever build weighing roughly 100kg less then mine and more then 200kg less then an average ///M5 touring.



During the Alps tour of 2005, Hermann had some problems with the mounting rubbers of his exhaust. He had it temporarily repaired in St Moritz to be able to complete the tour after which a permanent repair was carried out a few weeks later. Something must have been wrong though as one of his less then one year old exhaust mounts collapsed the day before between St Martin de Vesubie and Alpe d’Huez. Back yard hack mechanic Konstantin and bush mechanic Oliver fitted a large hose clamp as temporary solution.



We left Alpe d’Huez shortly after 9.00AM over the same road as the day before. The descent towards Bourg d’Oissans was uneventful, mostly due to the fact the engines were still cold and thus we kept the revs lower then 3000RPM. This meant a third and fourth gear descend without braking on the engine by switching back to second gear before entering the hairpins. From Bourg d’Oissans we followed the N91 towards Grenoble for about seven kilometres where we turned right towards the Col de la Croix de Ferre (2067mtr). This also is the approach to the Col du Glandon that diverts into a separate road roughly five kilometres before reaching the highest point of the Col de la Croix de Ferre. I already gave a good description of this Col in the travel report of 2004 so I won’t go into more detail other then that traffic was low and the ascent was challenging and quick.

The Col du Glandon (1924mtr) was never drive before by any of us. The south side of this Col is not more then one kilometre in length from where one has an excellent view on road D526 as far as the Grand Maisson Lake. I knew that unlike Oliver and me, Konstantin and Dominik had properly warmed up there engines before starting in Alpe d’Huez so they where still behind us so I assumed that I had a few minutes left before they arrived at the Glandon. However by the time that I had snapped on my Nikkor 70-200VR lens, I heard two screaming S38’s passing me. With other words, I was a few minutes short.

After a small five minutes stop, we started descending road D927 towards la Chambre. With a seemingly endless series of hairpins and curves, the narrow north side of the Glandon is much more rewarding to drive then the north side of the Col de la Croix de Ferre. The main difference is that for a quick ascent or descent of the Glandon, one has to have a good feeling for the car’s balance and a good assessment of the lines to choose. One small mistake forces one to brake a bit harder then normally is required, disturbing the driver’s rhythm and upsetting the balance of the car. The Col de la Croix de Ferre for one only requires very good brakes and a properly selected turn in point for the hairpins, but there still is enough time between the hairpins to prepare for the upcoming one.

Before arriving in la Chambre, Oliver had to refuel his car since he was low on fuel. I myself considered this the day before on the Col de Lautarette and refuelled up to sixty litres which I estimated to be more then adequate for reaching Switzerland where fuel is significantly cheaper then in France. From la Chambre, we followed the directions to the Col de la Madeleine. With an altitude of 2000mtr, this is a classic Col in many editions of the tour de France. We have been there before in 2004 so we all knew this Col rather well. In St Francois de Longchamps however, the road was closed for replacing the tarmac and we had to follow the detour through this wintersport village. The last section of the Col de la Madeine is a little narrower then the first part, mostly due to the fact that this part is closed during the winter whereas the first part is needed to allow tourists to reach St Francois de Longchamps.



The panoramic view on the highest point of the Col de la Madeleine is breathtaking and weather permitting reaches as far as the Mont Blanc massive roughly fifty kilometres more to the north. Unlike 2004 the Mont Blanc was visible though with hardly any cloud blocking the visibility towards this sub 5000mtr peak.

As I experienced during the ascent of the Col de Gr St Bernard three days before, my car lacked that high end power that one normally can expect when given full throttle. Oliver’s car, also with the S38B36 engine clearly accelerated faster out of the hairpins then mine. Granted, his engine has been recently rebuild with a new block and pistons, and the dust accumulated in the air filter on the Cresta dell Assietta doesn’t help either, but the difference simply was to large.



During the stop, I asked Konstantin to visually check my resonance flap whilst I was pushing my accelerator paddle to the bottom. This conformed that the resonance flap didn’t work at full throttle despite that the self test completed. This explained the loss of power. With other words, a new throttle switch is required. Furthermore, Konstantin saw a few attending cars without the identifying logo of the German E34 ///M5 forum (www.e34m5.de). Generally, I object to adding banners on my car, especially the screaming ones on windscreens or other windows, but I couldn’t object to the well designed small banner being added to the rear bumper of my car.

After about thirty minutes, we resumed driving and descended the north side of the Col de Madeleine towards Boneval from where we entered the four lanes wide N90 into western direction until Albertville where we turned north on the N212 towards Megeve and Chamonix. However, in Ugine, the N212 was blocked for maintenance. The detour took us to the D109 that runs parallel to the N212, but runs through a series of small villages higher up in the valley. Eventually, the detour took us back to the N212 but not for long. Another detour took us to the north side of the Col des Saisies before returning to the N212 just a few kilometres north of Flumet. All in all, the two detours cost us about thirty minutes and that didn’t improve my fuel situation. I still had the intention to reach Switzerland, but with a computed reach of slightly more then eighty kilometres, this could be troublesome, especially with the long climb from Sallanches to Chamonix still ahead of us.

In Megeve, we followed the directions towards Chamonix Mt Blanc over road D909, a long but nice descent all the way down to the valley of Sallanches where one can enjoy another spectacular view onto the west flanks of the Mont Blanc massive. Not only that. With almost 4200mtr separating the Sallanches valley with the summit of the Mont Blanc, the visual drama of the height difference is a unique experience. Chamonix can be reached over a four lane mountain high way. Te first part is constructed over a series of long bridges that dominate the view lower down in the valley, but ultimately reduce the driving distance to Chamonix to less then fifteen minutes.





During a vacation in this region some time ago, I visited the telepherique Aguille du Midi. This cable car connects Chamonix and the 3842mtr high summit of the Aguille du midi in just two stages. Especially the second stage is breathtaking and not for the frightened individuals. The slope of the carriageway is more then 100% and shortly before reaching the summit, the gap carriage is hanging more then 1500mtr in the air. However, once above, one is spoiled with a magnificent view towards the Mont Blanc and the Vallee Blanche, a series of glaciers of which the twelve kilometre long Mer de Glace is the largest. There even is a panoramic cable car to the Italian side of the Mont Blanc in the Aosta valley that crosses the more then five kilometre long span towards the Italian side with just one support in the middle of the Vallee Blanche. If you are in the vicinity, not afraid of heights and ere prepared to pay the money, a visit to the Aguille du Midi is highly recommended.



After passing Chamonix and the Mont Blanc, we only had one Col to drive before reaching the official end of the 2006 edition of the Alps tour. The Swiss border is located a few kilometres outside Argentiere, the last village before ascending the Col de la Croix the Ferre in Switzerland. With just enough fuel left for another twenty kilometres, we reached Switzerland after which we refuelled the cars at a petrol station just behind the Swiss border.





A few minutes before 2.00PM, we reached the restaurant at the highest point of the Col de la Forclaz at 1567mtr were we stopped and officially ended the meeting with supper during which we shared some of our experiences and philosophised about a next edition in 2007. For some of us, the meeting’s end couldn’t come sooner though as the material had to endure much more then in previous evens, proof of which is the tyre on the following picture thatjust four days ago was hardly worn at all.



Some of us had the advantage of a relatively short travelling distance to home. But Oliver, myself and Konstantin still had a large journey to cover before arriving in our respective homes safe and sound. Since Oliver and I had to follow the same route towards the North of journey, we agreed to drive together until the Westhofener kreuz a bit southeast of Dortmund, a distance of roughly 800km! Apart from some rush hour traffic between Freiburg and Kassel, the return trip was pretty much uneventful other then a rare occasion in which two well maintained E34 ///M5’s were travelling across the continent at high speeds.

During our trip, we made good progress and reached Dortmund shortly after 8.00PM where Oliver left the A45 and took another highway towards Bremen. I myself continued to follow the A45 and later the A2 towards Oberhausen. The last stretch of German autobahn took me to the A31 (also known as the ‘Oberhausen straight’) where I tested the top speed of my car one more time before entering speed restricted Holland. However, the malfunctioning throttle position switch and the clogged air filter reduced the engines performance significantly due to which I had a hard time reaching even 220km/h against the wind. Oh well, that can’t spoil the fun of four days travelling in the Alps, travelling a total of more then 3400km, visiting remote area’s in Europe and seeing spectacular panoramic views in clear sunny weather. Does a man need more?

See you in 2007.
 
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