Europe 2012 – 1.Home to Briancon

Europe 2012 TVR Trip

We bought our TVR Tamora towards the end of 2011, and needed to take it for a road trip before our family of two expanded to 3 and the car would be restricted to shorter trips.

The aim was to take a long time, 3 weeks, to get down to the South of France, Monaco, the Italian lakes and to come back through Switzerland. Some people would do trips like this in a lot less time, but we wanted to be able to relax and not feel too rushed.

The write-up of this holiday covers 3 pages. At the foot of each page you should find a link to the next (and at the top, a link to the previous).

The route we took, excluding days out driving
The places we stayed, for how long, and distances / times


Part 1 – Home to Briancon

Flickr Album

Day 1 – Home to Bourg-et-Comin – 355 miles

We had a sensible 7:20 am start from home on a Sunday to drive the 205 miles down to the Channel Tunnel which was easy and with little traffic. This was my first drive with the car fully loaded and I was a little worried about how the suspension would cope with bigger bumps, but I had done some testing before and adjusted the damping. All was fine on the drive down and I filled up with V-Power, the TVR’s fuel of choice.

I had chosen the tunnel as it is fast, saves driving into Dover, and I thought the clearance would be best for the low nose of the Tamora. All was fine boarding and the crossing was fast.

Crossing – TVR nice and shiny

We then had a 150 mile drive to our first hotel, the Auberge de la Vallee in Bourg et Comin.

When we got off the Autoroute onto country roads we had the first wheel to wheel arch rub issue – on the inside of a shady bend the road undulated a lot so the inside wheels were kicked up, into a drop and then back up. It made a scraping noise and annoyed me but no damage was done. This only happened 2 1/2 times in the whole trip, so it was quite rare.

When we arrived, the hotel had an entrace driveway with a central bit that sticks up (like this where we had problems), so Naomi had to get out and guide the car round.

This was a very traditional little French Auberge. Simple rooms that were not expensive (E50). I had a chat with some French cyclists about the car. They were on a holiday where they cycled from hotel to hotel and their wives travelled in a couple of cars before they met-up in the evenings for big dinners. Seemed like a good plan.

Explaining about the TVR

We had a nice meal in the restaurant and walks around the town / river in the evening and morning.

Auberge de la Vallee

 Day 2 – Bourg-et-Comin to Buffard – 263 miles

Another long drive to get down towards the South of France. Needing fuel and being out in the country we ask for direction to a fuel station which we then follow. It is a little Carrefour in a small town and there seems to be a travelling circus all around the fuel area. It is an old and scruffy station with very uneven roads so we have to drive through very slowly, making lots of noise while everybody stares at us…

The rest of the drive down is easy, we stop at an Autogrill for lunch where the car gets some attention, and then onwards with a thumbs-up from a biker as we go. We stopped at a very pretty Aire before arriving at what was the best hotel/B&B of our trip, Le Detour in Buffard.

This B&B was great. We had a large room, there was a lovely garden and the owners were  very nice. Our first afternoon there was spent relaxing in the gardens with a book and a beer before we went out for dinner at a local restaurant.

The B&B was so nice that we changed our plans and decided to stay a second night here and one less night at our next stop. We were glad we did.

The B&B Annexe
Plenty of TVR Parking Space
The house and grounds

Day 3 – Bessancon and Salines les Bains

Our first day without having to go from A to B. Breakfast was good and included interesting homemade jams such as Dandelion and Wild Rose.

We drove to Besancon andhad a quick tour of the one-way system before going up a narrow, steep and twisty road to the Vauban Citadel on top of the hill. This was well worth visiting. An impressive and imposing citadelle with great views over the town and a little zoo to the rear. We had some lunch here while escaping from a brief rain shower.

From the side of the citadelle
The second layer of fortifications
A fierce creature in the zoo

After the citadelle we descended the interesting road down the hill and on our way out of town stopped for Super unleaded at a surprisingly expensive garage with service. The attendant was puzzled until I opened the boot to reveal the filler cap and he was very careful when filling up.

The then haded to Salines les Bains for a tour of the salt mines. This is a Unesco World Heritage site and well worth a visit, although we did drive through the town a couple of times before figuring out where it was. There was an interesting tour above and below ground.

Mussee du Sel
Underground in the salt works
Lovely TVR

We returned to the B&B in the late afternoon to relax. We went for a stroll around the village and noted that the local restaurant was closed for a second note. We mentioned this in passing to the owners. We weren’t keen on having to drive to dinner again, and the owners cooked fondue for 6 (us, 2 other French guests and themselves). This was really good. 3 hours of conversation tested our French skills but they spoke a bit of English and we got by. E20 each and that included dessert and a lot of good wine 🙂

 Day 4 – Buffard to Annecy via CERN – 103 miles

A short drive today and our first trip up mountains with some snow, not something we are used to in Europe in mid-May.

Weather is mixed with some snow, and we get a wave from a British Morgan near the top of one of the Mountain passes.

First snow!

We had our first visit to Switzerland when we went to the CERN visitor centre. This was interesting, well worth visiting, and free! The visitor section is split into two sites, with the globe exhibition  across the road from the museum on the main site.Looking into CERN is interesting. There are proper old office buildings and scruffy grounds for doing proper science, it isn’t full of shiny new office buildings.

Lunch was extravagant – snacks from a petrol station next to CERN. We should have filled our car as well as Swiss fuel prices are very good (we make use of that later).

CERN Globe – Interesting Inside
A bit of beam line
Looking into CERN, proper science buildings for proper science

After a couple of hours at CERN we carried on to Annecy and our hotel in Argonay, a village just above Annecy.

The Auberge D’Argonay was an relatively new Auberge. All of Argonay seems to be new and recently built as an expansion of Annecy, but quite nicely done compared to most UK developments.

No specific car park, but plenty of free car parking outside and next to the hotel. The first night I made the mistake of parking under a tree. After cleaning off the bird poo in the morning I remembered not to do that again…

Our room was not large, but had a little balcony with table and chairs under the eaves of the buildings and some good views.

Auberge D’Argonay
View from the balcony (with a big zoom lens)

We had a stroll around the village before dinner in the restaurant, which was a bit average.

Day 5 – Chamonix and mountains

Up at 8am and spent 5 minutes cleaning the bird poo of the TVR….

The temperature is only 5C when we start the car and head off to Chamonix.

It is a fast drive to Chamonix on Autoroute and we purchase some expensive Shell high-octane fuel. The last stages of the drive include some impressive bridges as the road makes its way up.

We park in a very large car park on the way into town which is only a short walk from the cable car station and the town centre.

The Chamonix . Mt Blanc cable car is not cheap but well worth it for zooming up a mountain, the Aiguille du Midi, which is 3842 metres, 12,605 feet. This is sufficiently high to feel the altitude. Still 2000 feet lower than we reached in the Rockies last year, but there we had spent weeks at ~ 8000 feet.

We spent a some time at the half-way stop which had lots of snow to walk around in before carrying on to the summit which was refreshingly cold. After an hour at the summit admiring the views and feeling the effects of the altitude we headed back down.

Cable car arriving at the base station
Cable car part-way up
Lots of snow!
Even more snow

We had a wander through Chamonix and a nice lunch served outside. It was much warmer at Chamonix’s altitude, although the town is still at the elevation of the summit of Snowdon. We had some ice-cream before putting the roof-down and heading back to Annecy.

We took an alternative route back avoiding the autoroute and found a road popular with bikers than ran through many little tunnels along the floor of a valley. Gorge D’Arly – See this Youtube clip. I was driving briskly but the bikers were doing some silly speeds and zooming past. There is no way they could have stopped within the sightlines if something was stopped part-way round a corner.

As we approached Annecy and were back on the main roads we were stuck in queueing traffic along the lake for too long in the blazing sun. The car coped with the heat just fine, but we became a bit sun-burnt as we had forgotten to put caps on. We then struggled with the confusing road system before making it back to our hotel.

We had dinner on our balcony, supplies we bought at a bakers on the drive back.

Roof-down, at a boulangerie.

Day 6 – Annecy

A non-driving day,  which is nice. Much as I like driving the TVR, when visiting towns / cities, sometimes there are easier ways.

A bus from outside the hotel, which we have to oursevles at first, takes us down into Annecy for the sum of E 1.20 each.

Not the nicest weather today as it starts to rain, but we find a bakery that sells oversize pastries and take some shelter to eat.

Maxi pain au chocolat

We visit the Palais de l’Isle, which is on a little island in the river.

Palais de l’Isle

We then take a one hour boat trip on the lake. followed by tasty crepes for lunch.

View from the boat trip on the lake

And finish up by going into the castle on top of the hill. Click image below for a larger panorama.

Panaorama of Annecy – Click for larger version
The castle, taken through very old glass

We then return to the bakery we went to this morning, and a nearby shop to buy supplies before taking the bus back to the hotel and have dinner on the balcony again. Then spend some time watching a french film (La Proie) and planning tomorrow’s route.

 Day 7 – Argonay to Briancon – 132 miles

Continuing south today we drive through some beautiful mountains, with the temperature ranging from warm to freezing depending on altitude as we make our way to Briancon.

Another car pic
A bit higher up and more snow

We refuel with some Carrefour 98 and buy lunch. I note that the bonnet is rubbing a bit and damaging some paint. This must be due to the quick release bonnet pins. I tape-up the rubbing areas with some electrical tape.

In the valleys it is very warm, but chilly when up the mountains.

We are spending one night at Hotel Edelweiss, a simple family-run hotel where our first load of washing is done for us at no charge! 3 weeks in a TVR is not going to work without some laundry being done, so this is good.

We walk up into the old fortified town which is very interesting. The fortifications are impressive and there is a lively part of the town within them.

The hotel has a small car park but it is not busy so there is space. It is well located most of the way up the hill towards another Vauban fortress which is part of a local UNESCO World Heritage Site.

View of part of the fortified town
View across Briancon from the top of town

We have some nice hot chocolates before heading back to the hotel to get ready for dinner and returning into the old town.

We ate at Le Pied de la Gargouille, which was excellent. When you order your starter and main the starter is served and the meat for the main is placed to grill in front of an open fire. When ready, it is put straight into a plate which has the accompanying food and brought directly to you. It was very tasty. It was good we had arrived early as it soon filled up and they were turning people away.

Meat grilling in front of an open fire

Next – Part 2 Briancon to Stresa