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Col du Galibier: in the Land of Snow and the Savoie

In this region of France, every mountain pass you travel up - or down - has its own character, its own personality.

Today, was the day to take on one of the Tour de France's giants: le Col du Galibier. The Galibier is the giant in this area, with the pass reaching 2600 m (7800 ft) with 1200 m (3600 ft) of actual climbing you need to do to get there. The Col is also the border between the Savoie and the Hautes Alpes regions. Above about 2000m the landscape is dominated by grass and rocks strewn down from the mountain tops, which overlook the whole scene - streaked with dal's of snow, even in July. Below that altitude, trees appear, and get taller as you go down, and dotted around the landscape decorated with cow bells are small herds of the Beaufort cows.

To make today's cycling business more manageable (and to save 800 m/2100 ft of climbing), I decided to start at the top of the Galibier, and ride down the north side, so that I could use this warm up, turn around at the town of Valloire, and then take on the full climb.

The beginning of the descent is packed with classic European Alpine hairpins, which are wonderful to ride down - as long as you concentrate on the next turn, and don't spend too long looking at the stunning mountain scenery. But, of course, being the Savoie, and being in the mountains, it wasn't too long until I came across the first herd of cattle, and signs for Fromage de Beaufort. This is most definitely Beaufort country.

After maybe 5 km, I came across an isolated café/bar which advertised drinks for 2€, water and Beaufort cheese at 16.50€ per kg. Their priorities were clear. Unfortunately it was closed at that moment, although on the ride back up it was open. But, toiling under the sun riding up an 8% gradient, cheese was not the thing I craved.

Swiftly down into the town of Valloire, and hooking around their one way system, it was straight back up the 'hill'.

17 km (10 miles) at 8% gradient, with the strong mountain sun beating down on the tarmac, and any cyclist who dared to ride the Galibier.

Two water bottles later, a lot of sweat left on the road, and I was atop the Col, with a view of both sides. The south is shorter, and less sinuous than the north side, but the south was now the side I had to take to ride back to Les Deux Alpes, via the downhill slope of the Col du Lautaret. The straight roads and dazzling tunnels, allowed speeds of over 60 km/h, meaning I reached the foot of Les Deux Alpes for the second time in two days very quickly. After a side visit to the church at the top of another short climb in Mizoën, I worked my way up to Les Deux Alpes, once again.

church on mizoën

But, dinner was now the focus of the evening. Looking to eat locally produced food, the Fondue Savoryard was the perfect choice. Abondance, Emmental and Dent du Chat. Dent du Chat is a local peak, but also a cheese made locally, which has a strong rich fruity taste and melts brilliantly - perfect for fondue. The Fondue pot was cleaned up - right down to the 'religieuse', the name for the brown, burnt cheese at the bottom of the pot.

With the early evening thunderstorms rolling in, eating the wonderful fondue, seemed like a perfect end to a long day.

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