The words are yet to come but in the meantime see the best pictures from last week’s drive to western Switzerland.
The words are yet to come but in the meantime see the best pictures from last week’s drive to western Switzerland.
Ad Hoc Off-Roading through the French Alps.
Eye contact with the farmer stood beside the road was maintained for far longer than strictly necessary.
The hope was he would stop us driving any further down the gravel track at the top of Col de l’Arpettaz.
Ultimately though he simply turned round and walked back to his barn. Apparently we were good to go.
What the hell were we doing? We’d already scared ourselves silly several times that day, on the mountain roads around Lake Annecy in eastern France, thirty miles south of Geneva.
Yet here we were, higher than ever, bouncing down a single lane track with no barriers.
But the dry fear was also tinged with a tingling sense of adventure.
Route des Montagnes runs 7km between Arpettaz and Col des Aravis in the northern French Alps.
The former is an intimidating sharp cascade of tight hairpins – albeit one lined with dense trees and few opportunities to see quite how high above Flumet you rise. It tops out at 1581m (5187ft).
The similarly high Aravis is a classic Alps pass and a regular on the Tour de France. It may be punishing for riders but doesn’t present any particular challenge for drivers.
Route des Montagnes soars high above them both (though, thanks to eyes-on-stalks intense concentration, it was beyond our capacities to check precisely how high we get).
Ultimately we peer down on Aravis from what must be around the 2000m (6561ft) mark.
A closer look at the map shows Route des Montagnes is one of a web of tracks marked with a narrow black line (at least on our Michelin map) . We could be up here all day, or all week.
With no vehicles in sight – or people or animals for that matter – the fear is less of a white knuckled passing manoeuvre, right on the crumbling edge, than the weather.
A torrential downpour had earlier seen us eating lunch while soaked to the skin.
The rain was lighter up here but we were between layers of swirling cloud. There were also several gushing alpine streams to fjord, some lined with boulders on the lee side where we opted to pass, fearful of shifting sands and a subsequent vertical drop.
Truth be told, our off road skills – such as they are – were never called upon too heavily. It was enough to have the car in gravel mode while we certainly took it very steadily indeed. Our half day Land Rover Off-Road Experience at Luton Hoo had served us well.
It was with relief we finally reached the safety of Aravis – and slightly surreal too considering how nervous we’d been driving that very road just the day before…
Bouncing through the vineyards of western France.
Concentrate in the early stages because – take it from me – it won’t make much sense later.
We’re bumping through vineyards in France’s Loire region. Literally through the vineyards, between the rows of vines, in a Land Rover Defender. One false move and we’d be among the grapes themselves.
The idea is to learn something about where wine comes from.
It does makes sense, when explained methodically, by patient tour guide and driver Sue, that grape variety, soil composition, field aspect and the ripeness of the grapes all affect the flavour of wine.
Any why gentle hand harvesting at exactly the right time has a better quality result than protracted and vigorous mechanical picking.
But I’m swamped by the blizzard of technical terms and regretfully drift off to gaze at the gently rolling countryside around Le Puy Notre Dame, 20km south of Saumur (and tightly grip the sides of the seat).
While everything here in France is more or less as God intended – even including some rather tatty organic vines – it boggles the mind that in other countries entire hillsides are constructed to bear the best fruit, facing in precisely the right direction.
After an hour or so bouncing around the fields, first stop is state of the art Domaine de la Paleine.
Here huge polished stainless steel vats sit in a spotless yard above artfully lit storage caves for the really good oak-cased stuff.
There’s a very comfortable tasting room too.
Sue fastidiously spits every mouthful but of course we gulp everything down. After eighteen samplings we are only just short of being totally pissed out of our minds.
It isn’t even eleven o’clock in the morning yet and there’s still another producer to visit.
Founded in 1892, Domaine du Vieux Pressoir changed hands a couple of years ago. It now produces highly drinkable wines, in general less sophisticated than Paleine but its Saumur Blanc ‘Elegance’ 2015 won Bronze medals in Paris and Macon this year.
At €5.40 a pop we can’t resist, especially compared to the UK price of £12. Soon twelve bottles of that – and twenty others – are being laid in the back of the Defender.
So that’s fifty bottles in total at €410.90, not bad before (a picnic) lunch eaten, naturally, among the vines.
Stupidly we’ve elected to cram almost everything La Grande Maison has to offer into a single day.
It means what would have been an idyllic afternoon float up and down the Loire by traditional sailing boat is accompanied by a growing hangover.
Despite the simple beauty, we can’t wait to get back to our beautifully appointed cottage in the walled grounds of the La Grande Maison wine estate for a rest.
Dating from the 17th century, and built out of the rocks excavated to make the wine caves, the estate is run by an English expat couple, Micaela and Sue. They met on the wine course at Plumpton Agriculture College in Sussex and moved out to the Loire in 2004.
Their expertise extends to food too. The wine tasting dinner in the manor house on the first evening – beside an outrageous solid oak staircase – was delicious. But the genius was the peach poached in Coteaux du Layon for dessert.
Bed and breakfast at La Grande Maison costs €105 for two people. Our two night stay including wine tasting dinner, 4×4 wine tour and sailing on the Loire cost €990. See more at LaGrandeMaison.net
An astonishing rise in the number of people killed on French roads last month – and apparently all down to the weather.
Also, the Germans are off on holiday again already. Ferry firm to review procedures after on board pet death. Dates firming for Calais migrant camp clearance. Private security for Belgium E40 truck parks as migrant activity increases.
HUGE JUMP IN FRENCH ROAD DEATHS
Pedestrians and truckers bear the brunt.
The number of road deaths in France leaped by more than thirty percent last month.
Provisional statistics say 335 died on the roads in September 2016 compared to 257 in September 2015 – a rise of 30.4 percent.
A statement from the French Interior Ministry says last month saw ‘very adverse’ weather conditions including heavy rains and floods.
Meanwhile, September 2015 had itself seen a sharp drop in the number of deaths – down by 17.4 percent according to Securite Routiere – thereby exacerbating the increase.
Despite the large increase in deaths, the number of accidents involving injuries was actually down, by 2.1 percent, in September 2016 while the number of people injured fell by 3.4 percent.
However, September’s figures push the overall increase in road deaths so far this year to a significant 3.1 percent.
Analysis by Securite Routiere shows deaths rose sharply among pedestrians and truck drivers with a less pronounced increase for motorbike riders and what could be a blip for car drivers.
Three previous months of falls had indicated France was finally on top of its road safety crisis.
The amount of fatalities increased in the past two years after more than a decade of falls.
The Interior Ministry says eleven more of the extra measures decided by the government’s road safety committee last year will be discussed next week in the National Assembly.
roundup: PET TRAVEL. DFDS says it will review procedures after a dog died on a Dunkirk ferry last month. The five year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier apparently succumbed to heat exhaustion reports Gazette & Herald. The operator admits the customer’s vehicle was parked in a well ventilated part of the deck with the windows open as per instructions. Unlike Eurotunnel where pets stay in the vehicle with the owners – and Brittany Ferries which has a pet-friendly cabins – animals on the short Dover, Calais and Dunkirk ferry routes must be left alone in the vehicles during the crossing. A similar, well-publicised incident occurred on board a P&O ferry in 2014. CALAIS MIGRANT CRISIS. All the indications are that the Jungle migrant camp will be cleared between Monday 17 October and Thursday 27 October. A French newspaper apparently obtained leaked instructions to CRS riot squad units advising them of the upcoming action reports La Voix du Nord. Earlier this week, the French human rights ombudsman also indicated the start date would be Monday 17 October. Camp activists also identified the same day on Monday. Meanwhile, private security will be brought in to three truck parks along the E40 motorway between the French border and Brussels after an increase in migrant activity. Jabbeke, Mannekensvere and Drongen will all have improved security, initially for the next month says Deredactie. A plan to close the truck parks in the face of sharply increased attempts by migrants to secrete themselves on vehicles was met with forceful opposition from trade association FEBETRA yesterday.
Temporary closure Nufenen overnight, and flurries at Stelvio and Grossglockner, herald a week of wintry weather at altitude.
SOME SNOW HIGH ALPS THIS WEEK
Prepare for closed roads at high altitude mid-week.
Switzerland’s Nufenen Pass – also called Passo della Novena – closed overnight due to ice according to TCS.
It reopened mid-morning but is one of several passes to be affected to winter weather as snow is set to descend further this week.
Both are open now as normal though two wheelers are banned from Grossglockner.
Meanwhile, weather fronts will meet over the Alps at mid-week.
At 2480m (8136ft), Nufenen is one of the highest roads in the Gotthard loop in south central Switzerland.
It runs 37km between Airolo and Ulrichen (crossing from Ticino canton to Valais), connecting Gotthard Pass to Grimsel and Furka.
While no Alpine passes have closed for the winter as yet they will start to later this month. Several places have been short lived snow and ice in recent weeks, notably the southern French Alps last weekend.
Best squeeze in that high altitude now while you still can – or be braced for disappointment, especially on the highest roads.
More wild fires around Marseille illuminate the interesting D559.
Also, the ‘Great Wall of Calais’ to be built at the port. Second all-electric Mercedes commercial vehicle concept launched. World’s largest fast-charging site opens in Norway. There will be an international border across Ireland post-Brexit. Swingeing fine for Swedish drink drive minister.
roundup: the UK is to build a 1km long, 4 metre (13ft) high wall both sides of the N216/A216 ‘Rocade’ approach road into Calais port to replace the current security fencing which has failed to deter migrants (though the BBC says it will not replace existing fencing). Building starts soon and should finish by the end of the year at a cost of £2 million… the world’s largest fast-charging site has opened in Nebbenes, 40 miles from Norway capital Oslo. The DC fast-charging site has space for 28 vehicles says Green Car Reports… eye-opening from the European Commission’s Colette Fitzgerald today: ‘The ‘Common Travel Area’ between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland WILL become an International border post Brexit,’ she told NI Assembly members reports Seamus Leheny from NI FTA – a statement which contradicts many politicians & NI secretaries he says. On Monday The Spectator said the UK would leave the Customs Union when it left the EU too… the Swedish government minister who was caught drink driving with a BAC level of 0.2 (compared to UK legal limit 0.8) will pay a 40,800SEK (£3500) fine reports Radio Sweden..
Blow by blow on the much-hyped ‘Calais blockade‘ as – in a demonstration against the notorious Jungle migrant camp – protesters target Eurotunnel, nearly 20km away.
20:00BST: as TomTom shows signs of movement on the A16, Eurotunnel says the demonstration has now ended. However, drivers should still expect some delays for the time being.
19:30BST: BMTV says the leader of the strike – FNTR’s David Sagnard – has called for the blockade to be lifted. But it is still in place at the moment, and apparently his call was not universally well received by the strikers themselves..
18:20BST: there is still no news on the strikers’ meeting but journalist Jean-Paul Mulot tells us that the farmers will remove their vehicles after receiving a promise of extra cash.
The truckers are still negotiating, apparently over extra CRS riot police according to Nord Littoral.
18:00BST: it was hoped the block at A16 Eurotunnel would have been lifted by now. Apparently the strike leaders are meeting with Pas de Calais prefect Fabienne Buccio, and have been for some hours.
16:30BST: as the blockade seems to be easing, attention to turns to why the protesters have targeted Eurotunnel. The Channel Tunnel junctions continue to be blocked even as other sections of the A16 reopen.
The demonstration was called over the Jungle migrant camp, nearly 20km from the Channel Tunnel terminal in France. The port road past the camp is free-flowing according to Calais police.
Eurotunnel tells us, ‘It is just to raise profile but, in reality, it has had little effect. Passenger traffic has been fluid all day and freight has been kept clear of the blockades by police. Our terminal and services are unaffected by the protests.’
We have contacted the strike organisers but are yet to hear back.
15:30BST: Calais police say the A16 has reopened between Calais and Dunkirk, and that the N216/A216 ‘Rocade’ ring road into the port from A16 is now free flowing.
However, the Eurotunnel junction continues to be blocked in both directions – but hopes are high it will be lifted by 18:00 local.
13:20BST: local paper La Voix du Nord reports that – as originally expected – the demo will go on until 18:00 local time (17:00BST).
12:00BST: the convoys have now met at Eurotunnel’s J42b which sees the A16 closed in both directions.
Eurotunnel says, ‘Access to the terminal is very difficult and will probably remain so for the next few hours.’ See this updated map on routes in and out.
Chris Horsey arrived in France on Eurotunnel earlier and said passengers were asked to follow diversions out of the terminal as access to the A16 was blocked.
Diversions on the A16 are now in place for cars at J36 Marquise – south of Eurotunnel – and at J50 Gravelines – between Calais and Dunkirk – for cars and trucks according to the Nord prefecture.
There is also truck storage on the A25 towards Dunkirk at Wormhout and on the A16 at Ghyvelde. This is to regulate the amount of traffic heading into the ports.
11:00BST: the northbound A26 towards Calais is now closed with traffic diverted onto D943 at J2 Zouafques/Ardres reports P&O.
10:45BST: the ‘operation snail’ part of the protest was a go-slow in the purest sense of the word. Vehicles have taken an age to reach the port, first from the direction of Dunkirk and still in the process from Boulogne.
Check RT for live coverage.
09:45BST: as BBC reporter Eleanor Roper still waits for the trucks in Calais it seems (not confirmed) from TomTom navigation that the A16 has been closed westbound just to the east of the port, and just south of Eurotunnel, i.e. away from protesters on the port road.
08:45BST: there may (or may not) be fewer vehicles than expected on the motorway blockade – so far – but plenty of Calaisiens have turned out for the ‘human chain’. The N216/A216 ‘Rocade’ port access road from the A16 has now been blocked says @JoshuaCoupe_ with just one lane open in the other direction says La Voix du Nord (which also says up to 450 locals have turned out for the demo).
Meanwhile, the A16 westbound into Calais has been closed by protesters. The convoy from Boulogne is still on the move.
07:30BST: P&O says diversions are in place into and out of Calais port and that drivers should avoid the A16. Eurotunnel says diversions are in place and that access to the temrinal is still clear and under the authorities’ control.
07:15BST: as both convoys get underway, @SimonJonesNews tells us there were around 20 trucks in Dunkirk too. Added to the Boulogne contingent, see below, this means only around half the expected vehicles have turned up – though numbers will be bolstered by tractors and agricultural vehicles while, reports @JoshuaCoupe_, ‘dozens’ of business owners are waiting along the A16 ready to join the convoy.
07:00BST: a representative from French truck union FNTR tells the BBC Radio 4 Today programme the A16 blockade could continue indefinitely.. depending when the Jungle migrant camp is cleared.
06:30BST: Juan Maza Calleja on the ground in Boulogne says just 20 trucks have assembled so far.
What is expected to happen: trucks assemble from 06:30CEST near Dunkirk and at Outreau in Boulogne then drive from 07:30CEST towards Calais. They come to a halt at Calais to block the A16 in both directions around the N216/A216 junction to the port until 18:00CEST.
At the weekend the BBC reported 80 trucks and 100 tractors would take part – a substantial number but not enough to block the A16 for miles in both directions.
What happens after that is anyone’s guess – locals have threatened a human chain up to the Jungle migrant camp which could stay in place until the camp is removed by authorities.
Resources: Eurotunnel has listed three diversions for customers heading to the terminal from A16 Boulogne, A26 Saint Omer and A16 Dunkirk – the latter two head through Calais town which is also the best option (if police keep roads clear) to reach Calais port. Also see DFDS map of the route to the port via Calais town.
With the kids now back at school, France is set for some quiet roads over the next month. Shame the same cannot be said for Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Super-heavy holiday traffic in France skewed much later this summer than anyone expected.
But with the kids back at school, from now on there are few risks of crowded mountains and motorways.
Traffic monitor Bison Fute has no warnings at all for the whole of September.
Meanwhile, barring freak weather events, all the Alps’ passes are still open too.
And the hot spell is set to continue. There will never be a better time to go!
If you don’t mind we’ll be less gushing about the prospects in Germany.
Holiday traffic has dragged on there too – like it did last year.
With the southern Netherlands and most of northern Germany heading back to school next week – and the southern states of Baden Wurttemberg and Bavaria the week after – return traffic is bound to be crowded, though likely easier for those heading off on holiday.
However, the summer Saturday truck ban is now at an end reports ADAC.
Switzerland is back at school too but the weight of German drivers heading north will see protracted delays at the Gotthard Tunnel, albeit not as bad as last month (and declining steadily throughout the rest of September). There will be queues southbound too.
Return traffic will also be heavy across Austria, at all the usual suspects – B179 Fernpass and the three motorway border crossings with Germany in the west where border queues have resurfaced in recent weeks, especially early on.
In a worrying escalation, migrants halt traffic into Calais port in broad daylight.
Also, the photogenic Swiss Museum of Transport.
DAYTIME MIGRANT INCIDENT CALAIS MOTORWAY
Traffic halted during the day for the first time in a long time.
Drivers heading into Calais port overnight have been running a gauntlet of migrants for many months.
But this afternoon’s brief stoppage on the port motorway is the first daytime incident for a considerable time.
As such it signals an unwelcome escalation as migrant numbers in the nearby Jungle camp climb past 10,000.
On twitter, Stuart Colley said, ‘Midday at port of Calais and police using tear gas to disrupt migrant activity and protect secure area. Desperate people.’
Ben Shore said, ‘We can see armed police taking refugees from a lorry…’
Officials from the FTA Freight Transport Association, coincidentally in Calais today, said, ‘Migrant incursion on A16 Calais during FTA fact-finding trip – police close road & throw tear gas to disperse them.’
Also coincidentally, P&O Ferries put out a statement earlier today. It didn’t mention the Calais migrant crisis directly but clearly spelt out the firm’s security concerns.
Sue MacKenzie, P&O Ferries Operations Director said, ‘The safety of our customers is our absolute priority. Every passenger using the Port of Calais has a right to expect a secure, safe and efficient passage. We will continue to do everything we can with the French authorities to ensure a safe and secure environment.’
Local newspaper La Voix du Nord said the N216/A216 ‘rocade’ ring road into the port was the focus of the incident as migrants took advantage of heavy mid-week traffic – but also that some fires were lit close to the A16 motorway.
‘Usually, they do it at night but this time it’s during the day,’ said one resident.
The disruption lasted around ninety minutes with traffic resuming around 15:30CEST.
Today’s incident comes ahead of a planned all-day blockade of the A16 by French hauliers, and others, next Monday.
Presciently perhaps, one trucker told @DriveEurope yesterday the demonstration would be ‘carnage’ as the migrants ’will have a field day with all the trucks going slow along the A16.’
A big demonstration to protest the migrant crisis is planned on the A16 at Calais next week. Foreign hauliers are invited – but everyone else should avoid it.
Also, drivers should beware of cattle heading down the Alps. And, tourist fined €800 for driving to Iceland plane wreck. Hire car ‘Brexit Charge’ to be refunded. Istanbul’s new bridge is an all-round record breaker.
FOREIGN HAULERS INVITED TO CALAIS A16 BLOCKADE
Motorway blockade planned for next Monday to protest Calais migrant crisis.
Demonstrations on French motorways are usually the bane of visiting drivers’ lives – but the one in Calais next week might be more welcome than most.
Haulage union FNTR – one of a host or organisations involved in the all-day protest about the migrant crisis in Calais – says foreign hauliers and drivers are welcome to take part.
FNTR Pas de Calais secretary general Sebastien Rivera tells @DriveEurope, ‘Naturally European companies and drivers involved in the migration presence in Calais are invited to come forward with us on the 5th September.’
However, he adds, ‘The problem can only be resolved by France. The EU and the UK should also be more willing to curb and regulate migration.’
Vehicles will converge at the port junction of the A16 in a two-way blockade expected to last until 18:00.
One assembly point is at Outreau near Boulogne, at Parking de Garromanche on Boulevard de l’Europe.
The other is at Loon Plage, west of Dunkirk, at Rue de l’Europe near Lavatrans.
Vehicles rally from 06:30 before departing at 07:30.
The only proviso is that the demonstration is yet to be approved by the local authorities.
Reports in the French press at the weekend (also here in the Daily Telegraph) say Calais residents and local businesses may form a human chain between the road block and the port which could stay in place ‘indefinitely’ (until the migrant camp is removed).
The Calais migrant crisis made the headlines in the UK last week after new dashcam videos emerged of people traffickers threatening truck drivers, and throwing branches and other objects into the road to stop vehicles. Hannah Scott and several other truckers and hauliers appeared on the BBC World Service ‘Have Your Say’ programme on Friday evening with some shocking accounts of the daily trouble at the port.
Our consistent advice has been to avoid driving into Calais port overnight on the A216/N216 link road from the A16 motorway. Drive into the port from the town centre.
Also: a meeting between the new UK Home Secretary and her French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve in Paris today reaffirmed their commitment to ‘juxtaposed’ border controls (where each country carries out passport checks on the other’s territory – the arrangement credited with keeping the migrants in Calais). The subsequent statement reveals the UK has spent €100 million on security in Calais so far and that the current 1000 strong day and night police force at the port has just been reinforced with 160 new officers. It also says there are plans to further secure the port and the Channel Tunnel. Cazeneuve will also visit Calais this Friday.
roundup: ICELAND. A foreign tourist was ‘fined’ €800 after driving up to the crashed Dakota aircraft in Sólaheimasandur. Cars are banned from the site – which recently starred in a Justin Bieber music video – but the man of unspecified nationality drove through an open gate. When he tried to leave in his hire car the gate was locked and he was forced to pay the sum by the landowner reports Iceland Review. Such a charge is illegal says the tourist authority. A complaint has been made to police. Tourists are allowed to walk to the wreck. HIRE CARS. British drivers who have had a ‘Brexit charge’ added to hire car bills will have the money refunded. As the value of sterling dropped in the wake of the vote, Avis charged extra fees which varied from £2 to £11 reports Travel Weekly. The firm blamed ‘miscommunication’ and vowed to refund affected customers. TURKEY. Istanbul’s ‘Third Bosphorus Bridge’ – the Yavuz Sultan Selim Bridge which opened on Friday – has broken construction, height and width records. With towers at 322 meters (1056ft) it is the tallest suspension bridge in the world; its eight lane highway – with central space for two rail tracks – makes it among the world’s widest at 59 meters (192ft); and at 27 months from start to finish – nine months ahead of schedule – it has likely broken the building record for its total 2164 meters (7100ft) length reports Next City. It also cost just $2.88 billion. Around 200 miles of new roads have been built to serve the new crossing. Trucks are required to use the new bridge, to the north of the city, to relieve traffic on the other two further south.