Sat 20 May: Nice (0m)
Notes: We stayed at the Grimaldi and dined at la maison de Marie. There is a cycle path along the Prom. des Anglais connecting the town with its airport.
Sun 21: Nice Lantosque (440m) (62km, 1410m ascent)
Notes: Hostellerie de lAncienne Gendarmerie. Very comfortable, food ranging from plain to delicious. The Bon Puits also offers accommodation.
Mon 22: Lantosque St. Sauveur (475m) (74km, 1580m)
We began by returning to St. Jean, this time following the valley all the way. Then a forested 500m climb to the attractive village of Utelle, followed by a further 350m to the sanctuary of Madone dUtelle.
The sanctuary is plain. There is an orientation table and there are said to be views as far as Corsica, though not in the haze of our visit.
We redescended to Utelle, and then along the very minor road in the direction of la Tour. The road descends steeply on a poor surface through a striking gorge, and hits back with a 250m climb to la Tour itself, a very attractive village full of trompe lil façades.
A zigzagging descent on a good road takes us down to the Tinée valley, and we head north along it. After a while a restau/pizzeria is signposted in Roussillon, and though it is a climb from the road we pay a visit and arrive just in time to eat pizza.
Notes: The Bellevue at Utelle used to function as a hotel, but is now just a restaurant. A buvette at the sanctuary advertises rooms. Snacks are available at la Tour. The Relais dAuron at St. Sauveur is basic. The Tinée valley seems to be suffering considerable depopulation. It is dominated too much by its road to be very attractive.
An alternative route would have followed the more touristy Gorges du Cians.
Tues 23: St. Sauveur Guillaumes (800m) (50km, 1520m)
Overcast. Signposts tell us that the Bonette is still closed. From St. Sauveur the road climbs steadily to the Col de la Couillole 1200m higher, passing through the perched village of Roubion which is worth a brief visit. Just short of Beuil we leave the road to follow a track through la Lapière, passing to the north of the Tête du Garnier and crossing the Col de lEspaul (1748m).
The track rejoins the road at the ski resort of Valberg, almost all of which is shut, but where a hotel/restau welcomes us with tartiflette.
We take the minor road to Péone, a huddle of tall buildings with more trompe lil, and ride on to Guillaumes.
Note: We stayed at the fairly pleasant les Chaudrons.
Weds 24: Guillaumes Jausiers (1200m) (74km, 1670m)
The valley becomes narrow and scenic as it drops through the Gorges du Bachelard, emerging to a wider valley at Barcelonnette. We looked around the town, ate a snack, and asked at the tourist office if the Bonette was still closed. No, it is open this morning. Yippee!
Ride on to Jausiers.
Notes: Between Entraunes and St. Laurent all hotels and refuges were shut. The hotel at St. Laurent is quite old-fashioned. We have no information to give about it: not even its name.
The Villa Morélia at Jausiers is an elegant 100-year old villa whose restaurant recently received a Michelin star. The food is innovative: witness a strawberry and aubergine tartlet for dessert. Unfortunately the music is intrusive. Even so, a Michelin-starred restaurant at the foot of the Bonette is too good to miss.
Our original plan for this and the following day had been quite different. If the refuge at Bayasse had been open wed have stayed there, following a track the next day either to the Restefond north of the Bonette or across the Col de la Moutière instead, bypassing the Bonette completely. If wed known of the hotel at St. Laurent we might have done something similar. But we dont regret having had a proper climb of the Bonette forced on us.
If the Bonette had still been shut we dont know what wed have done. Our favourite option was to reascend the Bachelard as far as Bayasse and attack the Col de la Moutière, which is at 2454m. However it is unlikely that snowploughs visit it, and it would have been hard to get information about its state.