Angie's SLK Goes to France

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st13phil

Hardcore MB Enthusiast
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A little bit of history…

In September every year during the mid-1990’s up until the time when a certain B. Ecclestone spoiled the show by buying the track, I used to ride down through France with a bunch of friends on motorcycles to watch the Bol d’Or 24hr endurance race at the Paul Ricard circuit at Le Castellet in the south of France. We’d leave Dover on a 6am ferry to Calais on a Thursday and ride for almost two days to get to our hotel in Bandol on the south coast late afternoon on Friday. We’d hit the circuit around lunchtime on Saturday in time for the start, watch a bit of racing then return to Bandol for a bit of relaxation before returning to the circuit again to watch the antics after nightfall. In general we didn’t bother to go to the circuit again, missing the finish on Sunday in favour of a ride in the Provence hills. The ride back north would start on Monday morning, and we’d catch our ferry home late Tuesday afternoon. Due to the distances covered the ride would always be frenetic and we’d return home pretty exhausted, but it was a great excuse to get some of the last of the summer sun without flying somewhere. Also, back in those days, once south of Lyon the French Police operated a laissez-faire attitude to all but the most extreme and/or dangerous riding which meant that you could really, err, “enjoy” the ride without risk of getting fined. Happy days.

Fast forward to 2009…

Returning from a motorcycle trip to Italy in late June, as we travelled back through the Vosges, the Alsace and then the Champagne region, I remarked to my wife Angie how I’d almost forgotten quite how good riding (and driving) in France could be and how we really ought to think about planning a trip to France rather than through France. At the beginning of August Angie became the proud owner of a nice new SLK350 and we decided very quickly that it would be a shame to miss out on a decent road trip this year while there was still a possibility of doing it in sunshine. We quickly agreed that a reprise of my old Bol d’Or trips, but in a slightly more relaxed fashion, would be just the ticket. Here’s a short account of what happened.

Friday 28th August

Took the 16:20 Le Scuttle from Folkestone and drove to Cambrai to stay at a comfortable hotel we’ve used many times, The Beatus. This hotel is owned and run by Philippe Gorcynski who is also an historian of the Battle of Cambrai and author of the book ‘Following the Tanks’. You can read more about his discovery, exhumation and preservation / storage of a WWI British Mark IV Tank here. Philippe is, as one may expect, an entertaining host and should anyone be interested in a group trip to Cambrai for a weekend perhaps next spring then let me know and I’ll see what can be arranged.

Saturday 29th August

I wanted to get as far south as practical, but without busting a gut, so that we could spend the maximum amount of time south of Lyon where experience told me the weather is always best. As enjoying the south of the country was the primary objective of this trip, there was no point in wasting time smelling the roses in northern France, so this was for the most part a day on the autoroutes as we headed south to Grenoble. The exception was to be a drive down the N71 from Troyes to Dijon. I first found this road in 1995 and have ridden it in both directions many times since. It follows the Seine for much of its length, passing through some gorgeous countryside and small towns & villages. It has some wonderful flowing, open, bends; it rises and falls; it has some challenging sections (there’s a tightening uphill right-hander on the exit of the tiny hamlet of Courceau as you head south that has caught out pretty much everyone I know the first time they rode it); and you get a final twisty descent into the outskirts of Dijon. Great stuff.

We left Cambrai at about 10:00am once our heads had cleared from the wine consumed the night before, with the roof of the SLK down in lovely sunshine. Our first fuel stop was just north of Bar-sur-Seine and the drive down the N71 was as enjoyable as it should be. This really is the sort of road the SLK is made for. We followed the ring road around the east of Dijon and then it was back on the autoroute for the final leg past Lyon and on to Grenoble, arriving around 6:30pm. Having never stayed in Grenoble before I’d taken the easy option and booked us into the Mercure Grand President on a special deal rate. The hotel was the usual standard you’d expect from the Mercure chain, with the usual mixture of facilities including a secure garage which I’d considered a priority for Angie’s new car. It turned out to be no more than a ten-minute walk to the old part of the town which provided a reasonable choice of eateries and bars, and if we hadn’t fancied walking we could have used the sparkly new tram system instead. Due to our relatively late arrival we didn’t get much of an opportunity to explore, but the vertigo-inducing cable-car ride across the river to the Bastille looked interesting and is on our list for another time.

More later, including some piccies...
 
Sounds like fun and in the very right car!
I've been a Paul Ricard regular since the mid 80's and always try to stay in Bandol...but no more than about 40 times so far. Haven't been since April.:(
Look forward to details of the rest of your 'Tour de France' and we seem to share a fondness of bikes and our wife's SLKs!:D
 
Sounds great! What was the mpg like? I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the low to mid thirties I get from mine on motorways and open roads. And I don't drive for economy either!!
 
Sounds like fun and in the very right car!
I've been a Paul Ricard regular since the mid 80's and always try to stay in Bandol...but no more than about 40 times so far. Haven't been since April.:(
Look forward to details of the rest of your 'Tour de France' and we seem to share a fondness of bikes and our wife's SLKs!:D
Being the end of August when we went it was impossible to find a double room in any of the decent Bandol hotels which have garage parking :( So we went to the next small town along the coast instead :)

BTW, I think you're probably bang on regarding us sharing a liking for certain toys :rock:
Sounds great! What was the mpg like? I must say that I have been pleasantly surprised with the low to mid thirties I get from mine on motorways and open roads. And I don't drive for economy either!!
I'll post up some figures towards the end of the travelogue but suffice to say that although 30mpg+ is achievable we didn't do that well, probably due to extensive exploration of the far right-hand side of the tacho dial :crazy:
 
Hitting the South

Sunday 30th August

This was to be the start of the southern portion of the trip and we were greeted by a gorgeous clear, bright, sunny morning for our onward journey. I’d picked Grenoble for our previous night’s stop for reasons of location as it is at the northern end of the Route Napoleon (the N85) to Grasse and the French Riviera. This road is quite legendary in motorcycling circles, was inaugurated in 1932 and follows the route that Napoleon took in 1815 as he marched north on his return from Elba. For me the most scenic sections are south of Digne-les-Bains (although the sections north of Sisteron are pretty good too) and as Angie has travelled the length of the Route Napoleon with me before I decided to head south on the N75 over the Col de la Croix Haute as this is similarly scenic but would be new for Angie.

Those who know France will also know that everyone in the country goes on holiday during August, and as this was the weekend immediately prior to the start of September there was quite a bit of traffic heading in the opposite direction. However, most of it seemed to be on the autoroutes which left the best roads relatively quiet :D Here are a couple of pic’s taken from the passenger seat of the SLK as we travelled down the N75 towards Sisteron:

N75_1.jpg


N75_2.jpg


South of a line struck through Gap, the N75 becomes less scenic (just like the equivalent section of the Route Napoleon) as you follow a wide flat valley heading south to Sisteron, but there are still a few good views, predominately to the west, and the road is fast and open with good visibility and plenty of opportunity for overtakes :thumb:

Sisteron’s walled Citadel is easily visible from the A51 and I’d always had to just blast past it when on my Bol d’Or trips, so three or four years ago Angie and I took the opportunity to stop there for a night and explore. It’s a pleasant enough place, and the views from the top of the fortifications are fantastic as it is located between two long mountain ridges (Baume/Gache and the Lure mountain/Moulard), but it’s a place to stop off and take a look at rather than spend time in. Interestingly, even though it was a significant fortification in 1815, because it had remained Royalist during the French Revolution, when Napoleon arrived on his march north the town simply ignored him and let him through. As you enter the town from the north on the N75 you pass through a long tunnel, and a Mercedes V6 Roadster in an unnecessarily low gear sounds great as the noise reverberates around ;)

South of Sisteron we joined the Route Napoleon heading west to Digne-les-Bains before the route turns south-west towards Grasse. After a pleasant lunch stop we set about enjoying both the drive and the views. This is another great road which rises and falls, swoops and twists and turns, sometimes clinging precariously to the side of a mountain, sometimes actually cut through short sections of rock, and sometimes much more open and flowing. I must say that some of the tighter twisty sections of this road are much more difficult to enjoy in a RHD Roadster than they are on two wheels purely because the road gets quite narrow and sight lines when tight against a mountain can be quite compromised. That said, an SLK350 is still lots of fun :D

Here's a pic of one of the cuttings through the edge of the mountain:

N85_1.jpg


Fantastic views off to the right:

N85_2.jpg


And, at last, a picture with the car in it (and Angie in the car!) to prove we were there:

N85_3.jpg


Just north of Grasse we turned onto the narrow Route de Cabris to cut through to the D562 heading west to Draguignan then south to Le Muy, finally picking up the autoroute network to Toulon and our eventual destination of Sanary-sur-Mer.

To be continued...
 
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Sound like a brilliant trip, and a great car to do it in. How many miles did you do and what sort of MPG did you get overall.
 

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