Despite getting out every day, well, twice a day to work, I was still a bit stir crazy. Glorious mountains dazzled and towered all around me, glistening in the sunshine, stark against the deep blue sky but our little window faced north onto a low hillside. It was a pretty outlook but I had been gazing onto it for three seasons. I couldn’t ski, I couldn’t walk very far but we had the van. We had to make use of it, make it work for us, instead of always against us. Use of it in our free time was the payment in lieu of all the extra hours of work it produced.
An unexplored road disappeared around the hillside from Huez, below the kitchen window in the chalet. Sign-posted Villard Reculas, we knew where it went. We had visited the top of this village often enough on runs from the top of Signal, the destination of our own secret chair lift at the back of the apartment block. But we had never approached it by road, from the south, so a trip out was my suggestion for our day off, to which Roger was amenable.
Down 3 hairpin bends then a right turn into the village of Huez brought us up behind the post van. He did manage to locate an entrance where he could let us past. Weaving our way between less than perpendicular buildings, leaning in to try to kiss each other over head, we emerged at the bottom of the bubble lift and, turning left under the cables, entered unfamiliar territory. The single track road (minus passing places) clung to the steep hillside as we skirted around the rock face overlooking the valley a few hundred meters below. Whilst we knew this area well from the chalet, the slightly different perspective from this unknown angle gave us new view of the surrounding gorges and escarpments.
The road was also signposted as the footpath to Villard so we had to negotiate a series of pedestrians and dog walkers who were also enjoying the scenery. We were in no hurry, this was our ‘Sunday Afternoon Drive’ and the road was not conducive to speed, probably not even by those familiar with its blind corners and breath-taking precipices.
We approached a collection of wooden chalets tumbling down the white blanketed hillside, having never realised how many there were from our only previous view from the ski runs. The road took us between buildings snuggled even closer together than those at Huez. The sign at the bend before the village had demanded that cars not be parked on the road and now we could see why. Then the road opened out to a small parking area on a right-hand bend, just past the square-towered church. There was one space left so we pulled in.
The view was stunning. Hedgerows demarcated the symmetrical fields along the valley floor, outriders to the contained river. Hamlets were scattered on vaguely flatter patches of land in the gorges opposite. A band of clouds formed a necklace around the peaks beyond Vaujanay whilst Villard Reculas (no longer ‘Ridiculous’, the nickname we gave it in our first season) basked in the sun from its south facing slope. This was the picture of postcards.
We absorbed what we could, took the mandatory photos after seeing without a lens and continued on the road to discover what other gems we could find. Nothing lived up to that vista in the immediate vicinity so we took an new route down to the valley bottom and into Bourg, where we would fill up with petrol at non-mountain prices. The supermarket has one pump which is not card only, necessitating a poor soul to sit in the kiosk, waiting for the occasional customer who wants to use cash. However, this transpired to not be a full-time job and we only had cash. This was a bit of a disappointment but not really a problem when we were able to enjoy what must be one of the best views from any supermarket.
We started back up the 21 bends and took an alternative approach to ADH. Again a road we watch from the kitchen window when chopping numerous onions or peeling 5kg of apples for the crumble, but have never taken. This would bring us out in the Bergers quarter of town which also contains the only petrol station. We pulled in, two pumps, both ‘card only’. Roger doesn’t have a credit card and I have one for emergencies only and don’t carry it with me (because you always know when you’re going to have an emergency – might need to re-think that). It expires at the end of the month anyway, fortunately, emergencies don’t happen in March and April.
We’d had a lovely drive out in the local area, seen a different view of our familiar environment, relished the vistas and used up some petrol. Oops!