Six months ago when my husband, Andy, showed me the road to Villard Notre Dame snaking half way up the rock face of an Alp on the Internet, I exclaimed my amazement that such a road existed and secretly hoped he had no desire of actually seeing the road in person. I should have known better.
Between Andy and two of our most adventurous friends, there was no way we were not going to ascend the precarious road. How could we possibly resist a narrow French road built into a cliff with hazards of falling rocks and four pitch black tunnels, one over 400 meters long, dripping water on the few people crazy enough to ride their bikes through? We had to take advantage of a rare trip without our kids to literally live on the edge.
We set out on our adventure to ride to Villard Notre Dame from our host town, Bourg d’Oisans, the day after we ascended the more famous Alpe d’Huez climb, talk about an ambitious vacation exercise plan. When we weren’t worrying about early deaths in the middle of the French Alps, we kept asking ourselves and one another, why the French would go to the effort to build such a crazy, presumingly expensive, road on the edge of an alpine rock wall.
Today Villard Notre Dame, seems to function as a small, not even very quaint tourist destination, but at one point, someone apparently discovered enough gold near the location of the current town to spur the construction of aforementioned vertical road. The gold coupled with the French Alpine culture that mountains do not get in the way of doing anything, and it all at once made perfect sense.
The ride and the Alps were the showcase of the day. The tunnels were so dark, our measly bike lamps barely dented the blackness. Unbeknownst to me at the time, our friend took this video of us in the longest of the tunnels. I was trying very hard not to get scared but I did pick up the pace in a desire to see the literal light at the end of the tunnel.
With all of the gawking and photo taking, the ascent took us a long time but we finally reached the tiny town of Villard Notre Dame. After every turn we gawked a little deeper and pulled out our iPhones for more photos. I literally had to delete photos of my kids when my phone filled up.
The town was less impressive than the road that led us to it but the view from above, like all in this region of France, absolutely takes your breath away.
We stopped for a Coke where we met a group of riders from a posh cycling club in Sheffield, England. They talked us into following them on a different route down the mountain which was supposed to be all downhill with 400 meters of flat “track” but what was actually two miles of uphill dirt road. Being that we were on road bikes, it was a little sketchy but the views and company made it all worth it. Before the final dirt uphill stretch, we all cursed the Englishman from Liverpool who talked the cycling club and then us into going the other direction.
It all turned out to be worth it and we were glad we’d seen another side of the mountain, especially since we avoided the nearly 400m pitch black tunnel on the way down.
All in all it was the most quality 20 miles we’ve ever ridden on a bike and despite being scared, this ride is a must do for any cyclist traveling in the French Alps.