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Of Swallows, Marmots and Alpine Splendor

Posted by on July 11, 2013

 A summer afternoon thunderstorm is building in the view outside my window. Sainte-Victoire is conducting a swelling chorus of clouds;  the percussion section prepares to take its turn; the air freshens.

 

 But the swallows, les hirondelles, take no notice of the approaching storm. They are busy catching dinner for their babies perched in the eaves just inches above my window. Fewer mosquitoes for me, more food for them, bravo. Two, three, eight-at-a-time: they swoop and dive within centimeters of entering my living room. Keeping the windows wide open is a calculated risk: a refreshing breeze for me, a dive-through dinner for the kids.

 

 Just ten days ago, after Ken and his Set Club team won a regional golf tournament at Digne-les-Bains, we set off for Grenoble to claim a prize that Ken had won in a fall tournament. Taking the “back roads” we found ourselves in intriguing terrain.

Les Demoiselles Coiffées

Les Demoiselles Coiffées

 

 This is a protected park site of naturally-occuring capped earth pillars that are called “Les Demoiselles Coiffés” du Sauze du Lac.

 

 After winding through hairpin turns along the sides of cliffs, beside azure lakes, we turned west at Briançon into the magnificent mountains of the High Alps, climbing through the Col de Lauteret. We were thrilled to find a botanical garden in full spring bloom at the very top of the pass.

Botanical Garden Col de Lauteret

Botanical Garden Col de Lauteret

birds of the botanical gardenAnd did I mention sheep? This area is their summer grazing ground.

Our strolling friends

Our strolling friends

The prize we were after on this trip across the mountains was a many-course Sunday “market lunch” at Le Grand Hotel Restaurant Les Terrasses in the spa town of Uriage-les-Bains, just east of Grenoble.

Hotel & gardens at Uriage les Bains

Hotel & gardens at Uriage les Bains

The hotel is on the left, peeking through the willow tree. While we nibbled our “amuse bouche” on the terrasse, summer scenes in the garden below entertained us.

a boy and his horse

a boy and his horse

 

The etiquette of the luncheon meal was orchestrated by a maitre d’hotel, several sous-maitre-d’hotel, des serveurs et serveuses, and other functionaries who slipped in and out of view like ghosts. On command we were moved silently from the terrasse to the dining room where other Sunday patrons dined and murmured in hushed voices.  Happily, a very young french honeymooning couple was seated at the table next to us, and occasionally we would glance at each other and get the giggles. It seems they were as clueless as we were as to what these delicacies were that huddled on our plates before us, and exactly which course were we on now?

 

Three hours later we were released to take coffee in the garden and stroll, à la Seurat. Oh dear, I forgot my parasol.

coffee in the garden

coffee in the garden

 

Having been revived by the coffee and tea, we followed our strong urge to flee back to the mountains and retrace our steps among the high peaks to make our way home the next day. Before nightfall, we found a modern little chalet perched on a hillside in the town of La Grave where we could enjoy an unobstructed view of La Meije, elev. 13,071ft. at sunset and sunrise.

Room with a view

Room with a view

A little stroll in the town of La Grave before an evening snack took us to the church and its cemetery.

La Grave

La Grave

The church at La Grave

The church at La Grave

A lovely place to rest

A lovely place to rest

I loved this sign in town announcing upcoming summer games.

Alpine summer games

Alpine summer games

The next day, we found a winding road that took us deep into a long valley and brought us to exquisite alpine meadows and several refuges, some of which were a walk of several km. We strolled the meadow, had lunch at one refuge, and enjoyed a marmot at play beside us.

meadows, streams and flowers

meadows, streams and flowers

view from lunch at the refuge

view from lunch at the refuge

une marmotte

une marmotte

I suppose our trip from Aix to Digne to Grenoble and back again is a little bit like going from semi-arid SLO (similar climate to Aix en Provence) to Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne meadows, and the Lodge beyond for lunch (a different sort of lunch for sure), and back again in two days. The distances aren’t all that different; however the density and magnitude of the Alps feel quite different from the Yosemite area.

Next week we will be traveling in very different terrain to Southport,  on the northwest coast of England, just up from Liverpool, where the British Senior Open Golf Championship takes place July 22-28. This time we’re taking the train from Aix to Liverpool (nine hours in all) to be sure Ken’s clubs arrive on time with us (a repeated nightmare on the Scotland trip), and to allow a leisurely transition before the pressures of tournament practice and play.  

We’ll keep you posted!

Bisous to all,

Karen and Ken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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