No, we didn’t have it half as difficult as Hannibal! Still, crossing the Alps and being rewarded with views like the one below felt every bit as glorious.
Ah, it was the stuff lifelong memories are made of!
After spending time in Turin on our slow way back to England from Italy, we were now on the Italian-French border high up on a mountainous slope.
The view was too breathtaking for us to simply register it quickly through the windows of our little red car. So, we stopped for a while. The air was crisp and chilly, but being this high up, the sun shone straight down on us, warming us quickly in its embrace. Wild flowers covered the alpine meadows around us adding bursts of colour to the otherwise blue and green landscape.
We had left Turin around lunchtime and drove through small Italian villages for a while. The mountains made their presence felt all around us. Rugged high hills surrounded the road on both sides and in the distance the Alps loomed.
Soon the ascent started. We drove up and up following the never ending bends and turns of a road with a precipice bordering one of its sides. We ended up so high up that clouds were resting lazily on the peaks facing our car.
Daredevil motorbikes were zooming up and down the road around us. We were more cautious than them, driving at a steady rhythm and just taking it all in.
Tectonic plate movements created the Alps. They jammed the Italian peninsula – originally part of the African continental plate – into Europe. Apparently, this is the reason why the Italian side of the Alps is much steeper and dramatic than the French one.
The road started to feel almost vertical and just then a simple road sign announced our arrival in France. Almost immediately the landscape mellowed and the precipitous verticals transformed into wide undulating curves.
By that point we had been on the road for four days and had started to really enjoy the sheer process of travelling, of passing through places and collecting visual memories as we fleeted past.
Just then the azure dam appeared in view. It was time to step out of the car. Seated in the green alpine grass, we had a moment of feeling on top of the world.
It was quiet and peaceful. I could have easily spent there the whole day just lying on the green grass, feeling the gentle aroma of the wild flowers and looking up and down to the big blue in front of me.
Too soon though it was time to leave. Just as we were piling back in our little red car, camera safely tucked away for the ride, a herd of cows appeared in view down by the lake. It was such a perfect alpine scene, now forever imprinted in my memory.
The cows were a perfect chocolate brown just with a few white patches here and there to make them look just picture perfect. On our way down the slope of the Alps we encountered many more herds. Sometimes they would be lying down by the very road, other times they would be perched high up on the mountainsides.
Their presence explained the number of dairy farms and fromageries we saw every few kilometres or so.
We kept following the winding road down and down the slope. Pine forests and green meadows alternated in our line of view. A little valley at the bottom of a hill cuddled a winter resort. Being summer, it was all closed now, still a wave of activity could be felt around the place.
New chalets and hotels were being built, roads were being spruced up and the slate rooftops of the houses glinted in the sun very much akin to a dragon’s flaked skin.
We crossed a bridge over a river which had dried down to a little trickle in is vast pebbled bed. Just then I spotted something quite glorious and shouted: ‘Turn the car back!’.
Startled, my husband obliged and we were rewarded with this.
We were in Bramans – the place where Hannibal – the daring military commander from Carthage – crossed the Alps in winter with his 37 elephants and thousands of men.
We had to stop there for a little bit and pay our respect to the strength of the human spirit.
Before we knew it, it was time to go on. We had our own crossing to do. Actually, two of them.
First, we needed to go across France – all the way from the Alps through Burgundy then Rheims and Lille to Dunkirk. Then, the English channel awaited us.
We kept following the sloping curve of the Alps down to France’s largest lake where we were to spend the night. It was a glorious day and one which had gone down into the annals of our little family.