Salut, Ciao, Hi !

We love making bikes as much as riding them

My cart (0)

Your shopping cart is empty!

Continue shopping
Alta Via del Sale / Elle à un goût de salé, un goût de reviens-y

Alta Via del Sale / It has a salty taste, a taste of "come back for more."

A trail of almost 100 km between two borders: France and Italy. In the middle, a high-altitude refuge and the promise of a good meal. The menu is Italian, and we're going to enjoy it.

This time we're taking our friends with us. The Massacan club is getting on board the train of wonders. Heading to Breil-sur-Roya, the starting point for an epic adventure.

We start with a bit of road, a few kilometers, but it's not too long. It's a pleasure to feel the freshness of the mountains again, with the river below and no one honking at us. The scenery is breathtaking with gorges, rocks, and towering mountains. We ride blissfully until we quench our thirst at the first and last bakery. We already know the address. Cold cans for everyone and some pastries before we start the ascent (yes, focaccia counts as breakfast!).

Here we go! We turn left to take the road to Castérino. It's a never-ending climb that winds through the valley and leads to this small hamlet, the starting point for magical hikes and the end of the asphalt roads, where we switch to dirt trails. To reach the village, we've already gained about 1000 meters of elevation, approximately. That sets the tone for the day, and it's just the beginning. But the best is yet to come, with a first "posto magico": a small bridge, a waterfall, a river, and a view of the trail that awaits us further ahead. It's worth a short break in the shade of a tiny tree where we huddle together to share some cheese from a nearby dairy farm and some sausage from Jeremy (the proud owner of a pink Paula and a talented charcutier from Vésubie). A quick snack to recharge our energy, especially for Antoine.G, who still has a hangover from the night before.

The objective of this stretch is the Baisse de Peïrefique, a crossroad of trails. We encounter hikers, motorcycles, and smoky 4x4s. Unfortunately, the famous "Route du Sel" is not a protected area, and everyone wants to pass through it. But overall, we coexist to have this unique experience. The summit also promises a less steep slope and a more undulating terrain. We take a group photo to mark the moment before we descend our first trail.

We are now on the footsteps of the merchants and their mules. They used these routes on foot to exchange goods between the two neighboring countries. A long journey that shaped the landscape, between ancient military and trade routes that our gravel bikes joyfully explore. The trail is smooth until the Col de Tende, and our little herd is enjoying it. We descend at full speed, being careful of speed bumps or fellow cyclists admiring the view and ending up in the dust stirred up by excited dogs. We pass an old fortress, reminders of past conflicts. Then, we catch a glimpse of the mythical road of the Col de Tende with its 46 hairpin turns, but for us, we'll take the smugglers' path. It's even more magnificent. The pace accelerates within the peloton, hungry for adventure. Because at the end of this trail lies Italy, the chalet "Le Marmotte," and its polenta.

At around 2:30 PM, we arrive to order the main course, dessert, and strong coffee before settling on the terrace. We indulge in the delicious Italian food and admire the view from the high-altitude chalet. Some of us close our eyes, lying on the bench or directly on the terrace. Friday night took its toll. This stop is a must: to fill our stomachs, replenish our water supply, and also because of the name "Marmotte," like Paula's mascot. But that's another story.

We set off again. The most beautiful part awaits us before we reach the refuge of Don Barbera. It marks the official start of the Via del Sale, with a passage through an imaginary barrier to pay a toll (free for bicycles but payable for all motor vehicles). We proudly collect a sticker in exchange. It doesn't take much to make us happy. We leave a Massacan sticker along with the others on the keeper's window.

I won't lie to you; the next climb is tough. We pass under a vacation chairlift to switch to the other side of the mountain. It's not insurmountable, but it involves some switchbacks, a considerable incline, and then, the polenta... Matt grabs the camera and takes the opportunity to get ahead. This will result in some great photos of us on the trail with motorcycles descending. Looking at those photos, we feel like we're at the end of the world. Mountains, the trail, nothing else. At the summit, we open our arms wide to breathe the air and admire what lies ahead.

Let's go for an endless trail, as far as the eye can see. It's dizzying. And you see there, between the two rocks? That's THE trail, THE view, THE serpentine turn, the place for all the photos of the Route du Sel! So why wait? One by one, we descend into the hollow of the mountain to slowly climb up to that specific spot. Hidden behind a huge rock, we discover this "posto magico" at the last moment. A stunning view of mountains as far as the eye can see. We take some photos. Some of us use the opportunity to work on their poses, or even climb the twisted rock in the middle. Mostly, we take the time to look as far as possible.

With stars still in our eyes, we continue our journey. Still not satiated by our day, we have a hilly, rocky section ahead, but the hardest part is behind us. Some marmots welcome our arrival with whistles, but we'll have to wait until tomorrow to catch a glimpse of their furry profile.

A descent calls for a photo, and I stay high to watch the group go down. I wait, and nothing happens... I suspect a fall in the last turn. Matt is the winner! He wanted to race Antoine G, the mountain biker of the group... But nothing serious; we continue like little kids. We ride. We wait for each other. We take photos. And we eat some candies that were left in our saddlebags.

It's barely 6:00 PM, and we arrive at the refuge of Don Barbera. Italy, the promise of a good table, and a night in community await us. I proudly say a few words in Italian: "Ciao, sono Lucie. Ho pronotato una camera per 4 persone..." etc. And it works! We discover our tiny 7-bed room! We won't be cold. Before entering, we take off our shoes and leave them in a small storage room. Then, we place them where our shoe size is indicated, to borrow a worn-out pair of flip-flops. The holy grail! From now on, it feels like home.

Off to the shower with our 10-liter token. We mustn't use the left shower, which stops after 1 minute, right in the middle of soaping up, and that would be a mess. We pass the towels through the curtain, laugh out loud, and, most importantly, we are all clean for the aperitif and a meal with Italian flavors.

Our table is the "francese" one with three friends with backpacks. The refuge is full. It's noisy, the dishes and jugs of red wine are passed around. We take off our jackets, our cheeks flush as we fill our glasses. The menu includes cheese polenta as an appetizer, risotto as a starter, sausages, lentils, and potatoes as the main course, followed by a light chocolate dessert after savoring the main dish. We fold ourselves between the tables and the crowd to go outside and watch the stars while enjoying a small glass of grappa. Buona notte.

The next day, we wake up like a caterpillar in our sleeping bags. For those who forgot their earplugs, the night was short. A coffee is more than welcome before we pack our things, oil our bikes, and set off again. It promises to be a light day.

The program is to descend everything we climbed, about 1500 meters, and enjoy the view. And above all, we enter a landscape of undergrowth, brightly colored flowers, and paths under the pine trees.

To leave the refuge, we climb straight ahead in front of a large rock face. The scenery takes us even further away from reality. As we go around this rock, we slide onto a trail that opens its arms wide to us. Roll, roll! Oh, wait, look there. What? A marmot! So, they are still here in this valley. Hi there! It disappears under a carpet of pink and white flowers, and we rush to take photos. After about ten shots, including one pair of (beautiful) buttocks, we continue on the road.

A ticket for the roller coasters, please: it goes up, it goes down, it glides, and it plays. We revel in the landscape. We overtake each other and wait for one another. Each at their own pace. But we all wish we could slow down time, right here, in this valley. A small water source invites us to fill our filtered water bottles (after almost a year of trouble-free use, it has reached its limit to remind us to be wary of clear water... but that's another story... #vomit).

Then, in the middle of nowhere, a small cabin and a strong coffee. We're still in Italy, but not for much longer. Flirting with the border, we head towards the Col de Seigneurs. The last climb and a symbolic passage back into France. We cross paths with a few 4x4 Pandas, another treasure of Italy. The summit is zigzagged but we skirt around it to take another route. Between two mountains, at the Col des Siegneurs, we take a break with the "pomodori e formaggio" sandwiches prepared by the refuge.

Down below, we see a village, La Brigue, at the end of the journey. So, we take our time, walk around, have a view from the restroom before descending on a section of rough road. Huge rocks arranged like steps carry our dangerous descent, but it's entirely manageable. It's a bit bumpy, but it works. Arms in suspension! I must admit that the first time, I hated it, but now, with a better-equipped and more practical bike, I enjoy it. A small piece of advice: tubeless-ready is a must, and a good tire section of 45 is recommended. The descent continues into the woods, a path with tall grass. A carpet of earth on the ground. We have at least 10 km of pleasure to stretch our legs and pedal without exerting too much effort. A few photos at the bend to stir up the dust.

Then comes the grand descent... an endless section, never-ending, with a generous slope. The crazy ones go down at full speed, and I'm not far behind them. The last section of the trail marks the end of the adventure. At the end of the descent, our hands are sore, but we have smiles from ear to ear. So, shall we do it again?

The Massacan club with Lucie, Matthieu, Antoine.M, and Antoine G.