We unexpectedly ended up heading through the stunning Mont Cenis Pass, to get from France to Italy, and it was an experience that delivered breath-taking views, thrilling twists and turns (lots of them) and an abundance of historical and natural wonders to enjoy. This scenic route gave us Fort Marie Therese, from where you can take several via ferrata routes on the Via Ferrata du Diable up to Fort Victor Emmanuel; stationery chairlifts hanging empty and silent just metres above us; a beautiful lake at the summit and the remains of Grand Croix abandoned village which was the only village ‘saved’ when the dam was built and all the other local villages were flooded. Join us as we take you on a captivating journey through this picturesque mountain pass.
Fort Marie Therese and Via Ferrata: As you make your way through the Mont Cenis Pass, a stop at Fort Marie Therese is almost impossible to resist. This impressive 19th-century fortress offers up a large car park, a snack bar (not open when we visited), toilets, high ropes courses and picnic tables. We stopped to drink in the amazing scenery.
Serene Lake and Grand Croix Abandoned Village: After winding our way through the twisty, steeply climbing roads and hairpin bends, we were eventually greeted by the serene beauty of Lake Mont Cenis. Not particularly blue on the day we passed by, and with the water level not as high as it really should be, it is still breath-taking and certainly merited stopping, again…. At the head of the lake we stopped for a spot of lunch while it snowed lightly outside the van 🙂
As we began our descent towards Italy and just a short distance from the lake, we stumbled upon the ghostly Grand Croix abandoned village – I say stumbled, we could clearly see it from our lunch spot, but it wasn’t clear just how abandoned it was from there. Frozen in time, this ghost town offers a hauntingly beautiful sight. We explored the crumbling houses (I waited for Calv to head back to the van to get his raincoat before venturing inside 1 of the buildings) and overgrown paths, and imagined the lives that once thrived in this remote location. It would appear however that the chapel is still in use (much like the church in Dorset’s abandoned village of Tyneham). As we left I spotted the sign saying it was too dangerous to enter (as I said to Calv I’m not daft, and I was careful to not step anywhere dodgy…)
Customs and the Border: The village is behind a large car park and hut. This is the customs hut (no longer used). This isn’t the actual border as we first thought (hence the daft photo – we thought that 1 of us was in France and the other in Italy…), but where the border is, a little way further along the road, there is no possibility of a customs point. There is also evidence of the original road here. Whilst at the village we spotted some more Marmots running around and hiding from us behind clumps of grass – although we could still hear them squeaking to each other (and, who knows, perhaps to us as well 🙂
Overnight in Chianocco: By the time we were in Italy we were shattered, so made a quick stop at the first Lidl supermarket we saw – Calv stayed in the van whilst I went in to get a couple of essentials (it would appear that Lidl in Italy is way better than Lidl in France).
For our first overnight stay in Italy we headed up just beyond Bussonelo to the village of Chianocco. We parked up amidst the scenic beauty of the countryside enjoying views of mountains and grapevines, and enjoyed a restful night’s sleep after sitting out for the 1st time on our trip (with coats on though!!). This set us up nicely for our onward journey south through Italy (starting with a stay in the beautiful city of Cuneo)
We’re so glad that we met up with Gary from @Happy2Dream who persuaded us (although it didn’t take much to be fair!) to abandon our plans to go through the Frejus tunnel (which would have cost us at least 68Euros – probably more like 80Euros) and head over the pass.
Because driving over the Mont Cenis Pass, even in an 8.5m motorhome, from France to Italy gave us an unforgettable experience, and is the highlight of our trip so far 🙂 (especially the village of Grand Croix). I watched Calv enjoying every minute of the drive – he said it’s so much better than using the motorways 🙂
So, if this is something that you’ve considered and dismissed, or are still undecided, our advice is to go for it (unless it’s snowing….) You won’t regret it – we didn’t 🙂