Following the usual format for our ‘nothing handles like a rental’ adventures, I disembarked another budget airline flight, collected the keys to something ordinary, and walked into the sweltering heat of Nice airport’s carpark for another fix of low cost high jinks.
Resisting the temptation to just schmooze the day away up the road in Monaco I set the destination on my battered old TomTom to Europe’s highest through road. The Col de la Bonette. It had been closed due to snow on our last trip in May but, with a temperature of 32°C as I left Nice, I was confident of a clear run. A quick mention on the car. The rental company had tried to foist a Meriva on me but, not being a motoring masochist, I refused. Instead I got an automotive appliance. A brand new Hyundai i30 diesel. We don’t do car reviews on s2b2 but if we did, the Hyundai i30 would be ‘not half as shit as you’d think’. Leaving the busy airport on a Toll road the traffic thinned as I joined a Route Nationale, and had vanished on the route Départementale that zigzags up into the mountains of the Mercantour national park. The road to Col de la Bonette (also called Col de Restefond) is well signposted and as Yazz sang, ‘ The only way is up’. I left my TomTom running anyway as the woman with the Swedish voice gives me the horn.
I climbed from the south, dry roads, but it was pretty cold and with considerable cack on the road as a result of snow melt. The last couple of villages were almost deserted, roofless houses and no sign of life, very eery. I was happily martyring the i30’s front tyres through the many switchbacks up the mountainside when I spotted a lone shepherd high above me and felt instantly guilty at the racket I had been making up the empty valley. I backed off. As I finally reached him I could see he was actually grinning, waving me on with both arms, having clearly enjoyed my hooning. Shortly afterwards I passed through the ruined military camp of Camp des Fourches and got clear sight of the peak of Col de la Bonette. It is utterly beguiling. I slowed down, not because of the now altitude-sick i30, but because the view of the peak was like a siren willing me off the road on to the rocks below. There are no crash barriers, no kerbstones, and no margin for error at any speed. The final corner still had snow on it and an ascent of 15%, no more hooning here.
The summit of Col de Bonette is 2802m, a mile (and three quarter) high, and is marked by a stone monument. There’s a colossal drop into the valley below and a footpath up the scree to the windy peak next to the roadside. Firmly applying the handbrake and leaving it in gear, I left the car on the very edge of the narrow road, and scrambled up the mountain for a better view and to take the pics you see here. Breathtaking. Literally. I got vertigo and scurried back to the car, sweating despite the cold air, heart pumping. I got into the car and started the engine for some warmth. The i30 then leapt forward about 2 feet and I did some poo, having forgotten I had left it in gear. I wonder if the rental company would have pursued my merry widow for the cost of replacing the i30 ?
I stayed at Hotel L’Ecureuil in Auron before heading home the following day, my *ahem* animal friendly review having gone under the radar of TripAdvisor, online here.
Our rental adventures prove that your choice of car doesn’t matter because, if you can get it up, the mile (and three quarter) high club is a pretty special place to be.