Col de la Madone

Friday 25 April

Peille/Col de Banquettes/ Col de la Madone.

We make an early start for this hilly ride. Having descended the hairpins from our own village, we then start the steeper longer ascent to Peille, which is a considerable climb. Here in weak sunlight we eat pieces of flan to power us up the cols to come.

We decide to take the higher col first which is the col de la Madone, where, as we near the summit we can see mist pouring like water through the pass.

By the time we arrive the whole area is covered in thick mist like a sea fret and the view is obscured by a mist so thick that it is hard to see the edges of the road  Our onward route to Sainte Agnes is also blanketed in this fog and we see nothing of the views down to the sea or the sheer drops off the side of the road where there is no fence.  After a few miles of descent, We start to see a perched village clinging to the sides of a great cliff.  This is Ste Agnes, which we visit briefly before turning onto the very quiet and narrow road that leads to the Col des Banquettes. This road is closed to traffic due to land and rockslides,(eboulements) and we are lucky that the large machinery allowed us to pass.  The raod was covered in stonefall, and in a generally unkempt condition, and seemed to be really remote. Views to the right were of high friable north facing cliffs, that threatened our progress while to the left, every so often, precipitous tiny roads curled off down the mountain leading to a remote and lonely homestead a few kilometres away.

As with much of the country around here there is a strong history and association with the wars.   Ouvrage Col des Banquettes is a lesser fortification of the Maginot Line’s Alpine extension, the Alpine Line. The fort consists of two entry blocks and one infantry block facing Italy at the top of the Col des Banquettes, 2km northwest of Saint-Agnès. The position controlled the pass of the same name and was covered by Ouvrage Sainte-Agnès and the positions at Pic-de-Garuche.

The Ouvrage Col des Banquettes was manned in 1940 by 74 soldiers of the 86th Brigade Alpin de Forteresse (DBAF) under Lieutenant Vernet.  The underground portion consists of one short gallery connecting all three blocks and a shorter parallel gallery at Block 2.

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