Before I started touring on motorcycles, I considered myself fairly well travelled.
My parents believed that travel expanded the mind. So when my brother and I were growing up, they always did their best to help us whenever we expressed an interest in visiting somewhere new.
Of course, this usually meant going by plane. And then using taxis or public transport to move about once we got there.
But then motorcycle travel entered my life and all of that changed.
When I first started touring, I (like most) started with the Swiss Alps. And despite travelling in the past, I’d never seen them before.
So the Alps gave me my first wow moment on a motorcycle.
Blasting through Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Switzerland, the mountains finally came into view. And as I got closer, I could feel them calling; beckoning me in.
And as I finally entered the bosom of the Swiss Alps, I witnessed (for the first time in my life) those true wow moments.
Moments that took my breath away.
Views that stopped me in my tracks.
Vistas that made me emotional.
These were times that let me realise true happiness. They started a new chapter in my life. And whilst I didn’t know it at the time, they were the start of everything that was to come.
They changed my life.
Wow Moments Get Diluted
Since that first time in the Swiss Alps, the motorcycle touring bug got under my skin and the urge to travel got stronger and stronger.
And the more I explored, the more wow moments I had.
Even during the shit times of motorcycle travel, there are stories to be told and wow moments to be experienced.
When everything goes wrong and you’re broken down in the rain, you turn around to see a rainbow illuminating a mountain peak behind you.
And even then, in the shittest of shit circumstances, your reaction is to stop and admire the beauty.
But as time goes on, wow moments become a little less wow and a little more run-of-the-mill.
Motorcycle Touring: The Roselend Dam
The experience of the Roselend Dam (Barrage de Roselend) starts way before you get there.
Approaching from the west, you must first ride the D218 out of Bourdin to reach the Col du Pré – a terrifyingly narrow mountain pass that gains elevation aggressively whilst hitting you with tight switchbacks and oncoming traffic.
On the map, it doesn’t look that bad.
But it isn’t a road for the faint-hearted!
The views are spectacular. But as you rev through the inclines, your bike screams and the adrenalin pumps as you dance with the cliff edge and negotiate cars on this single lane road.
Ears popping, you summit the Col at 1,703 m. And then it hits you.
The final switchback swings left.
And as you round the bend, the view of the Roselend Dam comes into view.
With your eyes on the narrow road, a sea of azure blue fills your vision. And at the worst possible moment, you’re bombarded with a wow moment.
The Roselend Dam: Where Is It?
At an altitude of 1,600 m, the Roselend Dam is one of the highest dams in France. It sits in the Savoie department in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France.
Close to Mont Blanc and dominated by mountains over 2,400m high, the dam is 5 km (3 miles) east of Beaufort.
If you’re following the Route des Grand Alpes, this alpine dam can be found as the route joins the Tarentaise valley.
What Can I Do?
With mountains as far as the eye can see and beautiful, turquoise waters, the Roselend Dam and its surrounding areas are best catered for outdoor activities.
As you might expect, hiking is popular here. And with the area featuring on many stages of the Tour de France, cycling and mountain biking is also common.
In contrast, fishing provides a wonderful way to waste away an afternoon in a wonderland dominated by mountain views and vistas.
You can also partake in climbing, paragliding, and even horse riding.
In such an area, we advise taking your own food on your hikes to enjoy this truly breathtaking landscape. You will, of course, come across the occasional restaurant. But the one we recommend is Le Chalet de Roselend which has incredible views over the landscape.
Roselend Dam: Hiking
If you like hiking and photography, there are trails in every direction of the Roselend Dam.
Head west and you can find intermediate and expert routes, such as the Roche Parstire loop from Route du Barrage (or the Col du Pré.)
If you’re an experienced climber, head east and summit the mighty Col du Grand Font to witness the landscape from 2,671 m.
Here the rugged landscape is harsh and the terrain difficult as you negotiate an environment akin to the Dolomites.
New to hiking or don’t have your kit? In that case, we recommended staying at the shoreline of the lake where the paths are easier to navigate and the routes less technical.
Kamoot offers some excellent, tried-and-tested routes in the area. You can find one for your experience level here.
When To Visit & Where To Stay
It’s worth noting that visiting the dam is recommended between May 15th and October 15th. The road leading to and from the dam closes at first snow and does not reopen until the summer.
You can, of course, stop in Beaufort if you rode the dam from the west. If you want to continue east, follow the D902 past the dam for around 25 km (15 miles) where you will enjoy exquisite switchbacks on perfect roads.
The views are rustic near the dam, and the downhill sections test your metal as your heavy bike charges into 180° hairpins.
Soon, you will arrive in the town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice – a busy little place with plenty of accommodation, petrol stations and restaurants.
There are a few campsites along the route and plenty of places to pitch your tent.
When I was last there, I decided not to fuel up in Beaufort and instead relied on my sat-nav to alert me when I was near a petrol station.
But as you reach the dam, you will lose mobile signal and there are NO fuel stations whatsoever in the vicinity.
If you find yourself in this position, the length of the ride between Beaufort and Bourg-Saint-Maurice is around 50 km (30 miles.)
So as long as you have enough to get from one side to the other, you should be fine!
Motorcycle Touring & The Roselend Dam: Conclusion
What can I say? Nobody ever takes a trip to France to get off their bike and visit the Roselend Dam.
But perhaps they should!
The ride there is immense and will have you squirming uncomfortably in your seat all the way to the top.
Yes, it’s frightening and it’s testing. But there’s an amazing feeling of achievement when you get there.
And then there’s the view as you round the final hairpin and the dam comes into view!
It really is a tremendous place and one I recommend you put on your list.
Next time you visit the French Alps, be sure to allow yourself a day to get off the bike and explore this wonderful region of south-eastern France.
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