You know how it is? Some of the best experiences in life are sometimes the most unexpected. And this one was exactly that.
How the heck did I manage to end up in a shabby but charming hotel on the top of the Col De Turini, surrounded by a dazzling display of vintage pinball machines, served dinner by a famous ‘Hell’s Angel’ and talking the glory days of Scottish rugby with said Hell’s Angel??
OK, he might not be an actual Angel but he’s got the jacket, he’s got three Harleys and he’s most certainly got the beard. Other than that, our host for the evening – Michel at the Hotel les Chamonis – could not not have been more engaging or charming.
So it all started off as just a normal first day of recce for this year’s Monte Carlo Rally. I met our DirtFish Marketing Director Trevor at the airport in Nice and we headed out into Les Alpes Maritime to traverse and take in the almost mythical Col de Turini.
I have to say, as a Monte virgin, and a proud American, Trevor was just a tad excited. As we headed up the mountain I did begin to wonder why he kept pointing out the “pole over there”. My slightly quizzical “yeah lovely in’t it?” reply was met with ever increasingly desperate cries of “pole over there”. Eventually Trev thumped me on the arm and demanded I “pull over there!”.
Oh dear, we’d passed at least half a dozen great spots to take photos and Trev wasn’t happy.
The mood had improved somewhat as we approached the top of the Col and passed through the snowline. Our Trev is a bit of a mountain man and I could sense his excitement and anticipation as we climbed through the final hairpins and popped out, in the snow, on top of the Col de Turini.
And yes there is snow, proper snow up here. At 1607 metres above sea level this is genuine Alpine territory and much as we have sadly become used to a snowless Col on the Monte, I reckon we could well have a white one this year.
Having spent some time just taking in the glorious setting and incredible views, we decided that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to spend the night in the mountains. That was when we made the fabulously fortuitous decision to knock on the door of the Hotel les Chamois.
It all looks a little messy and rundown from the outside, but the genuine, warm and welcome greeting from our host and patron Michel dispelled any doubts that we might have had.
Come Sunday this will be the most expensive and desirable real estate in the Med
We were ushered into the salon and that is where we realised that for sure, this was a good decision. Ram packed with an eclectic mix of historic rallying memorabilia, biking apparel, ski posters and somewhat intriguingly, vintage pinball machines, this was not just a room to eat and drink in, it was a room to explore, to enjoy and to marvel at. No heads down in mobile phones in this room, there was just too much to take in.
Befitting his position of Marketing Director, Trev was allocated the best room in the house. And what a room it is. Set on the corner of the second floor with a double balcony, come Sunday this will be the most expensive and desirable real estate in the Med.
Unequalled views of the blast up to and then run across the top of the Col mean that this room is almost impossible to buy on rally day. But five years ago, someone did manage to buy it.
A doting mother decided that she had to have the room to film her son crossing the Col during the last day of the event. She didn’t even stay the night. Arriving by helicopter, she made her way to the best balcony in town, had her man film her son as he blasted by, paid the patron €3000 and then left. Now I’ve heard about rooms you can rent for the hour, but this has to be some kind of record.
Anyway back to Michel, our jovial and engaging host. Turns out he’s a huge fan of Scottish rugby. We spent twenty minutes before a surprisingly fabulous dinner was served discussing his love of Irvine, Hastings, Jeffries, White, Townsend and Weir. An unexpected by very pleasurable conversation indeed.
Michel then went on to tell me why a Porsche Boxter S was a far better option then a 911 for traversing the mountains in these parts. Turns out that as well as the three Harleys, Michel also had a Boxster. But as he said, as well as being practical the Boxster is a far more humble car than a 911 and as a hard working hotelier, he doesn’t want to look too flash!
The conversation then moved onto his obvious distain for Ferraris. Apparently during the summer months there is a fairly regular procession of Ferrari tours over the Col. And almost invariably they are followed by a somewhat mysterious covered truck. The tour organisers say this is security. But Michel knows better, as he disdainfully explains: “I know that’s not security, that’s the recovery truck.”
And then followed more justification for the Porsche Boxster as the touring car of choice for the Alps. I daren’t argue with him. Dinner was lovely, conversation was convivial, the night’s sleep was good and refreshing and breakfast was hearty.
Just over twelve hours spent in the company of Michel and Corrine at the Hotel des Chamois just wasn’t enough. I could stay up here in their wonderful company for days.
So if you are ever fortunate enough to find yourself atop the Co de Turini, head to the Hotel les Chamois and say hello to its fabulous hosts. I guarantee you won’t regret it.