I’ve cycled past the end of the Vallon de Combeau many times en route to Col de Menée, and hadn’t really realised what was there. I’d seen the bit of road high up on the scree slope, from the road near Les Nonnières, but until I studied the map, had assumed that the valley stopped a just little further up. But no.
A look at the map shows the valley and road sweeping round to the east before heading north again right onto the Vercors plateau. The road stops with a car park at 1462m, but it’s a short walk from there to the eastern ridge of Vercors.
If you could start at the top, the scenes would give no hint of the drama lower down: lush meadows (in summer), a tiny trickle of a stream, and hardly a rocky outcrop in sight.
However, starting at the bottom, from the junction from the col de Menée road, after the short ascent to the pretty little village of Bénevise, the drama starts straight away. Across the other side of the valley is the imposing (and familiar to Col de Menée veterans) Rocher de Combeau), but the road traces a direct line across the high slopes on the western side of the valley. A warning sign, particularly relevant in less inviting weather conditions, advises users of the road of “Precipices, absence of protection. Traffic difficult. Travel slowly and carefully.” In fact, the road is mostly wide enough for two cars to pass, and apart from the scree traverse, doesn’t feel too airy, but I think it’s really telling the more excitable variety of French drivers to take extra care. It was perfectly safe on the bike in today’s benign weather conditions.
To the right of the road, the Rocher de Combeau (or “Combau” as it’s marked on the IGN map) changes dramatically in appearance as you move further up. After the eastward stretch of road, the valley bottom comes up closer and closer to the road, till both emerge into the high pastures, running alongside each other for a couple of kilometres.
I’m not sure how it’s taken me four years to get round to riding up this quite extraordinary road along the valley, but suffice to say that my description is no substitute for going and seeing this amazing wonder of nature.