We leave the motorway at Besançon and start the climb into the Jura mountains. The road to the Swiss border snakes through pine forests and steep mountain cliffs, topped by the occasional mediaeval fortress. Although we had already driven hundreds of miles across France, it was only when we reached her eastern borderland that it felt like we were really on a voyage. It is a beautiful warm evening and now we are off the motorways we can wind the windows down and smell the countryside around us, rather than a German air conditioning unit. The air smells of thick grass and pine resin, of things which have been drenched in sunshine.
The drive is dramatic and beautiful, a pleasant contrast to the sprawling flats of northern France. I think that motorway driving across France is better in winter. The countryside seems glacial and pure, like a sci-fi landscape inhabited by the colossal wind turbines they so love in Gaul.
As we race through the forest we listen to music randomly ranging from Trentmoeller to Keith Jarrett. It really feels like you are away when you travel by car. You feel the road passing beneath you, you take in the smells and details, you feel the culture slowly changing as you go. This is why I like to take the car across the channel by ferry. The tunnel is quicker, but I miss the sea-air, and watching a coast disappear as another grows larger. Also,there is nothing quite like returning to your home port at night after a long journey – the cluster of gold lights surrounded by black are cosy like the embers of a coal-fire in a dark room.
Emerging from the Jura border mountains we see Lake Geneva framed by the Alps in silhoutte. The plush residences around the lake shimmer like a constellation. It feels like we have stolen our way into a hidden valley of the rich and glamourous. We stop for dinner at Bavois in the farmlands overlooking the lake. The food is great, but there are many flies inside, which are vexatious.
I notice that petrol is cheap in Switzerland, and much higher grade: 100 RON, which makes the V6 purr happily. I clean the flies from the windscreen at the petrol station only to find the most obscenely massive bug-squash on the front grill. I think at first it was a small plant. I realise it is actually a stick insect, its disguise just as effective after its humiliating demise.
We drive up the twisting mountain roads above Sion, surrounded by looming, black mountains. When we awake the next day the view of Valais is familiar and stunning, and hardly marred by the big, fat, red crane doing its business. It used to be a quiet town here, but now it is becoming built-up. We shall take the cable cars to the high peaks and see what they look like without snow.
On the other side of the mountains is Italy. I am excited by the prospect of a drive through high mountain passes and the descent to the great northern lakes. There the long-established elegance of Italian civilisation is set against the mighty serenity of the Alpine backdrop. This combination makes for one of the most beautiful locations in the world, as I remember. I have not been there for years.