My Top 5 Cycling Climbs from Lake Annecy

Col de la Forlcaz

Sometimes called the Venice of the Alps, beautiful Annecy and its mountain surrounded lake is one of my favorite places to cycle (about 45 minutes from Geneva). It’s one of the most popular tourist sites in France.

When friends visit us, we usually take them here.

Sometimes, I will leave visitors to explore the historic sites and walk along the lake-front while I go off and cycle a mountain – and we then meet for lunch along side a little quaint canal.

For cyclists there is a wonderful (flat) bike path that goes most of the way to Albertville along old railway lines. But I love Annecy for the many great and challenging cycling climbs in the area.

My top 5 Cycling climbs – all of these routes start from Annecy

#1 – Le Semnoz – Classic route

Le Semnoz (also called Cret de Chatillon) is the huge massive on the west side of Lake Annecy. The majority of the ride is through beautiful protected woodlands. The top is a small ski station.

The Climb: 18.3 kms (11.4 miles); Ascent: 1,210 metres (3,970 feet)

Blog Post

Le Semnoz    Le Semnoz    Le Semnoz

#2 – Lake Loop via Col de la Forclaz

Be careful doing a lake loop down low. On weekends, the west side of the lake can be pretty traffic filled. Far better to do a loop via the short but super steep Col de la Forclaz. This was the first place I ever saw a mountain stage in the Tour de France – the suffering!

The Climb: 9.5 kms (5.9 miles); Ascent: 700 metres (2,300 feet)

Blog Post

La Forclaz    Forclaz    Forclaz    Forclaz

#3 – Col de Cherel

OK the first two are obvious. This may be a surprise. Not a well known climb. Most of this route is closed to cars and goes through a beautiful protected mountain valley. But to get to the top, you really need a hybrid or mountain bike as the route becomes a gravel road. Amazing ride. Note, I had trouble finding the entrance to the climb, so the gps route is a bit windy.

I have updated the blog link to a loop that includes descending the other side of Cherel and taking an interesting route back to Annecy. Really fun loop …. no road bikes remember.

The Climb: 15.9 kms (9.9 miles); Ascent: 1,030 metres (3,380 feet)

Blog Post

cherel    cherel    Cherel - remote beauty

#4 Big Lake Loop – via Col de l’Epine

A fantastic loop that covers 3 small climbs and much of the start of stage 8 of the 2007 Tour de France. The route up to l’Epine in eiter direction is like a visit to a secret unknown valley.

The Entire Route: 64.8 kms (40 miles); Ascent: 1,040 metres (3,400 feet)

Blog Post


#5 Col des Contrebandiers

Smugglers Pass. This is a bit of a secret climb, unknown to most. It is certainly possible with a road bike but a pretty lousy surface – I would recommend a mountain bike. Doreen and I had intended to ride the cycle path, but the Annecy marathon was that day. So we went in the opposite direction and climbed. Surprise, up to the greatest cliff view overlooking the lake and town.

At the Col sign, take the trail at the RIGHT by foot, and follow upwards for stunning views of the lake below ( a 15 minute hike).
Blog Post

            Col des Contrabandiers

For the more adventurous, there are lots of other famous climbs within striking distance of Annecy. Scroll the map or see below for a few.

Click “View Larger Map” at bottom for a clearer view of climbs.

View Larger Map

Year in Review - My Top 5 Cycling Highlights
2008 Tour de France Preview Stage 16 - The Highest Road in Europe?

About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.


  1. These look like wonderful climbs all! I have gone up the Col de la Forclaz a bit before realizing it was steeper than something I wanted to do on a recovery ride. Somewhere near Lake Annecy there is also an amazing old castle that I saw from the road.

  2. You give us more reason to train with a trip to Europe in mind. And with all the details and maps… it’s like you’re our personal travel agent! Thanks again Will! Donald

  3. Sprocketboy: hehe, yes Forclaz is no place for a recovery ride. Steep!

    There are a few castles – including one in Annecy itself. But the fanciest is probably
    Chateau Menthon on the east side of the lake in Menthon. Routes 2 and 4 goes very close to it – worth a detour.

    Donald: Thanks, This was a compilation of a few emails I have answered asking for ride info around Annecy – but I mainly wrote it to remind me to do these climbs in 2008.

    Slogfester: Martin refuses donut and coffee shops. Kebaps and beer only. We’ll fight it out Saturday.

  4. Hi Will,

    It’s a beautiful classification !
    I know well Le Semnoz (very hard, bad day when I climbed it in April) and Col de la Forclaz.
    On the other hand, I don’t know the Col de Cherel. Maybe the next year !
    Apparently, it is possible to climb by the south and Jarsy, maybe the road is better…

  5. Salut Bast,

    I believe the South side of Cherel also requires a VTT (mountain bike) for the top half – there is not even a small road marked on the map.

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  7. Will, excellent site. I’m just back from Annecy and I wished I had read your site more before I left. I did Le Semnoz ascending from Sevrier and then dropping down into Annecy. I was under the impression that the cycle path went around the lake but found it was only on the west side. Now seeing your site I wish I had carried on the cycle path and done the Col de la Forclaz – looks great. I can see your love for it – I’m just getting into road biking and it was a great feeling of achievement to reach the top under my own power. Good luck with the challenge!

  8. Great site. I climbed le Semnoz this April when there was still snow either side down to 1000m. The last 5km is steep and I wondered if it was every going to end. I also found a great little climb up through the village of Entrevernes towards Col de la Frasse. I didn’t get to the end as the road got icy.

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  10. Great site. I am looking where to go in France this summer for family holiday where I can escape and ride some climbs. Your sight helped me choose Annecy !

  11. Hi Will-

    Thanks for great information and expectations for cycling when I visit Annecy with my family in July.

    I would like to know is there a place to rent road bikes in the area?


  12. Hi

    I have a small house in Talloires that I bought last year and will be spending May 15 to July 2 there.
    I will be also going over to Colorado mid June to Ride The Rockies…
    Anyway, if you are coming down to the lake during this period and want a ride partner, call me on +33 4 50 27 76 46


  13. thanks so much for these rides! i am a triathlete who will be visiting annecy this 2-8 july and am psyched to have routes to follow. now if only i could find a place to rent a bike like mine (cervelo sl3) and someone to take me on some rides (noone i am traveling with is up to my level), i’ll be all set! any ideas/advice most welcome…

  14. Excellent guides- thanks very much, Will. Just come back from a week by the lake – climbed Le Semnoz and Col de la Forclaz. Both exactly as described. Didn’t see another soul on Le Semnoz, but there were a few roadies on the way up to Col de la Forclaz.

    Even at this time of year it was chilly on the way down, so I was glad I had a windcheater in my back pocket.

  15. renske

    There are quite a few places in Annecy to rent bikes.

    See comment 13 above for a link to a store that rent fairly good road bikes

    Enjoy your training.


    I am glad the routes were helpful. Well done doing Semnoz and Forclaz …. both hard work.

  16. Hi Will,
    Thanks for the site! My wife and I climbed the Semnoz yesterday from Annecy. Lovely day blue to the moon sunshine. Toughest climb of my wife’s short cycling career!! She nearly cracked but we made it and boy what a view! The Mont Blanc was stunning, she started to cry!
    I have ridden lots in France but this is one of the best. Annecy would be a great starting point for awesome riding and your site was of great assistance in our choice to ride there!

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  18. I go with my familie to this beautiful region. While other familie members like to swim and be lazy, i like to encounter the mountains by bike very much. Your routes and their description are very interesting. Can you please advise me where to rent a good and reliable mountainbike (i am an experienced biker) Thanks a lot.

  19. Hello Hans,

    It depends where you stay …. it’s a fairly big region …. but I am sure you will have no problem finding a bike rental store …. there are quite a few. Worst case, the tourist info office has a list.


  20. Pingback: Beaufort: Five Great Cycling Climbs in Cheese Country : Cycling Challenge

  21. Hey Will

    I see you like climbing, yeah me too. Back in 2005 I had the pleasure of climbing some the roads in Annecy. What an awesome trip, I will never forget this time of my life. Well my reason for reaching out to you, I’m thinking about visiting France for the 2013 TDF. And, I was wondering if your still in France ? Hit me back soon.
    Keep the pedals turning :-)

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  23. KevinDittmer on

    As a warning to others looking to rent a road bike in Annecy, it’s extremely difficult. It killed me not to be able to rent anything with the cool routes Will posted. I ended up leaving my hotel in Annecy 3 days early and heading back to Alp d’Huez where I could find a great selection of rides and bikes to rent. The store with the above link had a road bike but they had rented it out for a month. The crowds and traffic were also too much for me. Pretty place otherwise, but I would rather be suffering up a Col………

  24. Brian Maloney on

    Hello Will,

    Just a quick note to say a HUGE THANKS for the website. I have just returned from a two week holiday with my wife and family in the Alps. We were based in a small village midway between Grenoble and Chambury. Thanks to your great website I was able to identify in advance of my vacation climbs nearby and also the more famous ones .THis was my first time cycling the big climbs in France and being Irish I did not know what to expect. With your website I was able to plan which climbs to attempt. Also it is great to see the chart for the climb which give a clear picture of the lenght of the climb, % gradient by KM etc. This helped to “prepare” me mentally for what aly ahead. Over the two weeks I was thus able to take on some great climbs – bothlocal and some famous – (Alpe D’Huez and Col du Grandon).

    Thanks again – I would have been at a loss to identify and find the climbs withou tthe website .Keep up the good work !!

    P.S. I’m not sure my wife passes on the same sentiment as your website ensured I was gone missing on my bike for a fair proportion of the holiday …….

  25. Paul Bloodworth on

    This site was a great find as used it whilst in Annecy last year. Climbed 1,2 and 3, 3 was my best as it was on my Mountain bike 2 hrs up and 1/2hr down. went to the top and turned round can you keep going after the Col de Cherel to bring you back on to a main road or is there more mountain bike trails from the top you can take or some loops before going back down. Started early at 6 so was a great morning ride for getting back for the kids getting out of bed. Great site can’t wait to get back to the lake in August 2014

  26. Hi Paul,

    I have updated the link for Cherel above. It now is a blog post that shows an amazing little loop down the far side of Cherel and then back over something called Col de Plane Joux (mainly unpaved) and back to Annecy over Col des Leschaux.

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