Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved Col (mountain pass) in Europe – Cime de la Bonette is NOT a pass. 🙂 Last weekend this beautiful road was closed to motorized traffic on both sides. Iseran is on the Route des Grandes Alpes and a popular summer road for motorcycles, so banning them for several hours was just paradise for a cyclist:
For more Alps bike-only days see here.
The north side from Bourg St.-Maurice is the longest climb in France (47+ kms), but honestly it’s only interesting above Val d’Isére where the bike-only stretch started. Below has more traffic and a set of terriblly lit, dark, wet tunnels near Tignes. So I was happy to to skip the lower slopes.
Similarly, I climbed the south side from Bonneval-sur-arc which is where the road turns up – for details of a longer version of this side starting from Lanslebourg see here.
Bike-only days means cheerful cyclists. I started with the first pack and the roads where wet after some early morning rain – but the weather was perfect for the remainder of the day. Honestly, about as good a day of high-altitude cycling as possible.
Some more photos:
Thanks so much for all the info. Planning a trip at the moment to tackle some of the cols and your information and opinion is really helpful. Sounds like you’ve had a busy month or so!
Just a quick correction for this article though. You mention climbing the north side from Bourg d’Oisans… I think you mean Bourg St Maurice? So many Bourgs, so little time!
Hi Nicole, thanks for the note – and the correction 🙂 — fixed
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Hi Will, Great information on the site. A group of us are down in September to do the Marmotte route. I am coming down a day early and was wondering if I could manage the Iseran and the Madelaine in one day. We are staying in Maurienne and I was planning on getting the train to Modane and starting there. Garmin Connect suggests I can cut across to Moutiers via Tignes. On Google Earth the route looks stunning but wondered about the suitability for a road bike. Thanks for your help.
Careful, there are only two paved roads that go over the Alps here, Madeleine and Iseran. There is NO short cut between Tignes and Moutiers. The Loop from Modane would be –> Lanslebourg –> Bonneval-sur-Arc, then climb south side of Iseran, descend north side past Val d’Isere (and past turn off to Tignes) all the way to Bourg St. Maurice. Ride through Aime on way to Moutiers. then up the valley to Feissons-Sur-Isere (base of Madeleine) then up Madeleine, then down into Maurienne valley at La Chambre. There is no other paved option.
quick question. we are going to be coming towards iseran in late june. we can either do iseran or make the turn and do cenis. Which do you prefer?
South side of Iseran is far more fun than French (north) side of Cenis. Great climb.
Hi Will, love the blog!
I’m staying in Tignes for a week in July (my son is doing a rugby camp so I’m can pedal all day!) but I really don’t know the area or how easy/difficult it is to get around. I will have my car so can drive to suitable start points. I’m keen to take on the iconic climbs in the area and wondered if you could suggest an itinerary of sorts?
Would really aprreciate a bit of help 🙂
Road bike or thicker tires? Tignes is well up a narrow valley up a turn off on the way to Col de l’Iseran. Slightly limited to get around but beautiful place.
Road bike…my guess is I’ll need to drive somewhere each day before getting started?
A few ideas:
1. In the tunnel on main road near turn up to Tignes on far side is a great road up to the Lac/Dam du Saut. It’s the 13th highest paved road in France (in the link I go higher, but it’s only paved until the lake: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/col-de-la-bailletta/
2. Of course, Col de l’Iseran is above Val d’Isere on the main road past Tignes. Amazing, try and see both sides: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/col-de-liseran-bike-day/
3. Lower down the valley from Tignes from Bourg St. Maurice are three big famous climbs: Petit St. Bernard: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/col-du-petit-saint-bernard/ . Les Arcs 2000 https://www.cycling-challenge.com/la-ville-des-glaciers-and-les-arcs-2000/ . and Cormet de Roselend. : https://www.cycling-challenge.com/cormet-de-roselend-and-la-passage-de-la-charmette/
4. See my French Alps Map link in the top menu for more climbs. Happy to try and answer any questions
Thanks a million, Will…I will try all that you mention and, I hope, Madeleine and Glandon. I’ll let you know how I get on and will keep reading of your exploits 🙂
Hi everyone! We are going to Val d’sere last week in August. Planning to go Valdisere-Col Diseran-Bonneval Sur Arc on the south side and then back to Valdisere. Anybody done this ride? Comments?
Hi again Will,
Just wanted to let you know that I had a great week in Tignes with my son and got stuck in to your suggestions for which I’m most grateful.
On Day 1 I ran into L’Etape du Tour so ended up tagging along for a while and included Cote de Longefoy. The following days included Roseland, Petit Bernard, and Iseran (the day before TdeF) which were all challenging and spectacular, as well as some hiking.
Thanks again and keep climbing!