This route includes 5 Cols: Marais, Esserieux, Arpettaz, Aravis, and Croix Fry. But the highlight is Col de l’Arpettaz + La Route de la Soif.
La Route de la Soif begins after climbing the 42 (yes, 42) paved hairpins to the summit of Arpettaz! It is a 17 kilometre high-gravel “road” that links with another summit: Col des Aravis. Amazing!
Road bikers: This entire route is paved except for the 17 kms of La Route de la Soif. Here’s a road bike route including the amazing Arpettaz – or use the search box for other paved Arpettaz rides.
I started in Thônes so I could end this tough loop with a descent. 🙂 I started with a few easy but uphill kilometres to Col du Marais. Next a very fun stretch, mainly descending through a tight valley – past Col d’Esserieux – eventually reaching the Annecy Bike Path. (note, on the map below all 5 cols are highlighted on the profile).
Here’s a great road-bike loop with Col d’Esserieux , Col de l’Epine, and Col de la Forclaz.
I enjoyed a few relaxing, slightly-downhill kilometres on the superb bike path, knowing things were about to get tough.
Col de l’Arpettaz is a revelation. It has similar length/ascent statistics as Alpe d’Huez but twice the hairpins …. and it’s near deserted.
I’ve written about endless climbs over the years, and I think I’ve received more “thank-you” messages about Arpettaz than any other. Perhaps because it’s near a popular cycling destination (Annecy) and not too well known.
Most of my photos today were focused on La Route de la Soif (see this Arpettaz post for some fairly good photos). But I did take a few while climbing Arpettaz:
La Route de la Soif
I couldn’t find any history about this beautifully named road. If you know any fun details please let me know.
There is a nice little restaurant/refuge exactly at Col de l’Arpettaz. The Route de la Soif also begins here.
I want to be very clear. While I used a gravel bike …. I regretted the decision. It is VERY rough, and a mountain bike is required, especially on the frequent descents,
Here is a profile solely for the 17 kms of La Route de la Soif. The gravel starts and ends exactly at the summits of Arpettaz and Aravis.
These next two photos show the first 6 kilometres of the route. They are taken from the same spot – but are in opposite directions.
Looking back at Col de l’Arpettaz. The route begins with this descent:
Then it’s uphill for 4 kilometres:
This next photo looks back at the next stretch, another descent.
Throughout, I would get occasional glances of nearby Mont Blanc. I hoped that if I waited I would get some better angles for photos. And I did.
I was getting close to Col des Aravis. The big mountain in the upper-middle of the next photo is on the opposite side of the Col. Note, the final couple of kilometres had a fair number of hikers as Col des Aravis is popular among tourists – and a few people hike higher (stores, restaurants, parking lots were packed).
A few minutes later and I could see Col des Aravis just below me:
I stopped at Col des Aravis to buy something to drink. J’avais soif! As of today, masks are required in indoor public places in France. So, before entering the gift shop I put on a mask. In my selfie I accidentally managed to include the Chapelle Saint Anne – protector of travelers. 🙂
A decade ago, I rode La Route de la Soif starting from this side making a loop that initially climbed the south side of Col des Aravis – details here. It’s also a very good route, but be careful down low between Ugine and Flumet as in recent years there has been a lot of road-work through the gorge and there are often detours making it tougher to avoid the significant short-cut traffic between the Chamonix Valley and Albertville/Annecy.
From Aravis, I would descend a few kilometres of the north side and then turn left climbing the last 3 kilometres of the easier side of Col de la Croiox Fry. Finally, I would descend Croix Fry back to the start in Thônes. What a fantastic ride!
This post has already been too long, so here’s all I’ll say about this final stretch: It’s a favourite winter sunny-day ride – in the opposite direction – climbing Col de la Croix Fry then Aravis. The roads are kept open all winter for the ski stations. See here and here for a couple of slightly different examples:
Wooohooooo. I was pleased and tired once I’d arrived in Thônes. This is an excellent but challenging loop. Again, I strongly recommend a mountain-bike for the stuninng but rough Route de la Soif. And if you aren’t interested in gravel – Col de l’Arpettaz is paved-hairpin paradise.