La Route de la Soif via Col de l’Arpettaz

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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.

View from Col d’Esserieux. Lake Annecy behind those peaks.

I enjoyed a few relaxing, slightly-downhill kilometres on the superb bike path, knowing things were about to get tough.

Annecy to Albertville bike path

arpett250

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:

Final kilometre to Col de l’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.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

7 Comments

  1. Hi Will,

    I already commented on Strava and I know what you think about this, but I found very interesting to read what the organizers of “La Resistance” are putting on their website:

    “La Resistance takes you over 110km of amazing Alpine tarmac roads as well as four sectors of Alpine gravel totalling 20km. The majority of the event is on tarmac roads and for that reason it is recommended to ride a road bike or gravel bike. In fact to stay true to the history behind the event, mountain bikes are prohibited. Due to the nature of Alpine gravel (quite loose stones in places), we advise you to run wider tyres (minimum 25mm) and to protect your bike frame’s down tube.”

    So it seems that they’re not really aligned with you in the way they rate the route de la soif… not only are they prohibiting the use of MTB, but they go as far as saying that it’s feasible on a road bike with 25mm tyres! I guess it’s true if you’re ready to walk a lot and have enough spare tubes 😉

    Cheers,

    Julien

    • Thanks for the comment. Fair enough. I strongly disagree. I have ridden a LOT of high gravel and this has some of the sharpest stones, roughest surface I have seen. The Glières gravel on their route is nothing and I’ve crossed it on road bike happily. But this 17 km stretch is no joke.

      Again, I had a gravel bike but I just think a mountain bike we be more fun …. which is my main goal … not speed.

      Separately banning a mtb seems silly to me. 🙂

      • When I first rode this on a road bike (with 28mm tires) I ripped a sidewall. I had a stiff parktool patch with me, so it ended well. I’d say people on rigid bikes better be prepared, but the views are worth it. And Arpettaz itself is such a treat, especially in the fall when the leaves turn.

      • Inspired by your Strava feed, I rode this route a few weeks back and LOVED it. Thank you!

        People can do whatever they want with THEIR events, but banning certain types of bike from a gravel ride does seem contrary to what I think of as the inclusive culture of the sport.

        For what it’s worth, I rode a gravel bike with 40mm tubeless tyres and, for me, the bike was perfect. When I do it again (and I definitely will!) I’ll use the same bike. That’s not a comment on other people’s bike choice, but I’d just like to add a counter comment to those saying it’s not suitable for gravel bikes. If you like chunky gravel and aren’t put off by loose descents, you’ll have a blast on a gravel bike.

  2. I agree with your comments about how rough this road is on a gravel bike. I also noticed this when I rode it last year on a gravel bike, but my memory of doing so 10-12 years ago is that it was not so bad back then. I think it’s suffered quite a lot of erosion in that period due to receiving more traffic than it was designed for.
    I find this to be quite often the case in France because there are fewer restrictions on who can use such roads than there are in Switzerland (and often rules aren’t respected in France), so quite a few of the French gravel roads seem to be deteriorating with people in 4×4 vehicles and off-road touring motorbikes looking for adventures.

  3. I too rode the La Route de la Soif last year on a gravel bike and wished I had a flat-bar hybrid or mtb. The ascents were OK on the gravel bike but had to take the descents, though not steep, at walking speed as the size of the cobbles/boulders made it very sketchy. A 15km unsurfaced road is not the place for an off. I rode it in September and it was deserted until the last couple of km near Aravis so a bad crash requiring assistance would not have been a good experience give I was cycling alone.
    But don’t let it put you off, take an appropriate bike and ride the route as it is stunning.

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