Gravel Col Hunting Below Mont Charvin


Here is a four col ride, often on gravel, in the shadow of Mont Charvin (Aravis Alps).

3D Video:

The plan was to explore some unpaved roads in the Aravis Alps between Mont Charvin and Montagne de Sulens. I know the paved lower roads well, often cycling Col de l’Epine, Col du Marais, and Col de Plan Bois. But this was my first time exploring above these cols.

I started in Thônes, following the paved road over Col du Marais (833m) until Bouchet-Mont-Charvin. This is just short of the back side of Col de l’Epine.

Here is a paved loop around Lake Annecy including Col de l’Epine and Col de la Forclaz.

At Bouchet, I turned higher on a small road – that remained paved for longer than I expected. But here the adventure begins. It’s quiet and scenic. Real backroads.

La Tournette in distance. Lake Annecy behind it.

After perhaps 6 kilometres of pleasant climbing, there is an unpaved turnoff leading up to Col de Fer (1484 metres). It’s not much more than a kilometre to the Col, but it’s very, very steep in places. I pedalled parts and pushed parts.

Col de Fer

It’s difficult, but perhaps possible, to descend the far side. But today I turned around, with other goals in mind.

I continued higher, with the road soon turning to gravel. I loved this stretch riding below Mont Charvin to the high point of the ride: Sur le Freu (1684 metres).

Mont Charvin

The road to Sur le Freu

At this point, a word of caution. I would descend along a very difficult to find hiking trail, to a deserted farm, following an IGN map on a GPS. IT IS VERY EASY TO GET LOST, and this stretch is unrideable – you need to find the trail to avoid cliff stretches. I would probably recommend instead going over the top of Sur le Freu and following a route towards Manigod.

Silly Descent

Regardless, I made it down and eventually found a gravel farm road. My next goal was to loop around Montagne de Sulens and find Col de Plan Bois. I had originally planned counter-clockwise, but the trail is hyper-steep and I decided to alter plans and instead head to Col de la Botte (1280m metres) and reach Plan Bois from another direction.

Probably a good decision, certainly an easier option (I’ll explore the other idea one day, perhaps from the opposite direction). But my chosen route was nice cycling.

La Tournette behind, approaching turn off to Col de Plan Bois.

Finally, I would join the paved road for the final kilometre to Col de Plan Bois (1299 metres).

The paved climb to Plan Bois is terrific and makes a great long way up Col de la Croix Fry. See here or another direction here for a great early season paved ride.

I could hear thunderstorms in the direction of Col des Aravis, so I quickly descended back to the start.


There are definitely a few different ways one could make a loop here, my route my not be the best, especially my descent from Sur le Freu. The challenge is how to get to both Sur le Freu and Col de Plan Bois. Still, very fun.

8.6 Very Good

Quiet, scenic cycling. Nothing too spectacular, but very nice.

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Happiest while cycling uphill.

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