This is the seventh and final article in a series detailing the 684 kilometre Route des Grandes Alpes. A great cyclo-tourist route through the French Alps, over 16 mountain passes, on a road linking Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) to the Mediterranean Sea. The main goal of these articles is to highlight alternate route options and interesting detours.
Part 1 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 1
Part 2 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 2
Part 3 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 3
Part 4 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 4
Part 5 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 5
Part 6 is here: Route des Grandes Alpes – Stage 6
Stage 7: Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to Nice
One of the reasons I wrote this series was for this stage. Unlike the other 6 stages, I do NOT know this region, and thus will use this post as a plan for some rides (hopefully) this year. I’m grateful to friend Tim, who knows the region very well, and has provided a couple of very interesting sounding alternatives to the main route. Also thanks to friends Torsten and Ben for permission to use their photos – see below.
The Official Route
Official Route (blue track on map):
Distance: 130 Kilometres
Ascent: 3300 metres
Descent: 3900 Metres
Lots of climbing on this last stage with the reward of a nice beer beside the Mediterranean sea. I’ve added profiles for the two big climbs of the day, first Col St. Martin, and then Col de Turini.
Photo below taken by my friend, and unofficial German language tutor, Torsten:
There are three sides to Turini, all apparently worth a look (and unpaved adventures are possible higher). I once sat at the bottom of Col de Turini in the pouring rain on a very cold day. I waited and waited but just couldn’t get the courage to cycle up in the storm and had to head home without a col sign photo. 🙁
After Col de Turini, the descent leads to the village of Sospel – with a nice little fountain/square it’s a perfect place for a lunch break.
The route then climbs the easy side of Col de Castillon. The fun part of this climb is the descent. Well surfaced in a tight rocky valley, it’s a fast ride straight towards the sea.
Finally, note the mapped route, has one final bump after reaching the sea, as it climbs the famous little corniche roads up to Col d’Eze (of Paris Nice fame). I was there years ago, sans vélo. A beautiful place.
Detour 1 – via Gorges du Cians
The two Detours below were both recommended to me by my friend Tim.
(The orange track on the map) – This alternate route begins by climbing Col de Couillole – a climb that has been praised and suggested to me many times. This doubles back on the official route from stage 6. Although, if you arrived in St-Sauveur via Col de Bonette then you skipped this great road.
Tim: “The great thing of taking the Bonette route south was that we got the wonderful bonus of being able to include (climb) col de la Couillole. That in turn allowed us to descend from Beuil through the amazing Gorges du Cians. This is as beautiful as any part of the route des Grandes Alpes and really should be part of the official route.”
Here are a few Gorges du Cians photos taken by my friend Ben.
Next the Orange route, goes up and down a series of smaller, but sometimes very steep climbs:
Tim: “Next the route heads to Entrevaux (an amazing medieval village) and heads up col de Felines. From there, there are a number of great options. Probably the best is up Col du Buis (a brute of 4km at about 13%!), through the incredible Clue de Saint Auban, over Col de Bleine (which has been used recently in Paris-Nice) and down to the coast via col de Vence.”
Sounds great! Thanks.
Detour 2 – via Col de Raphaël
(The pink track on the map) – This is just a scenic variation of the middle of the orange route.
Tim: “It is also beautiful to get to col de Vence from col de St. Raphaël. The Clue du Riolan into Sigale is just as incredible as Saint Auban’s. From there it is a wonderful ride through Roquesteron-Grasse, Bouyon and Coursegoules to Col de Vence and down to the coast for a finishing swim from the Promenade des Anglais.”
See here for some superb St. Raphaël photos from mon ami Bastien (great web site).
For the col hunters in the crowd, note: on the above profile, I have included the final two kilometres to Col Besseuges (marked on the map) – a small detour.
edit: I have now cycled a few routes in this region. See here.
Col de Braus and Col de la Madone
I have ridden once in this area. The purple loop on the map can be done from Nice and includes the superb hairpins of Col de Braus, Col de Chatillon, and inspiring views of the sea from Col de la Madone (that dog Armstrong’s favourite training climb).
It’s an excellent route. Here is a short silly video from 6 years ago, that at least gives one a feel for the landscape. More ride details here.
On the map, I have labeled cols with a star. The red stars are the climbs that interest me the most.
In particular I am intrigued by the three dead end roads up against the Italian border, just after Col St. Martin: Le Boréon (1605 metres), Refuge de la Madone de Fenestre (1933 metres), and Vallon de La Gordolasque (1800 metres). All perhaps have unpaved options higher? Also Col de Tende far to the east is one of my prime unpaved targets for 2016 (hairpins!).
When I get a chance, I’ll add profiles for these ideas. Please feel free to suggest in the comments any other favourite climbs you may have in the region. Thanks.
Road Openings/Closures: We’re lower and further south here. Currently; in February, Turini is open – chains required for cars, but still. Official Col open/closed map here.
A Final Word
I hope this series has been helpful. For me at least, it’s always motivating to spend the colder months staring at maps and brainstorming ride ideas.
Excellent work, as always, Will. This series should help a lot of people with their planning, and you’ve covered almost every sensible/interesting alternative to the main route that doesn’t deviate too far away from it. I’ll be looking forward to your Col de Tende report – it’s been on my list for a while but won’t be happening this year.
Will, my tips are here:
North side of St. Martin and Turini are fine like descent.
From summit of Turini is possible go higher to monument Authion and then along poor surfaced (but rideable on road bike) military loop road above 2000 metres! There are fine vieuws to Liguire and Maritimes Als and Two or so ancient forts.
Nearby Turini are lot of small roads (especially around Lucéram). Nice and very twisty road is from Col de Able towards Les Cabanettes. It’s very hilly country.
Great stretch is from Levans to Vesubie valley. There is parallel busy way through gorges Vesubie, but this one i more better – quit, scenic and impressive.
Gorges du Cians. If You wold cicle this defilé don’t miss two short stretches closed to cars – Grand Clu and Petit Clue.
I like area south of river Var.
My favourite climb is for example Col du Trébuchet. Pleasant steepnest on tiny very quiet road through nice land scape. Then via Col du Felines is huge vieuw towards ancient Entrevaux.
Fine road is from Col St. Raphael vi Ascros back to Var river.
Anoher favourite road is from St. Auban via Col Pinpinier and next through small but very nice Clue Aiglun. You can continue along fine road D1 from Roquesteron to Bouyon and return to St. Auban via Gorges Greolieres and Col du Bleine. From summit of Bleine leads bad surfaced tiny road up the grass ridge with fine vieuws. It’s highest tarmac road in this location.
Clue St. Auban, nice short gorge with chapel carved into the rock.
Good tip is Col St. Barnabe too. There are two variant from Barrage Chaudanne and Barrage Castillon with vieuws to the lakes. Level road along Lac Castillon is nice too. Very quiet roads.
Gran Canyon du Verdon. Little far from central Alps but you must visit this one. There are three roads around Canyon. Full version have 108 km and 2500 vam. Quite hilly.
Between Verdon and more eastern Gorges du Loup are lot of small quiet road leading in typical farmer countryside.
Sorry for effecients 🙂
Zbynek, excellent. Many thanks for all the ideas.
It has been a few years, but I remember the descent from Turini past Peïra-Cava toward col de l’Orme as one of the most fun roads anywhere – tight switchbacks where you get into a rhythm, like skiing a giant slalom. Not to be missed.
I have ridden down this hairpin section in 2013 and absolutly agree.
I have to agree with Thomas and Zbynek. Although I didn’t ride the specific section they did, I spent a day last summer based in Sospel riding up and down the Turini and various cols in the area: paradise for the hairpin-lover. To get them all in I took the south route up to Turini, then down via Peira-Cava to the Col St. Roch, picked up the small Cols de Savel and Portes, then down to Luceram and back up the mountain to the the junction with the road heading to Cols de l’Orme and Ablé and Braus. So many hairpins.
Hi Will like you I look for a challenge each year this year I did the Route des Grande Alpes over six days in August in was the best week of the year. I did the LEJOG two years ago, like you I’ve completed the Marmott twice (not very fast) . Anyway here’s the question there is a one day Sportive called the The Tour de Mt Blanc it’s one day 330km with over 8,000m of climbing over seven major cols. The one day event might be beyond me now as I don’t think i would make the cut off times but I’m tempted however I was thinking that a two day ride would be a good 2019 challenge. It would have to be July (not the 20th) or August I was wondering if you had any thoughts advice suggestions clockwise or anticlockwise ect.
Ha, actually I’ve had this debate with friends and I actually have a strong opinion. 🙂 I think it is far better counter-clockwise.
The biggest reason is Col du Grand St. Bernard. The Italian side is truly fantastic and you want to climb this side. The Swiss side is long, over 40 kms, but only the top 6 kms are great as it’s on the old road before the car-only tunnel. Thus the Swiss side can get a little traffic including trucks. Whereas the Italian side mainly avoids it as it takes a road around where the tunnel lets out.
A couple of small detours are possible that make the loop slightly tougher but quieter and more beautiful, if you have a little extra energy as splitting it into two days:
1) You climb Cormet de Roselend from the north. Via Col du Pré instead of directly up gives great views of the lac de Roselend and allows you to to ride over the dam.
2) the Italian side of Petit St. Bernard. At La Thuile you can head up and down Colle San Carlo. Far quieter and avoids the tunnels/avalanche things on lower slopes of Petit St : Bernard. Plus it will be in the 2019 Giro so perhaps interesting.
Hope that helps,
Stephen – I agree with Will about riding counter-clockwise, and about adding col du Pré and San Carlo (this one is a very nice climb from Morgex, in case you go clockwise…).
I would take 3 days and do some add-ons. Or 4. Why rush it? bring a camera.
– col des Saisies through Crest Voland, quieter (turn off at ND de Bellecombe)
– col du Joly from Beaufort, one way, quiet, views of Mt Blanc (you can shortcut from saisies through Hauteluce, then descend to Beaufort on the other side)
– between Morgex and Aosta avoid the main road. From Morgex ride through la Salle, then back on the main road from Derby to Runnaz, then turn off to Avise, Cerellaz. You can climb to Vens and Colle Joux just above, a forgotten col at 1930m (last 200m are unpaved). Then stay above the main valley on SR41.
– from Aosta ride on the east side of Valpelline through Roisan, then cross and climb to Ayez, Allein, Etroubles. From St Oyen turn down to the river to avoid the main road, then Cerellaz, and finally the old St Bernard road.
– from Orsières climb to Champex to avoid the main road to Martigny (Champex too is nicer climbed from the other side)
– alternatively, below Orsières take the small road through Chamoille to Sembrancher, climb to col des Planches, then down to Martigny
– after col de la Forclaz, turn right to Finhaut, then Emosson dam, great vistas (then back). Do not miss the leg busting old dam road, it’s now open again
– past Chamonix, in les Houches, stay left on road to Vaudagne, Servoz, Passy (this one obligatory on a bicycle, the main road is hellish)
favorite secret spot:
– climbing from la Thuile to colle San Carlo, above les Granges, at 1770m, there is a small road on the left toward Petosan. Ride 300m through a grove of trees and be rewarded with the most spectacular view of Grandes Jorasses
I was not sure of the time frame 2 or 3 days 3 sounds better we’ll be starting at albertville so roseland 1st via pru thanks for the advise don’t suppose you could recommend any hotels
I suggest you plan the cycling first and look for hotels when you know where you overnight. To plan check out the site openrunner.com; it often overestimtes the climbing a bit. I did a hypothetical 3 day:
1) Alberville, Beaufort, Pré, Roselend, Pt St Bernard, San Carlo, Morgex: 120 km and 3800m
2) Morgex, Fossaz, Bellun, Aosta, Roisin, Etroubles, GSB, Orsieres, Champex, Martigny: 138 km and 3800m
3) Martigny, Forclaz, Finhaut, Emosson, col des Montets, Chamonix, vaudagne, Passy, Domancy, Megève, Flumet, Alberville: 140km and 3700m.
Big days I’d say. You can shorten them by skipping the add-ons
Then you have to consider weather. If it turns bad you’re not doing what’s planned. If it was me I’d just wing it with hotels instead of booking ahead. Usually the night before or in the morning you known the weather for the day, book then. It depends how comfortable you are with that, and also on the season.