I understand. It’s your first visit to the Alps and you want to climb Alpe d’Huez – fair enough. But then what? There are lots of other climbs in the region, many of which are higher, quieter, harder, and — yes — better.
It’s the most common email I receive: Asking for route advice from Bourg d’Oisans. So here are my favourite climbs, some route tips, and also one climb that I think you should avoid. Note, the last three climbs are unpaved but are completely rideable and two are far, far higher than any paved road in the region.
Each ride below contains a link to a blog post with a map, climb profiles, photos, and a route description.
#1 Alpe d’Huez – Five Different Rides
I might as well start with Alpe d’Huez itself.
There is more than the classic Tour de France route here. There are, in fact, three paved roads up to the ski station. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful Lac Besson a few kilometres above town.
For 5 different Alpe d’Huez ride ideas see this link.
Tip: The official Tour de France route does NOT end as you enter town and see a big line across the road beside a couple of restaurants and the Trek bike shop. The majority of cyclo-tourists mistakenly stop here. Keep going! It is (badly) signed, but continue perhaps a kilometre further, through town, and after negotiating a couple of round-abouts, you will see a bunch of signs at the official finish. Now you can stop! 🙂
#2 Col de Sarenne – non Alpe d’Huez side
The 2013 Tour de France climbed Col de Sarenne from Alpe d’Huez. But the other side might be the quietest, most beautiful, big climb in the region.
Note, that the link below also includes detours up to Auris ski station, the little village of Marrone, as well as starting along a truly fabulous cliff road. Details here.
Tip: Pay attention to the cliff road “long-cut” described in the link. It’s an amazing, little-known, road – bypassing a busier main road below.
#3 Col du Sabot and Le Collet
Higher, harder, and far quieter than Alpe d’Huez. A little known giant-of-a-climb. It’s paved but a dead-end at 2100 metres (higher than anything nearby), but a fabulous ride well above Vaujany ski station.
The link below includes a superb detour to another geographic col “Le Collet (1700m)” with its fabulous lookout at the summit. Details here.
Tip: After descending Col du Sabot, you could return to Alpe d’Huez up the back (pink) road detailed in the “Five Different Rides” link above.
#4 Col du Solude
In the cliffs above Bourg d’Oisans, directly opposite Alpe d’Huez is another often ignored, but special climb (two ways up). Read the comments in the link, cyclists love this road. Details here.
Tip: Bring a light, because the early tunnels are dark, and narrow (but quiet), and bring thicker tires – if possible – so you can traverse the col and return down the far side, as there is a long unpaved stretch before the summit. Both sides are still more than worthwhile if only willing to ride the paved stretch.
#5 La Berarde
Are you visiting Bourg d’Oisans but searching for something quiet, scenic ….. and easier than Alpe d’Huez? Then La Berarde is your climb.
Starting just down the road from Bourg d’Oisans, 27 kms long, occasionally steep, but generally not too difficult. This is a perfect training ride for those a little intimidated by the Alpe. Details here.
#6 Col d’Ornon, and Oulles
These two climbs start a couple of kilometres down the road from Bourg d’Oisans. Ornon is scenic and not too difficult. The road to Oulles is a steep, little detour that will amaze you – I promise.
This link is a ride including Alpe d’Huez and the above climbs.
#7 Col de la Croix de Fer
Here are six routes up Col de la Croix de Fer – the Bourg d’Oisans side is the first discussed in the link here.
Tip: a couple of kilometres before Col de la Croix de Fer is the turnoff to Col du Glandon. It’s just a few hundred metres to the Col. At a minimum, take a peek over the top as the last 2 kilometres of the far side of Glandon have some fabulous hairpins.
#8 Oz Station
A very nice 8 kilometre hair-pin filled climb above Lac du Verney (the base of Croix de Fer / Col du Sabot). Details here.
#9 La Marmotte Cyclosportive Route
For the strong and motivated: The most famous cyclosportive in France (perhaps Europe?) starts at the base of Alpe d’Huez — in Bourg d’Oisans — and finishes at the summit. 174 kilometres and 5000 metres of ascent. Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Télégraphe, Col du Galibier, and Alpe d’Huez. Hard work. Details here.
#10 Col de Cluy
Here is superb alternate way up to Col de Sarenne and the back side of Alpe d’Huez. The route in the link also includes the fully paved extension above Alpe d’Huez to the beautiful Lac Besson. Details here.
Tip: While I used a road bike, please note, there are a few kilometres on “good” gravel roads on each side of Col de Cluy. If you are fussy, bring thicker tires.
#11 Col du Souchet via Col Nazie
Feel like mountain biking? Here is a four Col ride that goes much higher than any of the above climbs. My friend Bastien showed me this great route. Details here.
#12 Col du Jandri (Glacier de Mont-de-Lans)
This is an unpaved climb above Les Deux Alpes that reaches ….. 3141 metres. Wow, one of the highest roads in Europe. Details here.
#13 Glacier de Saint-Sorlin, Cols Nord & Sud des Lacs
Directly behind the Col sign at Col de la Croix de Fer is a brilliant gravel road that goes much higher to two dams/lakes and eventually to the base of the Glacier de St. Sorlin. Requires a mountain bike but brilliant. Details here.
The Road to Avoid!
48 kilometres above, the south side of the legendary Col du Galibier is obviously a goal of anyone visiting Bourg d’Oisans. But the lower slopes have perhaps ten tunnels. Many are long, wet, and dark. And while usually not the busiest road, it is a fast “through-road,” including trucks. Frankly, I think it’s dangerous. Many a cyclo-tourist has had a lousy day on the bike here.
It’s a matter of taste, but I hate this stretch, even descending. But long, dark, narrow, uphill tunnels? No thanks.
But, of course, you still should visit Col du Galibier. The last bad tunnel is just above La Grave, so I recommend driving above here to start. This leaves a scenic, easy stretch to Col du Lautaret and then the last, best 8.5 kilometres to Galibier. If you want to make a big day, just descend the other side of Galibier as far as you like (it’s 35 kms down), and double back. In fact, I have several times just parked at Col du Lautaret and headed up.
The above list is fairly comprehensive, but please feel free to comment with additional ideas. One climb missing is Les Deux Alpes (
and mountain biking high above – Edit: see Col du Jandri above). I’ll try and cycle it soon. 🙂