Edit: Updated from 10 to 15 and now 20 climbs.
It’s always extra fun to cycle extra high. Here are the twenty highest paved cycling climbs in France. Each climb below includes a link to a blog post with a map, photos, route description, etc.
The list is based on this Wikipedia article …. so feel free to point out any errors – I’ve added a few Swiss climbs missing there recently.
For more in this series see:
- The “Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in Italy” – here.
- The “Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in Switzerland” – here.
- Thirty of the Highest Unpaved Cycling “Roads” in the Alps – here.
- The Ten Highest Paved Cycling Climbs in the Jura Mountains – here.
See the bottom of this post for a pan Alps map with all the climbs from all three countries.
#1 Cime de la Bonette – 2,802 metres
At 2,802 metres, Cime de la Bonette is the highest paved road in France. Note, “cime” means “peak” – it is NOT a mountain pass. But Col de la Bonette is just below, at 2715 metres. Basically, they built a small loop of a road up and around a peak (photo above) to become higher than Col de l’Iseran.
Both sides start above 1000 metres, and are not too steep. But these are big climbs (and long: 24 kms & 26kms). Ride details here.
#2 Col de l’Iseran – 2,764 metres
The highest paved mountain pass not just in France, but also in Europe. From Bourg-St-Maurice, I believe it is also the longest climb in France (47.5 kms). I love the remote south side, and the north side above Val d’Isère is breath-taking. Details of both sides here.
Tip: Unless you’re touring through, the lower 2/3’s of the north side is just “ok.” Skip the nasty tunnels near Tignes, and start at Val d’Isère for a superb final 15 kms.
#3 Col Agnel – 2,744 metres
Col Agnel (or Colle dell’Agnello) is on the French / Italian border. It’s the third highest mountain pass in Europe (Iseran, Stelvio).
I’ve yet to cycle the Italian side – it’s the more difficult side – but have heard raves about it. Details of Italian side here. Details of the French side here.
#4 Col du Galibier – 2,642 metres
The grand-daddy of all French climbs. The most frequent Alps Tour de France climb, it is also the highest Tour summit finish ever. The north side, including Col du Télégraphe, is a 35 kilometre dream-of-a-climb. The south side is superb above Col du Lautaret.
For a detailed look of all three ways (two from the south-side) up Galibier – with lots of photos – see here. I also once cycled Galibier in the middle of the night, to see the sun-rise at the summit:
#5 Col de la Moutière – 2,454 metres
Maybe the least known climb in this top ten? This quiet, quiet road starts near the beginning of the south side of Col de la Bonette. It is poorly surfaced but entirely paved until the Col. Here the paved road ends. But, if you can, bring thicker tires – as I did in the link here. This allows you to climb three bumpy, gravel kilometres to the faux Col de Restefond (2,656m) and rejoin the paved main road just below the north side of Col de la Bonette.
#6 Col du Granon – 2413 metres
A friend once told me that he hurt his neck descending Col du Granon – because it was so steep. 🙂 Granon was for many years the highest Tour de France finish (1986), until passed by Galibier a couple years back.
No good photos but an old blog post here.
#7 Plan du Lac – 2,385 metres
A beautiful, lesser known climb in the Haute-Maurienne – not too far from the start of the south side of Col de l’Iseran. The paved road does continue beyond the Refuge/Lake, but soon dies out. More details here.
#8 Col d’Izoard – 2,360 metres
One of the most famous climbs in cycling. Both sides of this climb are beautiful, but the highlight is “La Casse Deserte” – the top few kilometres on the south side. Don’t forget to look out for the easy-to-miss Coppi-Bobbet monument 2kms below the summit.
Details of both sides here.
#9 Col de la Lombarde – 2,350 metres
Col de la Lombarde (Colle della Lombarda) is another high pass on the French/Italian border. The Italian side is the far more interesting climb. Truly beautiful. Admittedly, I’ve cycled the Italian side but only the top stretch of the French side, but base the opinion on reports from friends.
The French side passes through Isola 2000 ski station. It has never appeared in the Giro, although the Tour de France climbed the Italian side in 2008. Ride details here.
#10 Val Thorens – 2,350 metres
Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe at just over 2300 metres. While never too steep, and with some downhills, it’s a massive 38 kilometre climb with 2000 metres of ascent. Wow! More details here.
#11 Col des Gondrans – 2,347 metres
I’ve yet to cycle this – hopefully 2015 will fix that omission. I cycled this deserted, poorly surfaced road in 2016 – details here. Starting from Briançon, this climb shares the first kilometre or so with the road to Col d’Izoard. It soon leaves the main road and takes a small, old military road.
The route will pass the occasional military emplacement, including, after a few kms, the Fort d’Anjou, decommissioned since the war of 1870. The road is “paved,” but don’t expect a good surface- it has slowly degraded in recent years. And bring a mountain bike so you can go higher, as well as make a loop as described in my ride link above.
See here for a map, photos, and more details in a (French) blog post by my friends Bastien and Simon. Also, see the comment section below for more links.
#12 Col de la Cayolle – 2,326 metres
This is one of my favourite south Alps cols. Beautiful. It can be part of one of the truly great south Alps loops: 3 big cols (Cayolle; Champs; Allos), 120 kms, 3500 metres ascent, all on quiet, scenic roads. Details here.
#13 Barrage du Saut – 2280 metres
On the way to Col de l’Iseran, just below Val d’Isère – beside Lac du Chevril – are several wet, dark tunnels. In between these tunnels is a little known turn off up to the Barrage (dam) du Saut. At the dam the paved road ends, but the fun starts. One should really bring a mountain bike for this amazing ride.
Above is a superb, unpaved road up to the Dam/Lac de la Sassière. And from here, there is an old military trail that leads up to Col de la Bailleta (2852 metres). Plenty of snow even in July. Details here.
#14 Port de Boucharo – 2,270 metres
Many people think Col du Tourmalet (2,115 metres) is the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenées, but in fact it is Port de Boucharo (2270 metres), on the Spanish border. However, recently the last stretch to Boucharo (a dead-end itself) has been closed off and might not be accessible anymore by bike. But just before, on the same road, is Col des Tentes (2,208 metres).
Like Tourmalet, this climb starts from Luz-Saint-Saveur and while Tourmalet is far more famous due to its 70+ Tour de France appearances, Tentes/Boucharo is at least as interesting. I once saw a cow giving birth just before the Col – details here. 🙂
#15 Col d’Allos – 2,247 metres
A truly beautiful climb. I love the north side hairpins carved along-side a cliff. Again, along with the 12th highest climb – Col de la Cayolle – and Col des Champs, this can be part of the quintessential south Alps loop. 120 kms, 3500 metres ascent, all on quiet, scenic roads. Details here.
The south side (and possibly the north?) of Allos is closed to motorised traffic every Friday morning during the summer — see photo below.
#16 Err / Puigmal Ski Station – 2,221 metres
I know nothing at all about this dead-end climb located in the Pyrenées between Andorra and Perpignan. Anyone been there? It’s a small ski station that first opened in 1970. It has struggled financially in recent years due to a lack of snow.
#17 Cim de Coma Morera – 2,205 metres
Another climb I have yet to visit. In the Midi-Pyrenees, starting from Ossèja, it’s a 15.3 kilometre climb averaging just over 6%, up to the Spanish border.
#18 La Route des Lac – 2200 metres
Top-to-bottom, the best road-bike climb that I have done in the French Pyrenées – climbing past several remote dams/lakes. The route actually forks near the top. To the left is Lac Cap-de-Long (2,175 metres), and to the right Lac d’Aumar (2,200 metres). But I’ll just call this one climb. Details here.
#19 Col du Petit St. Bernard – 2,188 metres
On the Italian / French border, the best route is definitely on the Italian side vie Colle San Carlo. See here. It’s been a long time since I climbed the French side, but in this link note that I took a quieter, slightly longer, deviation in the middle of the route – descending via the main route.
#20 Col du Petit Mont Cenis – 2,183 metres
Also on the Italian border, the road to Col du Mont Cenis (and the dam/lake) at 2,083 metres is truly fantastic – again, especially the Italian side. But many cyclo-tourists forget to take a superb little 5 kilometre detour a touch higher up to Col du Petit Mont Cenis. Details here.
At Petit Mont Cenis, the paved road ends, but there is a really fun mountain bike extension to Col du Clapier (2,480 metres) – see here.
Hopefully, this provides a few ride ideas for people that already know the most famous alpine roads. I am planning on extending this list – plus the Switzerland, and Italy lists to 20 climbs soon. These will leave me several climbs that I have yet to do — good motivation! 😉