Valmeinier and the Barrage de Bissorte


It’s a little strange to start cycling towards Col du Télégraphe without dreams of seeing Galibier soon. Valmeinier is a ski station above the Maurienne valley linked with Valloire – perhaps more familiar to cyclists – 17 kilometres below Col du Galibier.

After 9 of the 12 kilometres to Col du Télégraphe I turned off the main road to visit Valmeinier for the first time. The paved road goes perhaps 7 kilometres higher to Valmeinier 1800 (yes, it’s at 1800 metres). Valmeinier is dominated by Mont Thabor (3178 metres), and while I saw some unpaved ski-lift service roads higher, from studying some maps, it seems a great place for hiking, not cycling.

As a paved cycling climb to 1800? There are a few hairpins, it is 16 kms up — it is fine, but there is nothing particularly special to this little detour.

But I had an additional goal in mind ….

Anyone that follows this blog knows that I love searching for climbs to Alpine dams. Glancing at at a map, Lac de Bissorte looked like the largest in the north French Alps that I had yet to visit. But I was struggling to see how to get there on a bike. It is on the far side of the huge mountains above Valmeinier.

But there is an unpaved cliff road that goes around the mountains – running alongside the Maurienne valley below – that at least gets below the dam.

Unpaved road begins with a warning

Unpaved road begins with a warning

I really enjoyed this road. Great views below, no traffic, generally slightly up (with a few downs).

Eventually I reached Le Prec. A little plateau with some cabins. It was clear that I wasn’t getting to the dam by bike. It was a long, steep (see the bump in the map profile), hiking trail up – the dam was visible high in the distance. But despite the quickly worsening weather, I wanted to have a look. So I hid my bike in the woods and started hiking. It’s a long hike, definitely worth it.

Hid bike in the woods well below and hiked up

Hid bike in the woods (well below in photo) and hiked up

It was lightly raining and even a touch of wet snow, but it was nothing terrible. But clearly, on a sunny day this must be a lovely place. High mountains hidden in the clouds on three sides of this long lake.

biggest hydro-electric provider in Savoie

biggest hydro-electric provider in Savoie

At least there was a life preserver if I fell into the lake:

On the dam. Lac de Bissorte.

On the dam. Lac de Bissorte.

I hiked back down, feeling pleased that I had made the effort. In the future, “Bike / Hike” may become a new strategy for some tough to reach cols. 🙂

This was a fun outing. But in general, when you visit St-Michel-de-Maurienne, I suggest climbing Col du Galibier via Télégraphe, and giving Valmeinier a pass.


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Happiest while cycling uphill.


  1. Hi There,

    Great to see you’ve been up to my neck of the woods, we are based in Valmeinier. I’ve seen your posts and in fact headed to the Mont Denis climb earlier in the summer after reading your blog for the first time. I too had seen the road many times from Les Karellis where I frequently train early in the spring time.

    For the record Valmeinier is a great little place during the winter season, with lots on offer for families and keen skiers alike. It’s quite funny because most of our guests often regard the last 5.4km from the junction on the main road back to our chalet as the hardest of the day 🙂

    Hope to see you on the roads sometime?



  2. Hi Rob, thx for the message. I didn’t mean to sound too negative on Valmeinier. It looked like some great mountains to explore and a good place to ski. And I was there on an overcast day 🙁

    Yes, that last stretch probably had tougher stuff than the very regular Télégraphe. How is the mountain biking above? Better to hike than VTT?

    Great place for you to be based.



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