Overview of the Route des Grandes Alpes (southern half) cycling tour
2019 was an epiphany year for the discovery of bike-touring vacations. It would be difficult to reproduce the magical landscapes and setting of Lofoten, Norway. Yet, on the heels of that memory, I searched for another epic route but closer to home in this Covid-laced period. Et voilà….. the “Route des Grandes Alpes”, requiring just a train-hop across the pond of Lake Geneva.
The Route des Grandes Alpes is an incredibly panoramic road along the length of the French Alps, connecting two water basins: Lake Geneva (Thonon-les-Bains) and the Mediterranean sea (Nice).
It is also one of the most strenuous biking routes in Europe, with a total elevation of 18,000 meters along 700km, with 16 major peaks between 1,300m and 2,800m.
A part from the important traffic of motorized tourists roaring up and down the alpine hairpin bends, the landscape is quite breathtaking, solitary and peaceful. The most southern stages are also much calmer and with less traffic, often along remote canyon routes surrounded by a wild lush vegetation. The only villages are at the bottom of each peak.
The history of the Route is quite recent. Though started in 1860 under Napoleon III as a means to connect the newly annexed Savoie and Nice, it was not inaugurated until 1937 with the opening of the last peaks.
Because of its length, in this trip we opted to bike only the southern half of the Route (from St-Michel-de Maurienne to Nice), for a total of 428 km and 10,530m elevation in 8 days.
It is difficult to say which of the 8 segments was the best or worse. All offered incredible rides. Certainly Day-2 (Col du Galibier) and Day-3 (Col d’Izoard) presented spectacular breathtaking panorama and unique scenery of the higher peaks. Day-3 in particular was the most varied, from the incredible spiky rock formations of the Izoard at the top to the wilderness of the canyon in the valley. But the most southern sections were more peaceful and wild, running through thick vegetation, steep rocks and canyons, offerings more intimate and remote rides.
We look forward to complete the northern half of the Route at another time!
Read the individual Sections of Route des Grandes Alpes using the links below:
- St-Michel-de Maurienne to Valloire , France (Day-1)
- Valloire To Briançon , France (Day-2)
- Briançon to Guillestre , France (Day-3)
- Guillestre to Barcelonnette , France (Day-4)
- Barcelonnette to Guillaumes, France (Day-5)
- Guillaumes to Valdeblore , France (Day-6)
- Valdeblore to Sospel , France (Day-7)
- Sospel to Nice , France (Day-8)