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From passes to canyons – cycling in France’s Alpes d'Azur

Martijn van Rooij

From passes to canyons – cycling in France’s Alpes d'Azur

Bike Touring Collection by Vincent Reboul

3-5

days

3-5 h

/ day

141 mi

16,200 ft

16,175 ft

You probably know the Alpes de Haute-Provence, the Hautes-Alpes and the Alpes-Maritimes. But have you ever heard of the Alpes d'Azur?

Far away from the urbanisation, overcrowded beaches and hustle and bustle of the French Riviera’s coastline, I’ll take you to the little-known and quiet mountains in the Azur. This ride totals 230 kilometres (143 mi) split across four stages.

The route follows a kaleidoscope of valleys, gorges, canyons and caves, passing myriad mountain villages. Each has its own character, colour, atmosphere and personality. It’s difficult to mention all of the swimming and canyoning spots as there are so many. In this itinerary, I chose a selection of the most accessible, but hidden places.

Starting from the train station in Nice, you ride in the direction of Grasse and discover the gorges of the Loup River. Next, you meet the Gironde and Estéron rivers in the Préalpes d'Azur regional nature park. You then ride up the Vésubie gorges until the village of Lantosque where you explore the Infernet Valley. On the fourth and final stage, you cross no less than seven passes on the same day, covering 60 kilometres (37 mi). A wonderful descent takes you into the heart of Menton city.

This route reveals the Alps in all their glory with a string of passes that most cycling enthusiasts have never heard of. If you are a member of the Club Des Cent Cols (centcols.org) and would like to add some unknown passes to your list of achievements, then this Collection is for you.

In Menton, I encourage you to go for a swim in the sea before heading to Garavan’s small train station, where this route ends. You can catch a regional train to Nice from here.

As the terrain is difficult and there are many climbs, I kept the distances short. The idea is that you can spend plenty of time lazing around in a natural pool in a canyon. It’s suitable for most cyclists, but your legs still need to be up for some mountain climbs. This route is primarily geared towards road bikepackers.

Summer is best to make the most of the cool water and shaded valleys. The rivers can be freezing cold in any other season. You can easily find plenty of accommodation and food en route.

There are two traditions well established in the world of the cyclist: the inevitable coffee break at kilometre 40 (24.8 mi) and beer at the end of the stage. With this Collection, I would like to add a third one: the mid-stage swim! Come and discover the turquoise pearls of the Estéron, the Vésubie’s natural pools sculpted into the rock and the sheer cliff faces of the Loup.

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Les Alpes d'Azur

139 mi

15,900 ft

15,925 ft

Last updated: January 29, 2022

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Tours & Highlights

  • Difficult
    04:26
    35.0 mi
    7.9 mph
    4,475 ft
    1,825 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Some portions of the Tour may be unpaved and difficult to ride.

    Depart from the central train station in the city of Nice and head straight for the Mediterranean Sea. Then take the famous Promenade des Anglais. If you have time, I advise you to take a look at Cours Saleya, which is the main pedestrian route in Old Nice.

    

    At the very beginning of the route, you have

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    03:42
    33.7 mi
    9.1 mph
    3,475 ft
    5,075 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    What a beautiful day ahead! We can hardly do better. You will start by discovering unknown and deserted passes such as Pinpinier, offering you incredible views. The climbs are regular and gradual. About twenty kilometers after the Col de Bleine, you reach the maximum altitude of the stage: 1,450 meters

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  • Difficult
    03:43
    33.4 mi
    9.0 mph
    3,100 ft
    2,650 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This morning, you leave the village of Roquestéron to arrive in Lantosque this evening. Along the way, you will arrive at the mouth of the Estéron which flows into the Var here, at Saint-Martin de Vésubie.

    

    You then take the Vésubie valley which goes up towards the village of Lantosque.

    

    It's an easier day

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    by Vincent Reboul

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  • Difficult
    04:36
    38.5 mi
    8.4 mph
    5,150 ft
    6,650 ft
    Expert bike ride. Very good fitness required. Mostly paved surfaces. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage could be called “the pass route”, as there are so many of them! They are seven and follow one after the other.

    

    Leaving Lantosque, you take the small deserted road in the Infernet valley. It will take you irremediably to the ascent of these passes which all evolve around 1,000 meters of altitude

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    4
  • Distance
    141 mi
  • Duration
    16:26 h
  • Elevation
    16,200 ft16,175 ft

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From passes to canyons – cycling in France’s Alpes d'Azur

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