Cycling trip to Cote d'Azur?

Photo: Col de Braus (heading down toward the coast)

When cyclists think of the French riviera two things may spring to mind, firstly that Lance Armstrong famously used the Col de La Madone as his annual “performance” benchmarking and secondly the multitude of publicity/tax shy sportspeople who base themselves in nearby Monaco.  A trip in early 2020 opened our eyes to the area and we think it’s a destination worthy of considering alongside the likes of Mallorca, Girona, the Alps or Pyrenees.   As with all good cycling trips, we left thinking of our next return trip.

It’s a question of preferences but for us we found the shorefront area of Nice annoying to navigate on bikes and rather built up.  On the bright-side as you move inland away from the more touristic areas the scenery and riding is spectacular and varied.  With this in mind we would plan to base ourselves someway inland to make the most of the best roads and climbs.  If you are arriving by air then Nice airport is conveniently situated with Cannes airport a little further west and requiring a 30+ minute car transfer to arrive at the area covered here.

There are so many possibilities for rewarding routes in this area but we highlight one such route below to give a flavour of the area.  Predominantly tackling the inland areas to the west of Nice, the route starts and ends in the idyllic artistic village of Mougins, which is worthy of a visit in its own right.  Heading north-west in the direction of Grasse you’ll start to steadily gain altitude and also start to feel that you are leaving the more populated areas behind you. Continuing north you’ll start to navigate a spectacular gorge and there are lots of photo opportunities as you make your way up to the village of Gourdon at the local peak.

Photo: Approaching Gourdon

By now you’ll feel like you are in a different country to the bustling coastline below and this continues as you make your way along the stunning switchbacks between Greolieres and Coursegoules, which at about 1000 metres above sea level marks the high point of the ride. 

Photo: peaceful roads around Greolieres

A small descent and rise delivers you to the peak of the Col de Vence.  The landscape is extremely bare and liable to be windswept but the open view also means for long sightlines on the fast descent down into the town of Vence.  You’ll feel the temperature rising as you drop down and olive groves welcome you into the town and a Mediterranean feel again.  Should you need it, there is conveniently a small bike shop as you approach the town, which itself makes an ideal stopping point with a good selection of cafes and restaurants.  Vence is at around 400 metres above sea level and there are several routes down to the sea, including via Gattieres and then toward the start of the loop. 

Photo: Col de Vence

Other route suggestions:  If you prefer a flatter route with good coffee and gelato stops (they get better still if you cross the border) then you can take the coastal road east of Nice via or preferably on the roads above glitzy Monaco and through sophisticated Menton.  The roads above Monaco are surprisingly scenic and offer spectacular sea views, along with a good chance of seeing several of the higher earner from Team Ineos training. 

Photo: Taking the high road above Monaco

Alternatively you can depart from Menton to tackle the famous Col de Madone and beyond that the Col de Braus, from the other side to described in the ride above. 

If you are seeking quiet and sinuous valley roads then consider heading north east from Nice via Colomars, Tourrette-Levens and L’Escarene, from which you can also take on the Col de Braus.