Travel: Cote d'Azur - updated Spring '22
Photo: Col de Braus (heading toward Sospel)
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. Trips in both 2020 and 2022 have really 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.
It’s a question of preferences but for us we found the shorefront area of Nice annoying to navigate on bikes and excessively 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. It should be noted that inland areas can be extremely quiet and remote so look carefully for that Goldilocks location where you have easy access to amenities that are important to you. If you are arriving by air then Nice airport is conveniently situated with Cannes airport a little further west.
When you ride inland the car traffic almost disappears and we also saw very few cyclists except for local club riders enjoying their Sunday group rides. It is also worth bearing in mind that on some routes there may be considerable distances between shops and restaurants so be prepared to carry a generous amount of nutrition and drinks.
There are many possibilities for rewarding routes in this area but we will highlight two possible routes to give a flavour of the region.
The first route predominantly tackles the inland areas to the west of Nice and 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 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
The second and more challenging route heads north and east of Nice and highlights two epic climbs in the Cols de Braus and Turini. Starting on the Col d'Eze you head east through Eze, then the pretty village of La Turbie and steadily climb toward the attractive and scenic village of La Peille. (If you prefer you can take a right turn before La Peille and make the short climb to the peak of the Col de la Madone from the western side).
Sharp and technical hairpins bring you down the mountainside from Peille from where you continue north to the small town of L'Escarene where you will find a bakery and some shops should you need them. Leaving the town and heading north east you will quickly start to climb the stunning Col de Braus which measures 11km at an average of 5.7%. The views from the climb widen as you rise higher and take in spectacular gorges and tightly packed hair pins.
Photo: the ascent of the Col de Braus is a real natural wonder
Heading over the summit you'll take in a fast descent down to the town of Sospel which offers several good restaurants and also a water fountain in the square. If you're continuing to the Col du Turini you'd be wise to stock up as its a brute at 24km and 5.2% average. The first few kilometres are relatively gentle with little above 5% for the first 10 kilometres and there are easier sections before you get to kilometre 13, from where you'll face continual slopes of 7%-9% through thick forest all the way to the summit at over 1600m of altitude. Even during a warm week in April there was snow on the roadside in the final kilometres before the relief of the admittedly rather innocuous summit.
Photo: settling in for the long haul to the summit of the 24km Col du Turini
Starting the descent you'll face smooth and fairly straight roads before the junction takes you down toward Luceram with breath-taking vistas and spiralling switchbacks on the road below you. Luceram offers an opportunity to regroup and enjoy a drink knowing that almost wherever you are headed south will still be broadly downhill allowing you to start to recover from this epic ride.
Photo: looking down from the picturesque second half of the Col d'Eze