Day 1 – Arrival after meeting your flight into the Cote d’Azur airport we will help get you settled into our gateway hotel in nearby Vence. Riding, reading, resting or roaming the Old Town; you decide, we are here to help.
Day 2 – Vence loops – 64-110km, 1100-2400m
Vence is the epicenter of great riding choices. One of my favorite loops leaves Vence thru Tourettes up the Gorge du Loup toward Greolieres, then climbs up to Coursegoulles before descending from the Col du Vence back to Vence for a nice 60km ride. As you will soon discover there are numerous diversions along nearly every road in Provence, and this loop ride is no exception. For good health and future wealth a stop at the cyclist’s fountain in Tourettes is a must; it’s on your right as you get into the center of town. The road toward Grasse continues it’s serpentine trace around the curves and bends with a gentle descent to Pont du Loup where we encounter our next diversion
Day 3 – Castellane – 87-117km, 1200-2400m
Today we leave most of the hustle bustle of the Cote d’Azur behind as we climb into the hills and high valleys on our ride to Castellane. A quick stop in Gourdon for a café, pastry and pictures, then we are climbing away from the sea in earnest. The climbs today are gradual as the scenery and vegetation slowly changes to a more alpine look and feel; the air will be crisper and scents sharper. We arrive in Castellane mid-afternoon with plenty of time to take catnaps as we adjust to the new time-zone and shake a bit more of the jet-lag from our legs.
Day 4 – Castellane – Grand Canyon du Verdon – 70km, 1200m
There are many ways to enjoy this stunningly beautiful canyon, all of which are unlike any ride you are likely to find at home. The “classic” loop from Castellane is a 70km ride along the Verdon river with an amazing ride from la Palud to the edge of the rim where we will climb with the goats as we take in the dramatic cliffs above the Verdon river. We will rendezvous for a grand-picnic overlooking a rock-climbing paradise. If it is a hot day, you might want to take your swimming attire for a dip in the river on the way back to Castellane. Or for those who still have legs for more riding the loop extension to Jabron and down the gorge from St Thryse is breathtakingly spectacular. Dinner from the kitchen of our hotel is a must where dining on the terrace is very pleasant.
Day 5 – Castellane — Entrevaux loop 102km, 2200m of climbing
Riding over three passes that are unheralded is the essence of our Alpes-Maritime cycling adventure. You will be amazed that there are roads thru such remote areas, AND that they are paved and well maintained. This sheep grazing territory with quiet and quaint settlements where residents meet for café and to buy fresh baguettes will cause you to wonder if it gets any better. We will descend to the old fortified city of Entrevaux where a lunch across the drawbridge and inside the walls seems fitting. Afterward we climb up thru another canyon and over the col du Toutes Aures (1120m) before descending to the shores of lac de Castellane. The stunning colors of the water will have you wondering if they add coloring to the water, but it is all a result of the minerals washed down from the rocky mountains. You will have time to relax in the town plaza with a refreshing beverage before dinner at our hotel.
Day 6 – Digne-les-Bains — 76-136km, 1000-2700m climbing
Choosing which way to ride from Castellane to Digne-les-Bains is not easy, but there are easier ways and harder ways to ride. The easiest route takes on the Route Napolean over the col des Leques (1148m) and thru the Clue de Taulane to Barreme, where we join the longer route. From here we follow the historical Route Napolean and descend past the thermal baths to Digne-les-Bains. The longer route follows the Verdon river upstream toward Col d’Allos before climbing over a unique geological region toward Barreme. Either way you choose, the riding is superlative and the scenery ever changing.
Day 7 – Digne-Sisteron-Digne 103km, 1200m or 140+km, 2500m
A ride to Sisteron to view the Citadel is justification enough for the journey, but it gets better as we explore another remote valley with roads that are so tiny you expect to see golf carts around the next bend. Of course there are always options for additional climbing or distance on roads that are so quiet the only sounds you hear are distant bells, birds, the wind and your own breathing. Tonight is dinner on your own at a restaurant of your choice.
Day 8 – Barcelonnette – 88km, 1000m
The route begins with a gentle climb upstream thru an amazing canyon, Clues de Barles, with one of the best examples of geological uplift in the region. Here the sedimentary rock formations are tipped vertically on edge forming the Clue de Verdaches with spectacular textures and shadows as the streambed narrows and cascades alongside the roadway. Climbing over the Col de St Jean we are treated to a beautiful view of the Parc National des Ecrins peaks before descending to the Ubaye river. We ride upstream to Barcelonnette, where you will soon be relaxing enjoying stunning views and sipping cold refreshments.
Day 9 – Barcelonnette 3 cols loop (Allos, Champ, Cayolle) – 122km, 2600m
The loop of the three cols is perhaps the most scenically beautiful loop in all of the Alps. Because it is so stunningly beautiful on a sunny day, a early morning start to catch the good lighting is recommended. Each of the three climbs offers strikingly different topography and vegetation, so make sure your camera batteries are charged and your memory cards are cleared before you ride. Dinner is on your own tonight at one of the many great restaurants near our hotel.
Day 10 – Barcelonnette 2 cols ride (Vars, Izoard) — 80-150km, 1100-3200m
Barcelonnette is a wonderful town for just relaxing, reading or riding. And the ride options for today might be over the top, but you always sleep on the plane ride home. So, the epic ride takes us to the top of the col d’Izoard, then retracing our route back to Barcelonnette. Or you can have a more leisurely day and ride to Guillestre for lunch and return. Either way, the roads you will never tire of the scenery and riding enjoyment.
Day 11 – Valberg – 125km, 2700m
Col de la Bonette at 2710m is the highest paved road in Europe. The 1600m (over 5000’) climb from Barcelonnette to the frontier between France and Italy is breathtakingly beautiful. The Route des Grande Alpes begins in Nice; fortunately today we are descending nearly 2400m (almost 8000’) before our last climb of the day to Valberg.
Day 12 – Vence — 122km, 1520m – longer options available too
Today is our last day of riding remote roads amid wild-flowers and changing colors of the trees as we continue our descent toward the Mediterranean Sea. It is a special day of riding as we descend thru the Gorges de Daluis on a road that is an engineering marvel. It seems that sole purpose of the road is to provide access for tourists to see the incredible rock formations and the unusual coloring of the rocks and hills in this erosion crafted gorge. We will pass thru Entrevaux on our route to the sea, this time stopping only for pastries and a café, because tonight is bike packing time and our bon voyage dinner in Vence.
Day 13 – Departures
Cote d’Azur, Nice, France