French Alps: Sea to Ski (19 June – 4 July 2016)

Classic Climbs: Maritime Alps to Haut Alps of France (Sea to Ski)

19 June to 4 July, 2016

Cycle over the famous climbs of Tour de France fame. This is a tour for anyone looking for an unforgettable bicycling adventure.  The route traverses the high mountain passes of the Maritime Alps, Rhone Alps and Haut Savoie separating France and Italy.  Each summer every village and town along the route rolls out the welcome mat with festivals and local products prominently displayed.

First time riders in France will be amazed at the courtesy of drivers; often pulling over to the side of the road to allow us to pass on the exhilarating descents. You will hear shouts of encouragement from people on the side of the road near the top of nearly every climb. And you will wonder why you waited so long to ride in France where cycling is the national passion (or is that obsession). 

Beginning from Nice and the Cote d’Azur on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea the route includes passes made famous to cycling fans by the Tour de France on the journey northward to the shores of Lake Annecy just a short distance from Geneve, Switzerland. Our itinerary includes the names of nearly every pass that are perhaps household words to cyclists around the world.

Cycling in the Haut Provence region of the Alpes-Maritime the riding is a pleasant warmup of lesser known passes and tiny quiet roads.  Here the meals are delicately prepared with fresh herbs of Provence and paired with round flavored wines of Provence and Cote des Rhone.  Entering the Haut Savoie region of the Rhone-Alpes we are treated to visual and culinary delights, where cheese is offered as a delicacy almost above the delightful desserts. You will savor Tome de Savoie, Beaufort, Camebert, Rebloucon and Chevre cheeses in salads, sandwiches and sauces. The wines are light, but just right to enhance the less complex flavors of mountain meals.


This IS the epic-center of spectacular mountain pass riding. We will climb more cols (French for pass) than the riders of the Tour de France climb each July. We will likely spend three times as much time climbing as descending. And we will be grinning from ear-to-ear at the end of an epic ride from the Mediterranean Sea to the highest mountain passes of the French Alps. This is the ultimate Sea-to-Ski cyclists dream; to bag 25 named climbs in 14 days of riding.


Day 1 – Arrival

We meet you at the Nice, France Cote d’Azur airport for the short van transfer to our favorite start hotel in Vence. At the hotel we will help you get settled and offer suggestions for a short shake-the-legs-out ride in the nearby hills. Our welcome dinner will feature regional fare and allow everyone to get to know or catch up with each other.

Day 2 – Castellane  82km, 2000m climbing)

Leaving Vence over the Col de Vence seems the most fitting way to say aurevoir to the wonderful Cote d’Azur as we take one last picture of the Mediterranean before riding into the heart of Haut Provence.  Wildflowers bloom late-Spring into Summer at this latitude/elevation and the honey bees are busy collecting the nectar we enjoy with our croissants or fresh baquettes.  The climbers route includes the Col de Vence, Col de Bleine and Col de Saint Barnabe before descending into Castellane. 

Day 3 – Castellane loop rides

The Gorges du Verdon loop offers wonderful views of the “grand canyon of France”.  The waters of the Verdon river are a striking contrast of color against the bleached colors of the vertical rock ways the form it’s channel. 

Day 4 – Valberg  (70km, 1900m or 88km, 2500m)

Riding along the shores of Lac de Castillon, today we arrive at one of the highest villages of Haut Provence as we position ourselves for one of the most spectacular climbs in all of the Alps.  Along the way we pass thru Val d’Allos as we leave the upper reaches of the Haut Verdon. The ascent toward Guillaumes thru the Gorges de Daluis before our final ascent up to Valberg is a scenic, geologic and engineering marvel as we follow the Var river upstream to rest for the night high in the mountains at the Valberg ski station.

Day 5 – Barcelonnette  (75km, 1700m or 115km, 2700m)

The day begins with a gentle warmup over the Col de la Couillole (1678m ASL) followed by a twisting descent to the Gorges de Valobres.  The ride upstream begins thru the Gorges de Valabres thru Isola and St Etienne, where the climbing into the sky begins to steepen as we press the pedals toward the Col de la Bonette (2860m).  The air becomes thin as we leave the Alpes-Maritime and the Cote d’Azur coast in the distance.  The descent to Barcelonnette is an every changing tapestry of meadows, rocks, canyons, streams and trees. The optional shorter route descends back to the Var river and climbs over the Col de Cayolle before descending into Barcelonnette. Barcelonnette is unique in France; it has a Spanish motif and influence.  A cool post ride cerveza awaits.

Day 6 – Barcelonnette loop (Allos-Champs-Cayolle) — (121km, 3340m climbing; mostly 7-8% with some 9-10% sections)

The loop of the three cols is perhaps the most scenically beautiful loop in all of the Alps. 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. I recommend a counter-clockwise direction for a couple of reasons: 1) you will be climbing the portions of the route that offer the best views; 2) the clockwise direction descent from Col du Champs is riddled with “water-bars” that are not fun at speed.

Day 7 – Briancon  (102km, 2800m climbing)
The 24km warmup riding upstream along the Ubaye river is gentle and relaxing.  From St Paul the grade steepens to a maximum of 11% before reaching the Col de Vars; spectacular views of the Parc des Ecrins peaks and the distant peaks defining the Col d’Izoard are our reward.   A short descent thru Vars and into Guillestre is followed by a relaxing 15km ride along the Guil river toward Queyras.  The final 16km gains 1,095m at an average of 6.9% and a maximum sustained gradient of 10%.   The barren scree slopes with protruding pinnacles form a dramatic backdrop to the stream of bicycles, motocycles and cars traversing this giant of Tour de France lore.  The descent from the Col d’Izoard features a near perfect blend of curves and surfaces as we almost coast into Briancon.

Day 8 – St Jean de Maurienne (84km, 1600m climbing)

Col du Lautaret, Col du Galibier and Col du Télégraphe separate Briancon from St Jean de Maurienne.  The first obstacle, col du Lautaret, serves as a 28km warmup at an average of 3% with a maximum of 5%.  The Col du Glaibier starts from the Col du Lautaret (2058m) and is 8.5 km long at an average of 6.9% with a  macimum of 12.1% near the 2645m summit.  The views looking south into the Parc des Ecrins and north to Mount Blanc are breathtaking.  A rim searing descent to Valloire is followed by an easy 4.8km, 3.4% climb of the Col du Té légraphe.   The steady stream of cyclists climbing from the floor of the Maurienne Valley greets us as we plummet to St Michel de Maurienne.  Finally we roll downstream to St Jean de Maurienne where we will be based for three nights.

Day 9 u0026amp; 10 – St Jean de Maurienne
The variety of rides and climbs accessible from St Jean entices us as we rest or ride from our cyclist’s hotel base in the heart of town.  Nearby are Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Mollard, Col du Chaussy and La Toussuire for our climbing delights. 

Day 11 – Albertville  (90km, 2600m climbing)
Riding into the heart of the Haut Savoie we are treated with the sound of cowbells as we climb the iconic Col de la Madeleine from the Maurienne valley and descend into the Isere valley. This is the region of Rebloucon and Beaufort cheeses. We will stay for three nights in our luxurious hotel in the heart of Albertville, where our hosts SuChen and José greet us with smiles and the promise of a delicious dinner. 
Day 12 u0026amp; 13 – Albertville loop rides  (114km, 2100m climbing; 96km, 1700m climbing; 50km, 300m climbing; occasional 10% grades)

Albertville was the host of the 1992 Winter Olympics and today is known as a “cycle touring city” with a fabulous infrastructure for cyclists of all abilities.  It is ideally situated for skiing during the winter months and the roads to the ski stations are well maintained to provide cyclists with spectacular riding opportunities just a few kilometres from town, the riding is awesome and scenery is always changing.  Notable climbs nearby include Col des Aravis, Col de Saisses, Cormet de Roselend, Col du Pré, Col de Croix Fry, Col de Tamie and various ways of connecting all of the cols.  We are definitely not in Kansas Toto.

Day 14 – Annecy  (45km, 350m; 50km, 800m; or 81km, 1600m)

There are several ways from Albertville to Annecy, and perhaps the most pleasant is the cyclepath connecting these towns; using old railroad beds this is the ultimate “rails-to-trails” route.  Of course there are climbing routes that will take your breath away with their sheer majesty too. 


Day 15 – Annecy loop rides  (87km, 2200m)

The classic rides from Annecy include Col de la Forclaz and the le Semnoz, each with spectacular views of Lac de Annecy.  And the markets along the canal are a wonderful last opportunity to purchase last minute souvenirs or gifts for family and friends. 


Day 16 – Geneve airport departure transfers  (July 4, 2016)


Planning Details:

Arrive into Nice – Cote d’Azur airport by 19 June. We have hotel space reserved for earlier arrival dates, so let us know your flight itinerary to confirm extra room nights. 

Depart from Genève -Cointrain Airport not earlier than 4 July. Later departures may be arranged.   


Comfortable family operated Bu0026amp;Bs, inns and hotels well situated to enjoy local culture and flavors.


Group breakfasts and dinners featuring typical local flavors and dishes prepared individually for our enjoyment. Breakfasts provided by our lodging partners. Dinners generally include a variety of choices for each course (starter, first course, main course, dessert); paired with wines, beer and after dinner coffee. Most dinners served from the kitchens of our hotels, others taken in nearby restaurants.



15 nights, 15 breakfasts, 13 dinners, daily road snacks/picnics, maps and route descriptions, luggage transfers, on-the-road ride guides, van support (sag wagon).


Lunches, 2 dinners, tips u0026amp; gratuities, airfare, museum entries, trams or lifts, trip insurance


Estimate $4500 double occupancy per person

$5250 single occupancy per person (3 spaces possible)