Maritime Alps

There are few regions that can offer you challenging riding through snow-covered mountains in the height of summer

The D902 Col de la Cayolle presents an amazing spectacle, weaving between snow walls

The D902 Col de la Cayolle presents an amazing spectacle, weaving between snow walls

Timing is everything. On our first big loop through France in 2013, we found ourselves on the southern fringes of the Maritime Alps with a big problem: it was the first week of June and most of the passes were still closed. Luckily, Col de la Cayolle was open – twisty roads threading between high snow walls, with hot sun and cold air.

Going south means the weather seems to get warmer with every mile but some years, altitude holds onto the snow in the Mercantour national park. It’s home not only to La Cayolle but also to La Bonette – famously the highest non-dead-end road in Europe. The pass itself is slightly lower than the more northerly Col de l’Iseran, but the loop of tarmac up to the monument at Cime de la Bonette is a 2802m record-breaker.

As well as the passes, this area is rich in amazing gorges – from the tight Daluis on the Var and Cians to the vast Gorges du Verdon, France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. The riding changes in nature as we get closer to the coast, as the fringe of the Riviera is busy and suburban, but there are still amazing, quiet roads way up in the hills – not least of which is the Route Napoleon, which leads from Cannes to Grenoble.

PLACES TO STAY

BARCELONETTE
Easily reached in the Urbaye valley in heart of the mountains, the perfect base for exploring the high mountains. Hotel tip: Le Grand Hotel

SOSPEL
A quiet town one pass inland from the coast on the Route des Grandes Alpes – half as busy as the Riviera and twice as nice. Hotel tip: Auberge Provençale

CASTELLANE
Where Route Napoleon meets the end of the Gorges du Verdon the French built the quaint town of Castellane – very considerate of them! Hotel tip: Nouvel Hotel du Commerce

OFF THE BIKE

THE GRAND CANYON
If the views of the Gorges du Verdon from the bike aren’t enough to get your pulse racing, why not take a white-water raft and admire it from the base? There are several companies offering tours.

LA BONNETTE
Doesn’t matter if you approach it as a tick-in-the-box ride, the obligatory selfie beside the monument at the top of Cime de la Bonnette is worth it for the great ride to get there.

LAC DE SERRE-PONCON
Lac de Serre-Ponçon is a huge reservoir with stunning views ten miles from Gap in the Hautes Alpes. At Savines-le-lac on the southern side, there is a watersports centre where you can take boat tours.

QUAD-BIKING
Just 15 miles from Barcelonette, at the pretty village of Seyneles-Alpes, you can trade two wheels for four and go off-road on a one or two-hour quad ride in the mountains.

CLIMB A MOUNTAIN
Via ferratas are in-vogue at the moment – find out why as you scramble up a steep mountain and wobble your way across a rope bridge over a sheer drop. One for adventure lovers.

TAKE THE WATERS
Relax like a Roman in the natural thermal springs, now handily channelled into a swimming pool. Specialist treatments are also available, along with gym facilities for the energetic.

MINI MEXICO
As unlikely as it sounds, Barcelonette has 19th-century Mexican villa architecture, a Mexican tourist office, similarly themed shops and roving Mariachi bands.

ST PAUL DE VENCE
Could this be the nicest small town in Provence? Perched on a hilltop overlooking the bigger, bustling, modern Vence is the perfectly-preserved, pedestrianised St Paul de Vence – crammed with great cafes, as well as a museum and art gallery. Great place.

WHISKY
In the small town of Mens, you can wash down a bouffette – two biscuits sandwiched together with a sweet creamy filling – with a locally-produced single malt at the Domaine des Hautes Glaces. Tastings are excellent value at €8.

BETTER PACK THE DJ
Fancy your chances as the next high-roller? Roll yourself out of the mountains and onto the Riviera and the casinos waiting to welcome the well-heeled rider. And if Menton doesn’t take your fancy, why not head to the nearby principality of Monaco?

PARAGLIDING
Swing high above Gap strapped together with an instructor for a familiarisation paragliding flight before relaxing with a drink in the Place Jean-Marcellin.

SILVER MINES
At l’Argentière-la-Bessee on the edge of the Ecrins National Park, you can descend 80m under the mountain into a disused silver mine that was active for 2000 years and visit the associated museum. Tours must be pre-booked though.

LAC DE SAINTE-CROIX
At the Western end of the Gorge du Verdon, stop off on the south side of the Lac De Sainte-Croix at Le Petit Port where you can rent an electric-powered boat for 30 minutes to an hour for a relaxed tour of the lake.

THE GREAT LAKE
If you’re going to stop at a lake, it might as well be Allos, Europe’s largest natural high altitude mountain lake. The pristine sight is set in a lush natural valley and nearby activity options include an enormous steel-framed luge course and water park.

ENTREVAUX
A picturesque medieval village near Annot with a Vauban-fortified citadelle that comes with the added bonus of a privately-owned motorcycle museum on two floors that operates on a donation-basis.

GETTING THERE

Heading this deep into the mountains is a two-day ride unless you want to be an exhausted zombie when you eventually get there. Even doing it in two days can demand a fair chunk of motorway, but three days allows for a far more relaxed, scenic ride.

CALAIS TO BARCELONETTE
Distance: 775 miles. Riding Time: Three days. Overnight stops: Mesnil St Pierre and Chaumont-le-Bourg
Day one route map   Download the GPX    Day two route map   Download the GPX   Day three route map  Download the GPX

CALAIS TO CASTELLANE
Distance: 735 miles. Riding Time: Three days. Overnight stops: Chamouilley and Chambrey
Day one route map   Download the GPX    Day two route map   Download the GPX   Day three route map  Download the GPX

LE HAVRE TO CASTELLANE
Distance: 715 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: La Chatre and Le Puy-en-Velay
Day one route map   Download the GPX    Day two route map   Download the GPX   Day three route map  Download the GPX

OUR MOTORCYCLE TOURING ROUTES

maritime-alps-map.PNG

NAPOLEON AND LA BONNETTE
Start/finish: Castellane. Distance: 220 miles. Riding time 6 hours
Route Napoleon, Clue de Barles, Col de la Bonnette… the road names are great but the riding’s even better.
Route map 220 miles   Download the GPX

VERDON AND LOUP LOOP
Start/finish: Castellane. Distance: 180 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
A complete lap of the Gorges du Verdon plus the less famous But equally-great Gorge du Loup.
Route map, Download the GPX

ULTIMATE LA BONNETTE LOOP
Start/finish: Barcelonette. Distance: 190 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
Col de la Cayolle, Col des Champs, Gorges du Daluis and Gorges du Cians… then La Bonnette. Epic.
Route map 190 miles    Download the GPX
Reversed route map,   Download the reversed GPX

 

ALLOS, CHAMPS AND LARCHE
Start/finish: Barcelonette. Distance: 155 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
Stunning riding looping through the Mercantour and into Italy over Col de la Lombarde, returning over Col de Larche.
Route map,   Download the GPX

TENDE AND TURINI
Start/finish: Sospel. Distance: 160 miles Riding time: 5.5 hours.
Over the epic Col de Tende (adventure bikes take the unpaved hairpins, tourers take the tunnel) to Italy and back over Rallye Monte Carlo stage, Col du Turini.
Route map, Download the GPX

VENCE ADVENTURE
Start/finish: Sospel. Distance: 190 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
Col du Braus, Col de Vence and the most some of the most beautiful, challenging roads in Provençe.
Route map,   Download the GPX

 

Please note: This page contains the route files for The RiDE Guide To France which came free with RiDE magazine in July 2017. These website page are not regularly updated, so please check all critical information before you travel. All route files are in .gpx format. Garmin and BMW users can download the main file, which contains all the routes and our recommended hotels as separate waypoints. TomTom users can download the individual routes and use the Tyre software to convert them. For many routes we also have Google Map links. However, as Google Maps will not plot routes over seasonally closed high Alpine passes when they’re shut, these may not work for every route all year round.