The Rhône Alps

These mountains have everything – from miracles to majestic passes

The Col de la Machine is the kind of road you have to ride at least once

The Col de la Machine is the kind of road you have to ride at least once

The Alps is a huge range of mountains, running in an arc from the Mediterranean up, along the France/Italy border, through Switzerland and into Austria. France’s western Alps hold some of the most memorable riding – especially in this northern corner of the Rhone Alps, in Haut Savoie and Savoie.

This is where you pick up the Route des Grandes Alpes. It’s a series of interconnecting roads from Lake Geneva down to the sea, clambering over the great passes – including the highest in Europe, the 2770m Col de l’Iseran. The Route is 430 miles of undiluted, uninterrupted brilliance. But there’s far more to riding here than just the one route. It can’t take in all the passes and skips some of our favourites – the wildly scenic Col du Petit St Bernard or Col du Mont Cenis that cross to Italy, the challenging Col du Chaussy and Alpe d’Huez. It misses out the Vercors, as well as the Chartreuse mountains to the north of Grenoble. There’s so much here that one trip – one route – is never enough.

PLACES TO STAY

GRENOBLE
The biggest city in the French Alps has all the facilities you could possibly need and is easy to reach (masochists can get there in a motorway day, with an early start). It’s also the gateway to the mountains in the region. Hotel tip: Le Relais de Sassenage

BOURG ST MAURICE
An unspoilt town in the Tarantaise valley, which leads to Val d’Isere – but while the ski town largely shuts in summer, Bourg continues to bustle. Surrounded by amazing passes. Hotel tip: Hotel Arolla

BRIANÇON
It’s half the size of Grenoble, but Briançon bills itself as the highest city in Europe. It’s a lovely old town, with plenty of hotels and restaurants, and it’s right in the heart of the Alps. Hotel tip: Hotel Vauban

LE BOURG-D’OISANS
Sleepy village in the valley below Alpe d’Huez – so popular with cyclists, with good facilities for those of us on proper bikes… Hotel tip: Hotel Oberland

OFF THE BIKE

WALKING WITH LLAMAS
A quick mountain hike is fun, but hiking with llamas is better. Guide Gilles runs mountain tours and everybody gets a friendly llama to lead along. Best selfies ever.

LA ROTONDE
After Chambery’s gothic and medieval architecture, and sweet treats at Cedric Pernot, check out La Rotonde museum, the world’s biggest roundhouse.

MEGEVE
Megève is a beautiful ski resort, that is attractive in the summer too. Grab a coffee in one of the fashionable bars frequented by Jean Cocteau and Rita Hayworth.

GOING UNDERGROUND
Get down at the Grottes de Saint Christophe on a 90-minute walk around part of the 240km of limestone caves.

CHARTREUSE CELLARS
Monks at Chartreuse distillery and cellars - the longest liqueur cellar in the world - have tours and tastings at the ready.

FLYING HIGH
The Eagles of Leman is a bird of prey centre in Sciez with more than 120 raptors, working with knights on horseback.

CHÂTEAU D’ANNECY
Chateau d’Annecy is a 13th-century castle and former home to Count Geneva - a nice-sized gallery with an eclectic mix of art and artefacts.

LA BASTILLE
For stunning views of Grenoble and surrounding mountains, take the world’s first urban cable-car to the fortress on the hill.

EVIAN
You’ve drunk the water, now drink in the sights of Evian’s beautiful town shore.

GETTING THERE

If you’re on the first train of the day, it’s possible to get to Grenoble in a day… but that’s a tiring day of motorway riding. Taking an extra day - or even two - makes for a more pleasant journey. An overnight ferry to Caen or Le Havre may cost more but it saves a lot of miles (and as you land early, gives the trip a flying start). If you’re in a hurry, consider the Bikeshuttle: it ships your bike overnight to St Genis-Pouilly, just over the border from Geneva. You fly out and in the morning, you’re ready to head south into the Alps.

CAEN TO GRENOBLE
Distance: 560 miles. Riding time: Two days. Overnight stop: Avallon
Day one route map, Download the GPX Day two route map, Download the GPX

CALAIS TO BOURG ST MAURICE
Distance: 590 miles. Riding time: Three days. Overnight stops: Soissons
Day one route map, Download the GPX , Day two route map, Download the GPX , Day three route map, Download the GPX

LE HAVRE TO BRIANCON
Distance: 600 miles. Riding time: Two days. Overnight stop: Lapalisse
Day one route map, Download the GPX , Day two route map, Download the GPX

CALAIS TO GRENOBLE
Distance: 565 miles. Riding time: Two days. Overnight stop: Chaumont
Day one route map, Download the GPX , Day two route map, Download the GPX

OUR MOTORCYCLE TOURING ROUTES

ALPE D’HUEZ AND THE CROIX DE FER
Start/finish: Le Bourg d’Oisan. Distance: 175 miles. Riding time: 5 hours
A series of classic climbs including Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier as well as Alpe d’Huez.
Route map,    Download the GPX

CHARTREUSE HIGHLIGHTS
Start/finish: Grenoble. Distance: 180 miles. Riding time: 6 hours
Relaxed but scenic riding in the Chartreuse and Bauges mountains between Grenoble and Annecy.
Route map,   Download the GPX

VERCORS ADVENTURE
Start/finish: Grenoble. Distance: 210 miles. Riding time: 6.5 hours
Spectacular, scenic, challenging gorges and balcony roads (including Col de la Machine) in the Vercors.
Route map, Download the GPX

MADELEINE AND L’ISERAN
Start/finish: Bourg St Maurice. Distance: 150 miles. Riding time: 4.5 hours
Spectacular loop taking in Col de l’Iseran, les Lacets de Montvernier (part of the Tour de France) and Col de la Madeleine
Route map, Download the GPX

 TWO ST BERNARDS
Start/finish: Bourg St Maurice. Distance: 200 miles. Riding time: 6.5 hours
One of the classic Alpine rides: Col du Petit St Bernard, Col du Grand St Bernard, Col du Forclaz and Cormet Roselend.
Route map,   Download the GPX

COL AGNEL AND MONTGENEVRE
Start/finish: Briançon. Distance: 160 miles. Riding time: 5.5 hours
Over Col Agnel, the highest international border, looping through Italy on amazing roads.
Route map,   Download the GPX

IZOARD AND MONT CENIS
Start/finish: Briançon. Distance: 180 miles. Riding time: 5.5 hours
Figure-of-eight route taking in two of the most beautiful passes – Col du Mont Cenis and Col d’Izoard.
Route map, Download the GPX

MONT-DAUPHIN AND COL DE VARS
Start/finish: Briançon. Distance: 125 miles. Riding time: 3.5 hours
Laid-back, scenic route taking in the huge Vauban fortress at Mont Dauphin.
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.