There is probably no more mythic area for cycling than the French Alps. With its long Tour de France history and remarkable beauty, it is rightly on the bucket list of most cyclists who love to climb.
The French Alps are a large range of high mountains and deep glacial valleys that extend from near Lake Geneva in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, forming a natural border between France and both Italy and Switzerland. The northern French Alps are dominated by the Mont Blanc massif, with the peak of Mont Blanc itself being the highest point in the range – 4808 meters. High mountains extend right through the Northern and Southern Alps, then get lower as the range nears the Mediterranean. The Alps virtually plunge into the sea and form a dramatic backdrop to both Nice and Monaco on the Côte d’Azur.
- Location: Eastern France
- Gateway cities: Geneva, Lyon, Turin, Nice
- Climate: From Mediterranean to Alpine
- National Parks: 3 (protected area of 4000 km²)
- Highest mountain pass: Cime de la Bonette – 2802 m
- Tour de France History: Col du Galibier climbed first in 1911
Tour de France
For the cyclist the French Alps offer incredible riding, with some of the highest roads in Europe (the Cime de la Bonette, at 2802 meteres, is the highest paved-throughroad on the continent), unbeatable scenery and, of course, over 100 years of Tour de France history for you to follow.
The Tour de France made its maiden voyage over the Col du Galibier (2642 m) in 1912 on dirt tracks using heavy single-speed bikes. You can trace the same route up this col, along with countless others, with as many gears as you can fit on your bike! There are lots of reminders of the Tour throughout the Alps, with large monuments, memorial plaques and road-top painting to let you know that you are pedaling where giants have ridden.
But it’s not just Tour de France lore that makes the Alps a joy to ride through. Three of continental France’s seven national parks lie within the Alps, offering incredible scenery and serene beauty. From north to south the vegetation changes, too, with lovely forests of fir and spruce in the north and Mediterranean pines, thyme and lavender taking over as you get closer to the sea.
Getting to the Alps
The French Alps have few cities actually within the range, but are easily accessed from major towns on the periphery. The southern Alps are served by Nice, Marseille, Lyon and Grenoble and you can easily get to the northern Alps from Geneva, Lyon and even Paris. Major highways and high-speed trains can get you at least to the ‘edge’ of the French Alps, where excellent roads and some local train lines will transport you right into the heart of the mountains.
When to Come
Summer is the best time to ride in the Alps, with Autumn being another good choice. Many of the high passes are not open till June, but snow will often not fall on them till October or November.
Alps Cycling Tours
44|5 Cycling Tours offers two week-long French Alps bike tours: our original HighRoad Southern Alps, which begins in the historic city of Briançon, in the middle of the mountain range, and finishes on the Mediterranean Sea in Nice; and HighRoad Northern Alps, which starts on Alpe d’Huez and travels north to finish on the lovely shores of Lake Annecy. These two tours, if done back to back, would cover the entire French Alps from one end to the other. Our HighRoad Alps tours are week-long, all-inclusive cycling adventures that offer epic climbing, meticulously-planned routes, comfortable and cycling-friendly accommodation, excellent restaurant choices and high-quality support.
Our HighRoad Alps tours are rated ‘Hors Catégorie’ and are designed for strong riders who can handle multiple days of giant climbs and hours in the saddle. That being said, these are ‘tours’ and not races or ultra-endurance events, and we often finish our riding in time for a late lunch (other than our Queen Stages), giving you the chance to explore your surroundings on foot or just raise your legs and recover for the following day!