Published On: March 5, 2024Tags: , , , ,

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Mountains are magic

AND THESE ARE MY FAVORITES IN THE FRENCH ALPS

France is a country I’ve been to countless times throughout my life and where I basically spent all my summer holidays when I was a kid. Discovering it all over again on a motorcycle has been an absolute and unforgettable blast. After spending many hours in the bigger French mountain ranges I can say that the Alps have surprised me the most with their diversity. The luscious greens, the rocky summits, crystal clear lakes and mind-blowing roads in every size. The Alps are just a small part of this big country to which I love to come back to nowadays and where many beautiful memories have formed over the last years. As a whole, the country has so much to offer. Hopefully I can do the Alps justice by making a top 10, but I can tell you it was a though one! It might be good to mention that I also included some off-road rides in this list.

* This trip can also be seen as a series on my YouTube channel, scroll down to start watching.
** I have tried my best to collect as much data as I could in the legend (keeping in mind that each pass runs from one valley, to the summit, to the other valley), but the shown numbers may not be 100% accurate. The included restaurants and accommodations are located around the summit.

10. COL DE LA MADELEINE – 1993M

Let’s kick off this list with a name that can be found in more places than one. Yes, there are more Col de la Madeleines, like the one at the foot of the Mont Ventoux. But the one I mean is located between the valley of the Isère and Maurienne. A small summit after a great road with multiple options to have some drinks and a bite while looking at the calming scenery and hearing those cowbells in the fields. I could listen to it all day and it feels as if you’re in ‘petit Switzerland’ here.

  • Winter closure Oct/May
  • GPX available: soon

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9. COL D’AGNEL – 2744M

The first time for me here and I instantly regretted not coming here earlier. It being one of the most famous passes of the Route des Grandes Alpes, I said to myself to never skip it ever again when I’m in the area. Quite literally the summit marks the border as it is the junction between France and Italy. It is the second highest road pass in the French Alps with a staggering 2744 meters and has a certain flow to it which makes riding here an absolute joy. If you’re lucky you might spot some Alpine ibex on the summit.

  • Winter closure Oct/May
  • GPX available: soon

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8. COL DE L’ISÉRAN – 2770M

As the highest paved pass in the French Alps you just simply cannot skip this one. Some of the most iconic bits are pictured in the photos, which will immediately remind some riders of their own adventures here. The road up and down is full of surprises and it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been here yet the beauty that awaits them. The framing of the bridge with the snowcapped mountain in the distance is one of my favorite corners of this pass as it really pleases my photographic eye. It’s just simply put “perfect” and how I envision a high mountain road on a glorious day out riding. In Val-d’Isère you can find countless options to spent the night or eat a meal.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

  • GPX available: soon

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7. COL DE LA MOUTIÈRE – 2454M

Although the drop-offs can be a little intimidating at times, this off-road pass is still a great ride. You don’t have to worry about traffic, because during my ride I could count the road users on a single hand. With an average gradient of 9% and numerous valleys, including a series of hairpin bends in the forests and some bunkers, the Moutière offers a wide variety of views. You’ll see the Col de La Bonette and the Cime popping up every now and then, if you have some time to take your eyes off the sometimes challenging road ahead. Depending on your own skill level, you can take some even more difficult detours, which will become apparant while riding here.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

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6. COL DU GRANON – 2413M

In an unexpected turn of events, I met some hikers at a gas station who suggested I go here. I will be forever grateful they told me! While it may not be the most exciting ride, the steep, winding and sometimes very narrow road up treats you to some epic views when you reach the gravel summit. An unpaved road extends beyond the pass, in a military zone, which is unfortunately prohibited for motorized vehicles. It did not spoil the fun for me at all, as I had an amazing lookout to the bigger peaks in the distance.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

  • GPX available: soon

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5. COL DU PARPAILLON – 2783M

One of the more popular tunnels in the Barcelonette area to check off that long riding list for many. The Col du Parpaillon was challenging to say the least as it was actually my first ever proper off-road experience with a fully loaded bike. After three Belgian riders helped me out after I dropped my bike in the valley, I told them I wanted to turn around and call it a day. I had zero confidence left I would make it up, which was still a VERY long way to go. But, they encouraged me and offered me their help to get to that tunnel. An offer I will never forget, let alone all the goosebumps moments I experienced afterwards while seeing the snowy summit come closer.

With only one road going up and down and a tunnel at 2783 meters altitude that could be closed when you finally reach it, it is worth checking out beforehand if it’s opened. If the vaulted tunnel is opened, 520 meters in pitch darkness awaits you. I could only smile as I heard the ice slush underneath me as I followed the rear light of one of the guys. To ride here it is advisable to use a good 50/50 or knobby tire as the track can be very rocky.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

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4. GORGES DE DALUIS

The Gorges de Daluis is nicknamed as the “small Colorado in Nice” and I wonder why. It may be a bit more south in the French Alps, but combine this one with a tour through the Gorges du Verdon and I guarantee you will see all the colors of the rainbow on this ride. This place made me never want to leave, as there is just so much to see. Don’t forget to take a short walk to the Pont de la Mariée quartzite bridge. This gorgeous road features 17 tunnels and astonishing red rocked formations. It takes you through spectacular corners and some sections where you’re almost hanging on the precipice. It’s definitely worth your time riding it up and down, to experience both sides as it gives you fresh views. Go get your adrenaline rush, but take it slow. I promise you, you won’t have the same feeling riding fast here.

  • Open all year round

  • GPX available: soon

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3. COL DU GALIBIER – 2642M

Not without reason my number three, the Galibier enchants me every time I ride there. Seeing it on many occasions already and on very different times of day, I can assure you that no matter the time you’re here, you will love it. If you have the possibility it’s rewarding to walk up towards the orientation table. It offers a beautiful view on both sides of the Galibier, as well as the summits in the near and far distance, including the Mont Blanc. You could say this road is close to bikers paradise.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

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2. LACETS DE MONTVERNIER – 782M

You love them or hate them: hairpins. Looking at the position in this top 10, it will not surprise you how I feel about them. The only downside to this location is its size in my opinion. It’s a real shame that it is only 3.4 kilometers long in which you climb a few hundred meters through the 18 hairpins. All the more reason to ride it again (and again). This narrow road is a true paradise for any lovers of tight (and blind) corners. The road looks stacked when looking down on it and next to attracting riders of any kind, it’s also appealing for any creatives that want to get their drone out. Seeing the road in its full glory is so satisfying.

  • Open all year round

  • GPX available: soon

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1. COL DE LA BONETTE – 2715/2802M

My number one in the French Alps for various reasons. One of them being that it felt like a completely different world I was entering the first time riding up to the Cime. It feels grand, otherworldly, the winding road never seems to end and with a few surprise elements along the way, this pass just offers everything you need for a thrilling and relaxing ride at the same time. When you’re riding here, make a small stop at the Camp des Fourches, which is an old military barrack from 1888 and eat the best omelet in the world at the Buvette de la Bonette.

The Col de la Bonette’s summit is officially at 2715 meters, but the highest point called the ‘Cime de la Bonette’ takes you up to 2802 meters. It’s a loop on top of the summit and gives you spectacular 360 views into the Alps. Some riders miss it due to not knowing it’s there, but I guarantee you, you don’t want to miss out on this one.

  • Winter closure Oct/May

  • GPX available: soon

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START WATCHING MY FRENCH ALPS SERIES

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