Tour Reports
The Route des Grande Alpes is a tourist itinerary through the French Alps between Lake Geneva and the French Riviera passing over all the highest passes of the French Alps. It also hugs the Swiss and Italian borders so feel free to explore off route.

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During late May to September it becomes the play ground for mostly French, Italian, German, Dutch and increasing number of American bikers. Having done this route in part or in full 7 times over the years I’ve met bikers here from as far away as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and even a couple of French want-to-be’s from Quebec, so even if your travelling alone there is always someone to park along side, admire the view and do a bit of tire kicking.


Unveiled in 1937, the Route des Grande Alpes (Great Alps Route) runs from Thonon-les-Bains to Menton, from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, is 684 km long and includes 16 passes, among the highest in the French Alpine massif: six of them culminate above 2,700 metres.

The road starts at Évian, through Thonon, Morzine and Cluses to Chamonix. It then heads to Saint-Gervais and Megève, over the Col des Saisies (1,633 m). It then passes through Beaufort, Bourg-Saint-Maurice and onto Val-d’Isère. The road then crosses the Col de l’Iseran (2,770 m). The road then passes through Modane and over the Col du Galibier (2,642 m) and then the Col du Lautaret to La Grave. The road heads to Briançon and then over the Col d’Izoard (2,361 m). The road then heads through Embrun and over the Col de Vars (2,111 m) and onto Barcelonnette. The road then climbs the Col de la Cayolle (2,327 m) to Entrevaux, then follows the Var river to Nice.

In May/June 2010 I blogged here about my last run along this route but never got time to give a proper description of the route so over the next posts I’ll break down the Route des Grande Alpes into it’s 8 main stages, I’ll give full descriptions, photos, road maps, places to stay, both useful and probably utterly useless information and any other crap I can think of that might help you plan your trip to my view of bikers Mecca!

There is a fair load of work involved in this so I can’t upload a new stage every day, it will probably take me a week or 3, so if you sign up to the blog either on the home page or Twitter you will receive a notification as to my latest upload.

Practical advice:
The trail reaches an altitude of 2,300 metres at several points. It is a wise to pay attention to changes in the climate and temperature between the valley bottoms and the passes, it can be hot on minute and bloody freezing 10 mins later! From June to September the weather is perfect for riding but it can change drastically from one valley to another as in all high mountain areas so be prepared with thermals, rain gear and a high-vis jacket. Beware that some petrol stations don’t take credit cards so have cash just in case. In France some of the ski resorts completely close for the summer season so make sure you don’t plan to stay in a ghost town. Also, many of the hotels etc don’t open untill 6pm so if you get to your hotel at 5pm and it’s closed just go for a beer untill it opens. The Cols or Passes leading from France to Italy may be open on the French side but closed on the Italian side, there is little communication between the French & Italian road authorities so check your fuel tank before crossing into Italy as you may have to double back.

Road conditions – check the status of the Cols/Passes:
InfoTrafic: Alpes Du Nord
Bison Fute

Route Des Grande Alpes – Stage 1 – Thonon to Grand Bornand »

Biking Routes - France 2 Responses so far

2 Responses to “So what the hell is Route Des Grande Alpes anyway?”

  1. Trumpet1050 says:

    Hi Dennis
    Well it looks like I have another 7 day pass out at the end of May, and after your fantastic guidance last year for the Pyrenees Tour I am eager to get back out there. Would you think I could realistically get down from Calais do a few of the stages and get back before the rolling pin comes out?

    I am thinking 1 long day to get somewhere near the start then 3-4 days doing some stages plus a day to get back to Calais, leaving 1 day spare.

    The guidance was spot on last year so would be grateful for your respected advice Dennis.

    Cheers Paul

    • Denis Smyth says:

      Hi Paul,

      Sure, a week is no problem if you are willing to put in 2 long days, you could do either the Alps or Pyrenees. Off the top of my head you could do comething like this which would see you in some of the best parts of the Pyrenees for 3 nights and with a full 3 and a half days riding in the high central and Basque Pyrenees. This route might need a little fine tuning and you’ll need a back-up route just in case the higher roads still have snow. In late May you really should have no problem, but you know yourself with the weather these days and it’s still a little early in the year to make that call. I have some contacts down there telling me they’ve had some mental heavy snow this year but I should know by late April – early May when the passes will be cleared and open.

      There’s some magic roads in the eastern Pyrenees, most especially on the Spanish side so you could easily do something like this then back in to France east of Andorra. From there you could visit Rennes le Chateau for a quick search for the Templar gold before heading up through the Gorge du Tarn via the Millau Viaduc (always a buzz and loads of places to stay there – if you book soon). With a bit of fine tuning this could be a great option as you’ll get into the Tarn area before the holiday camper van season gets into full swing..

      For the Alps you could do something like this Again you’ll need a back-up route as it’s more likely for some of the high passes to still be closed..

      Have a blast ;)

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