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