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Road bike France

From Briançon to the Mediterranean sea, all the gravel bike magic of the southern French AlpsRef CR3B

From Briançon to Menton, the mountains of the Southern Alps have a lot to tell us! And so do the rivers that run alongside them. The Durance, Ubaye, Tinée and Vésubie, four rivers that will pace our journey southwards. Above us, the changing panoramas of the peaks of the Ecrins, Haute Ubaye and Mercantour create that feeling of variety that is so typical of touring, like so many milestones on what is sure to be a grandiose journey. Small, confidential 'Gravel' passes, such as the Col du Parpaillon, far removed from the traffic of their larger road brothers, give us the delightful impression of being alone in the world. In the heart of the pudgy peaks of the hinterland, at the turn of a bend or a pass, the azure blue expanse of the Mediterranean is finally revealed. Calm, peaceful, timeless. Like the mountains, which we leave with regret. A majestic journey, without a doubt.

Tour with assistance vehicle: from 895€ - Details Duration : 6 days | Level : Customer satisfaction : - 0 reviews
+33 458 140 435 A dedicated team of travel specialists is available to offer you expert advice Monday to Friday from 9 to 12:30 AM and 13:30 to 6 PM (French time) on the phone, or by email.
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Highlights

  • The start at the foot of the Ecrins and Queyras mountains
  • The legendary Col du Parpaillon (2637 m)!
  • Passing under the summit of La Bonette, at over 2400 m
  • The crystal-clear waters of the Tinée and Vésubie valleys

Description

Comments

  • This Gravel tour is the southern part of the Grande Traversée des Alpes.

State of mind for this trip

If you’ve already ridden the Alps on a road bike, you’ll no doubt have some superb memories of the great Alpine passes, stunning landscapes and breath-taking panoramic views. You’ll no doubt also remember that some of the classic roads and cols, especially on the Route des Grandes Alpes, can be very busy, sometimes tarnishing the cycling experience. With the advent of gravel bikes (see the “useful information” tab), it’s become possible to get away from the traffic and the main routes in order to enjoy a more authentic and pure cycling experience. The Alps are full of small secondary roads, 4x4 tracks and old military tracks, where peace and quiet still reign. This tour uses as much of the latter as possible, especially to cross the mountain passes.

The gradients on this circuit can exceed 15 % from time to time. Therefore, a gravel orientated gearing is more suitable (either a 30/46 or 28/44 chainset, coupled with an 11/32 cassette, or a single 42 chainring and a 10/42 cassette). We also recommend a minimum tire width of 38mm, as the terrain can get a bit technical in places (gullies on the tracks and ford crossings...)

Physical levels

Some of our Gravel tours offer various levels of difficulty, from 1 to 3. When variants are available, details (distance and altitude gain) can be viewed in the day by day details of the “programme” tab.
In the case of tours with variants, regardless of the level you choose, accommodation is always in the same destination (except some rare exceptions, clearly stated in the description). This allows you to choose the most suitable level on a day-to-day basis.

Day 1: Briançon – Freissinières

Itinerary start: Rendezvous with the organisation team is on day 1 at 1pm at Briançon SNCF railway station.

A gentle start from Briançon, which prides itself on being the highest town in Europe. And even if this attribute is the subject of debate, there's no denying that the 'mountain' atmosphere is already very much in evidence, at the foot of the Vauban citadel. Where 3 valleys meet, bathed by the Guisane (from Le Lautaret), the Clarée and the Durance from Montgenèvre, Briançon occupies a prime position. We head south along the Durance, which is still a mountain stream. Once our legs were warmed up, we set off to climb the eastern flanks of the Ecrins, in the Vallouise and Puy Saint Vincent sector. Behind us, the Queyras mountains come into view. And in front of us, the majestic Ecrins bar can be seen behind the Pelvoux. A magnificent view. We descend to the little village of Freissinières, nestling at the foot of these giants.

  • Level 2: approx. 45 km / altitude gain: approx.1450 m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 30 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 60 km / altitude gain: approx. 1950 m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 25 %)
Day 2: Freissinières – Embrun

With our eyes still fresh from our first good night in the mountains, we gently glide towards the Durance, which we left behind the day before, and then on to Guillestre, the gateway to the Queyras. The Queyras is often considered to be one of the most beautiful massifs in the Southern Alps and, indeed, it has some serious assets to claim this title! On a very typical Gravel track, we climb towards Embrunais. From the pass over which we switch off, the long turquoise blue tongue of Lake Serre Ponçon colours the horizon. It's a long, beautiful descent to Embrun! And our accommodation, which we're delighted to find to enjoy, why not, a small local beer, one of those brewed with Ecrins water. I've heard they're delicious here, so why not make sure? But before dipping their lips in the frothy hops, the brave Level 3s set off on a pretty balcony loop above Lac de Serre Ponçon and its emerald and turquoise waters...

  • Level 2: approx. 70 km / altitude gain: approx.1850 m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 25 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 95 km / altitude gain: approx. 2600 m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 20 %)
Day 3: Embrun - Barcelonnette

What if we made a bet? A bet that the day we're about to have will be one of the best we've ever had on a bike? Let's make it happen. If the sun is with us (needless to say, Embrun has the most sunshine in France), the passage from the Hautes Alpes to the Alpes de Haute Provence, or the passage from the Embrunais to the Ubaye via the Col du Parpaillon, will remain etched in our memories. For now, we'll just have to be patient and courageous, because the menu is copious: almost 1,800m of positive ascent! I promise, none of us will regret our efforts once we're up there. What's more, the track is well-suited to gravel and steeped in history (the Parpaillon is a historic route dating from the late 19th century). The descent is just as magical, with the first peaks of the Mercantour competing with the Cime de la Bonette, just opposite. La Bonette... tomorrow's setting! The level 3 route takes in the Ubayette valley as far as the mythical Col de Larche, flirting with 2000m and marking the border with Italy. The white waters of the Ubaye then guide us to the city of the Mexicans, Barcelonnette.

  • Level 2: approx. 65 km / altitude gain: approx. 2300 m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 50 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 100 km / altitude gain: approx. 3100 m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 35 %)
Day 4: Barcelonnette - Valdeblore

Another major stage today: between the Cols d'Allos and de la Cayolle and the Cime de le Bonette, we make our way along a superb mountain track that drops down into the Vallée de la Tinée. Before the switchover, the brave souls who set off on the level 3 route had the luxury of climbing another Alpine myth, a cycling legend: the Col de la Bonette at 2715 m! Now we're in the heart of the Mercantour National Park, one of France's eleven national parks. The impetuous Tinée guides us towards Saint Etienne and then Saint Sauveur, and we're enjoying this great plunge into the cool of the gorges. A few more pedal strokes are needed on the road to the Colmiane pass to reach our accommodation for this evening, right in the middle of the mountains.

  • Level 2: approx. 80 km / altitude gain: approx. 1700 m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 15 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 90 km / altitude gain: approx. 2150 m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 20 %)
Day 5: Valdeblore - L'Escarène

Change of valley, change of scenery! This morning we switched from the Tinée valley to the Vésubie valley. But the gravels allow us to avoid the roads that are too busy (which, incidentally, the Colmiane road is not too busy), so we don't take any chances and set off along a beautiful track under the canopy of maritime pines, until we reach the Col Saint Martin (Col de la Colmiane). This time it's the Vésubie that serves as our Ariadne's thread, and we follow it for a good few kilometres. Then, for the last time today, we turn left for our final ascent on a splendid, panoramic little mountain road. We switch to the Paillon valley and spend the night near l'Escarène.

  • Level 2: approx. 75 km / altitude gain: approx. 2150 m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 15 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 85 km / altitude gain: approx. 2675 m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 25 %)
Day 6: L'Escarène - Menton

As the crow flies, the Mediterranean is now less than 15km away. Yes, that's right, this information will do you a world of good. We're not birds, and we're not in the flat country either! So, without squeezing our lemons (yes, we end up in Menton, capital of citrus acid), we're going to need a bit more energy to get over the few bumps that separate us from the long-awaited swim. But when you say 'hump' close to the sea, you also mean breathtaking views, something we haven't had too much of so far in the mountains. Two short passes are on the menu for the morning. The first pass takes us around the cime de Baudon (1266m) and then we attack the second, at 750m, from where we won't have to pedal a single stroke to reach the beach! Gradually, we leave the wilderness behind us and see the first houses appear, then a road, then a second. Then the centre of Menton, magnificent in its colours, and here we are, overwhelmed, in front of the big blue. All that's left for us to do is enjoy one last little snack overlooking the sea! In the afternoon, it's back to Briançon for those who have chosen this option. Welcome back everyone, and well done!

  • Level 2: approx. 35 km / altitude gain: approx. 565m (non-tarmac sections: approx. 5 %)
  • Level 3: approx. 40 km / altitude gain: approx. 825m(non-tarmac sections: approx. 5 %)

Itinerary end: The trip ends in Menton around midday.

Distances and altitude gain are an indication only and may vary.

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