The Short Break Road Cycling Holiday Specialist

Top 6 Easy Climbs in the Northern French Alps

Top 6 Easy Climbs in the Northern French Alps

Some of Our Favourite Crowd-Pleasing Introductory Climbs

From Teak, based at the Aravis Lodge in St Jean de Sixt – Bike and Ski Weekender’s home base in the French Alps.

Invariably one of the first reactions I get when I tell cyclists that I live and ride in the Northern French Alps is “Blimey, I would love to ride there, but I am not fit enough”; they then proceed to tell me how much they enjoy riding in the Tramontana mountains in Mallorca!

There is, I guess, a misconception about riding in the Alps, borne no doubt from all those images of pros grimacing their way full gas up the mountains during the big televised races like the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and so on; if the weather conditions are challenging, ‘tant mieux’ from a spectacle’s perspective, as well as for the viewing public’s perception of what it must be like to ride in that environment.

Whilst riding in the Alps is not for the cyclist just starting out, neither is it solely the preserve of the pros. There are actually some very achievable ‘easy’ climbs in the Alps for road cyclists, so as long as you have a reasonable level of fitness and stamina over longer rides, and are happy to just ride at your own pace, you should be fine.

Indeed we are very lucky in our corner of the Northern French Alps to have access to a huge variety of road cycling terrain, including climbs that even the most modest of weekend warriors will find very achievable, but at the same time they are no less rewarding for the sense of achievement and breathtaking views.

In no particular order, here are some of our favourite, crowd-pleasing introductory climbs, easily accessible from our home base in the Aravis mountains:

1) Col de Leschaux


From the Sévrier roundabout on the western shore of Lake Annecy

Length 11.9km, average gradient 3.7%

This climb is used in the annual Annecy Triathlon and its easy to understand why – it’s steady!

The kilometre markers bordering the road for the length of the climb confirm this, rarely straying outside the 2-4% range.

After leaving the lakeside village of Sévrier, the beautifully surfaced road climbs through deciduous forest and alpine pastureland, along the foot of the imposing Mount Semnoz to the right, and breath-taking views of the iridescent Lake Annecy to the left.

2) Col de Tamié


From Faverges, a little way passed the far end of Lake Annecy, towards Ugine/Albertville

Length 10.1km, average gradient 3.88%

Aside from a little pinch shortly after leaving the town of Faverges en route to the village of Verchères, this beautiful climb meanders its way alongside a stream, then climbs through lush meadows before reaching the ancient fort of Tamié, set on a promontory overlooking Albertville and the mountains beyond.

3) Col du Marais 


From St Ferreol, close to Faverges

Length 10.2km, average gradient 3.8%

The ascents up both sides of this col are equally enjoyable. The climb from St Ferreol is the longer, and arguably the more dramatic, but it does offer two kilometres of respite with a gentle descent two thirds of the way up, and the shady water fountain at Serraval is always good for a bidon refill – or a head dunk on a hot day!

4) Col du Marais 


From Thônes, a small Alpine town 15km from the eastern shore of Lake Annecy 

Length 8km, average gradient 3.4%

The climb from Thônes has a grippy section just after the turnoff to the village of Les Clefs past the old wood yard, but beyond that you climb steadily through Alpine meadows.

Both ascents offer up fabulous views of the imposing Tournette, a mountain in the Bornes Massif overlooking the lake at 2,351m.

5) Col des Fleuries


From Thorens-Glières, a pretty village also at the foot of the climb to the Plateau des Glières, of Tour de France fame

Length 5.6km, average gradient 5.4%

This steady ascent rises up from the attractive village of Thorens-Glières along a quiet road through a pre-Alpine, agricultural landscape, a little reminiscent of the rolling climbs in the south of England.

Though don’t take the wrong turn up the Plateau des Glières, as that tops out at 10% over 15km.

6) Col des Aravis


From St Jean de Sixt, home base of Bike Weekender and the Aravis Lodge

Length 10.2km, average gradient 5.4%

Our local col, and the main pass through the Aravis mountain range, which often features in the Tour de France and the Dauphiné.

The climb proper begins at the heart of the ski resort of La Clusaz, and features a long series of switchbacks through lush Alpine pasture. 

On a clear day you are rewarded by sensational views across to Mont Blanc from the top.

Diversity of the Northern French Alps

Whilst the Northern french Alps has a range of topography to test the strongest of climbers, its attraction to the wider cycling community lies in the diversity of its terrain, offering up a rewarding challenge no matter what your climbing ability.

I guess it depend on each individual’s approach; ultimately any mountain is only as hard as you are prepared to make it!

If you would like to try some of these climbs for yourself, a great way to start out in this region is on one of our Northern Alps Lite self-guided road cycling holidays, where you can choose your own itinerary over 4 days, making it as easy or tough on yourself as you wish.

Alternatively, if you would like to sample the wide range of rides available in this area, including some a little more challenging, and if you’re keen to ride in a group, why not join us for a Northern Alps Classic 4-day weekend break.

This is a fully-supported cycling break with a fixed itinerary, that gives you a real taste of the best this stunning area has to offer!

If there’s a group of 6 or more of you who usually ride together, and you would like us to devise a custom bike tour in the area just for you, we can organise that for you as well – simply get in touch with your initial thoughts and an idea of numbers, then we’ll take it from there.

Just 1 hour’s transfer from Geneva airport, this region is ideal for a short road cycling break from Thursday to Monday, with so much to offer, whilst only taking 2 days off work.

Our guests frequently comment how surprised they are at how much they have been able to pack in during their stay, and find it a really great way to fit an enjoyable and highly rewarding cycling holiday into their busy lives.

So, we would love to get to show you these, and many other of our favourite climbs in the Northern French Alps, and do hope you will join us  at some point too!

Lifting the Coronavirus Lockdown in France

Lifting the Coronavirus Lockdown in France

The Start of De-Confinement in France – Monday 11th May!

From Paul, based at the Aravis Lodge in St Jean de Sixt – Bike and Ski Weekender’s home base in the French Alps.

We are approaching the first important milestone in the process of easing the lockdown measures in France, as a result of the coronavirus crisis – and as of this Monday 11th May, we will be free of many restrictions which have become a normal part of our daily life in France.

So, What Does This Mean, and What Can We Do?

It’s not a full release and certainly not everything is possible in one go, with many other aspects of life and the economy being re-introduced if progress goes well, and depending on local conditions. It is also being staged differently in some regions where their remains a higher COVID-19 risk factor (covering Paris and the Ile de France).

The 1st June is the next key date when more things should / could become possible. Until at least then, for example, bars and restaurants remain closed, and beaches and lakes must also stay closed – so the leisure industry is going to have to continue to wait for the all clear to open.

However, shops and businesses can start to re-open, and people are able to offer their services and products direct to consumers (with certain controls in place) across the board.

Schools can (where safe and possible) start to take back some children in certain classes from Monday 11th May. Others may have to wait a little longer, and it’s a complicated, staged process to ensure their safety in a school environment – but mayors and headteachers can now work on these aspects.

Transport will start to function again (albeit at a lower frequency), creches can re-open, people will be able to visit their relatives in care-homes, and so life starts to return to a “new normal”.

All borders (even internally within the EU) remain closed until further notice (at least until 15th June), unless there is an imperative reason to travel and cross them.

The principles of social distancing will remain, and meetings (public or private) are limited to 10 people.

Masks will become a regular part of normal life – they will be compulsory on public transport, and can be required in shops / shopping centres etc as well. Washable and re-usable masks are already available to buy from the Post Office, as well as supermarkets and pharmacies.

For a full update I would suggest consulting this article (in French) here >>>

A useful source of English news in France can be found here >>>

From Our Own Personal Perspective in St Jean de Sixt…

For us, the most important aspect is going to be the fact that we will no longer need to justify our trip out and away from our home, nor to carry the signed attestation form as to what we are doing!

We have only been permitted to leave the house for essential shopping, or to go to/from work (if its not possible to work from home), or to undertake some light exercise (which has to be within 1km of your home, and for no longer than an hour) but otherwise told to stay at home.

This precaution has meant that (apart from a weekly trip to the supermarket for my wife) we have not left our small bubble of the village of St Jean de Sixt for the past 8 weeks!

Whilst we are very lucky to have space to play, and we have some great wooded walks and footpaths within the village and our 1km radius – it’s no lie that all of our family are very much looking forward to spreading our wings a little further, and can’t wait for the 11th May to come!

After being contained within a mini-world for so long, it’s interesting to see that such small steps are going to make a huge difference, and how we are now very grateful for so many things we previously took for granted.

A trip to the neighbouring village of Le Grand Bornand and its riverside cycling path is long overdue.

Going round and round a car park on a bike just doesn’t cut it, and as a result the kids seem to have lost interest in riding their bikes sadly.

I am hoping that this will quickly come back when we’re allowed to just ride and be free!

Same for me, as the ability to go for a bike ride has been off-limits (despite some amazing spring conditions). This will now be possible as of the Monday 11th May, and I shall be permitted to travel up to 100km from my home without any need for authorisations or justifications…. I can go just for the hell of it!

Never before has a simple road-bike ride been so welcomed and anticipated… and I know I shall be smiling even more than usual at just being able to be out, and the feeling of freedom!

Of course, the coffee stop won’t be possible (as cafes remain closed), and I am not allowed to ride with anyone else – but these won’t detract from the amazing feeling of being out in stunning wide open spaces, and just travelling!

Our kids won’t be returning to school just yet, so its at least another 3 weeks of home schooling coming up.

However, they will be able to hang out and play with some of their friends in the afternoon, so they can start to rebuild their social interactions and friendships, as well as get back to using their French language with native speakers!

We, too, are looking to seeing friends again, and just sitting and having a cuppa whilst discussing what’s been going on will be an amazing step forward, as well as a release form the daily routine.

We will likely stay a metre apart (old habits die hard!), but that’s an amazing improvement on a video call or a chat…

We are very fortunate to live in a beautiful area of the French Alps, and are pleased that we shall very shortly be able to get out to enjoy our surroundings once again.

Walking, cycling, exploring or even just taking a picnic with a stunning view…

So – for us, the 11th May is only really about some quite small changes to our daily life, but I have a feeling that the impact of these are going to be huge for our family, and are certainly a very welcome relief after 8 weeks of coronavirus lockdown.

Although it’s a shame we have to have things taken away from us to release how much they mean to us, I hope that we will all recognise the importance of these small things, gestures or interactions as we re-enter “normal” life.

Let’s remember to be grateful for even the smallest of things…

Life Under Lockdown in France

Life Under Lockdown in France

My personal reflections on a month of lockdown in the French Alps

From Paul, based at the Aravis Lodge in St Jean de Sixt – Bike and Ski Weekender’s home base in the French Alps.

Looking back, the weekend of the 12th – 16th March was certainly crazy from a work and business perspective, and is one which will be remembered for a very long-time!

All of the ski lifts closed down on the Saturday as a result of the growing spread of the

Coronavirus in France, which meant our guests in resort couldn’t ski for the remainder of their long weekend ski break. Restaurants, bars and shops had also closed down as well.

Until that point, the ever-changing focus had initially been very tricky to manage, with no knowledge of what was going to happen with the Coronavirus situation in France and the UK even the next day… with the pace of change being the real challenge.

During that time both the team in France and the sales team back in England were glued to news reports and government updates hourly at times, trying to get an insight into what was going on, and what that might mean for our guests moving forward, so that we could communicate and respond as best we could.

However, by the time you had communicated something to the present guests, or next arriving guests – it had moved on and was then time to update them again with something new….I am pleased with how we managed to communicate with all of our guests, and hopefully everyone was kept in the picture.

Thankfully our Ski Weekender guests in resort that fateful weekend were all able to leave on Monday as planned, and with the resorts confirmed as being closed until further notice, we knew that was most likely the end of the ski season, a whole month early!

Then came Monday evening’s announcement from President Macron announcing France’s lockdown from 12pm on  the following day (Tuesday), which finally gave us clarity on what we faced, after a month or more of complete uncertainty.

Luckily we had received snippets of rumours during the day on Monday, so had put in place some “Cunning Plan B’s” to get the Aravis Lodge team home safely the next morning whilst the border was still open.

So Tuesday morning saw the hotel staff and all of their kit squeezed into 2 of our minibuses and headed for the Eurotunnel to get back to the UK asap!

The locally-based team in France also scrambled to do some last minute jobs and return rental minibuses that morning, and as of midday on Tuesday 17th March the crazy few days were over – and it was instantly calm.

Wednesday was eerily quiet around the village – but this has become the new normal for the past 4+ weeks.

The lockdown in St Jean de Sixt

People are generally staying home apart from taking a walk or getting some exercise etc. but as it’s a small village with plenty of space it feels fine. Everyone keeps their respectful 2 metres distance if you do see someone to say “Bonjour”….

We have to take our “signed attestation form” with us if we do go out, which explains why we are leaving home, and we have to restrict our outings from the home to essential food shopping, working which cant be done from home, or for up to hour of light exercise (within 1km radius of our house).

We’re grateful that this still gives us access to some lovely woodland and mountain walks, so we can still enjoy spring time in the Alps, which is a beautiful time of the year.

Helped by some very warm weather and lots of sunshine, it has felt like Spring has sprung. The birds started singing (or was it just that we could now hear them as no traffic?) and spring started to happen in earnest.

And really that’s how it feels – it’s all just happening but a lot quieter than usual….

We’re in a fortunate situation with some outdoor space at home, and essential services close by – but for us, it has certainly felt like “No fuss, no stress”, (apart from maybe the home schooling which my wife Jess is taking in her stride!), and everyone is just getting on with it in their own way…

The supermarkets are open, and there are no restrictions or empty-shelves. Bread flour is the only item not available, but as the boulangerie is open we’re still getting the daily bread!

We manage to only need go once every 8 – 10 days, and that’s a rare day when the boundary of Jess’s world increases by another 3km… Otherwise – we have not left the village for over a month.

I was blown away the first time I heard the evening ritual of going to the terrace to clap, or make some noise to say thanks to the front line and medical staff. In France it happens every evening and the involvement has continued to some extent – with the sound of music, air horns, pots and pans filling the air as soon as the church bells stop chiming 8 o’clock. It lasts a minute or so, but it’s a clear demonstration that we may all be isolated, but we’re definitely all in this together!

On another level, the beauty of online services and video chats etc. means people are so far able to access support. Jess runs pregnancy and baby / toddler classes, and so although she can’t run her workshops she’s still able to stay in touch and support the new mums, as they are faced with the challenges of what to do with the kids.

The teachers and schools have been great at sending through lots of resources and lessons for the kids to do at home, and the challenge now is keeping up with the schedule. Again – they are able to share videos and photos to keep the feeling of a class and its teacher going!

We’re all looking forward to further announcements from the government on how measures may be eased, and how the kids may start to return to school from the 11th May, although we’re also fully expecting partial measures to remain in place for some time to come…

Building sites are starting to work again, and people seem to be finding their new “normal” level of what can be done and how best to do it safely…whilst maintaining that all important social distancing. The economy is of course taking a hit, but people are reacting and doing what they have to.

The government are offering support in many ways, but it’s certainly not easy for everyone. The healthcare system has been stretched, but at least locally in Annecy it seems to have coped admirably, without too many issues… It’s well-funded, and has been well supported by the public at large.

Let’s hope this progress continues, and we can start to look towards the new “normal”!

So – all in all, lockdown in March and April seems to have been rather like some “enforced calm and family time”, when normally we would have been ramping up for our Easter ski breaks, and then everything that goes into closing down the hotel for the end of the latest ski season.

Our main impressions are that we have seen a widespread and well-enforced lockdown being observed respectfully, and as best as it can be, by the whole population!

It’s just a shame we can’t have wider access these beautiful mountains with this free time we have been given!


(Image credits – Woodland – St Jean de Sixt Tourism; Bread – Les Capucines boulangerie, St Jean; View of St Jean de Sixt – @luucieloo Instagram)

Tour de France 2018 – 3D route video

Tour de France 2018 – 3D route video

The Tour de France 2018 will feature 3 stages in the Alps, all of which are accessible from the Bike Weekender home base, but stage 10 in particular will pass right by our door, which we are really excited about.

All 3 stages feature some real thrills and challenges – including the Col de la Colombière, Plateau des Glières, Col de Romme, Cormet de Roseland, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de la Madeleine, the infamous Lacets de Montvernier and a very welcome return to the beast that Alpe d’Huez.

Stage 10 – Annecy – Le Grand Bornand (169km)

Stage 11 – Albertville – La Rosière (108km)

Stage 12 – Bourg St Maurice – Alpe d’Huez (175km)

Check out the full tour route and see the stage profiles in 3D here…


We have an extra special 7-day ‘watch and ride’ package for the Tour de France 2018, where you will get to watch at least 2 stages live, as well as La Course, which is also on our home turf and finishes in Le Grand Bornand, and you get to ride many of the featured cols yourself. Find out more here.

Fantasy Tour de France Route

Fantasy Tour de France Route

The Tour de France route for 2017 is quite different from recent years – it features shorter, punchier climbs and less summit finishes.

It has also excluded many of the more iconic climbs we associate with the Tour, such as Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez and the Col du Tourmalet.

Though it does still include some classics such as Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier and the Col du Télégraphe, all of which we visit on our own Southern Alps trips.

This got us thinking here at Bike Weekender HQ, up in the Aravis mountains surrounded by stunning cols ourselves, many of which have been used in the Tour at some point in the past too.

We started to discuss which climbs we would include if we were to design our own Tour de France route.

They didn’t have to be ones we had personally ridden, just whatever our dream Tour de France parcours would look like.

So we decided to compile our own Fantasy Tour de France Route, with our top 9 cols.

Here are some of our team’s dream routes below – what would your’s be?

Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear about your own – feel free to add why you chose each climb too!

Bike Weekender’s Fantasy Tour de France Routes


  • Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence – Vaucluse (Ascents from Bédoin, Sault and Malaucène in one stage)
  • Plateau de Solaison – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de l’Arpettaz with its 42 switchbacks, from Ugine (via Mont Dessous) – Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de la Croix Fry – Thônes, Hautes-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de Romme, then on up Col de la Colombière – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Mont du Chat – Savoie (Jura Massif)
  • Col du Galibier – Savoie/Hautes-Alpes (Dauphiné Alps)
  • Col de la Forclaz de Montmin, above Lake Annecy – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de l’Épine, from Marlens – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)


  • Col de la Forclaz de Montmin, via Vesonne – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de l’Arpettaz – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col des Saisies – Savoie (Northern Alps)
  • Col de la Colombière, from Reposoir / Scionzier – Haute-Savoie (Aravis Massif)
  • Col de la Madeleine – Savoie (Northern Alps)
  • Mont Ventoux via Gorge de la Nesque – Vaucluse (Jura Massif)
  • Alpe d’Huez – Rhône-Alpes (Southern Alps)
  • Col de la Croix de Fer – Rhône-Alpes (Dauphiné Alps)
  • Col d’Izoard – Hautes-Alpes (Southern Alps)

Paul’s Alternative Fantasy Tour de France Stage to Glières via Lake Annecy

In fact, Paul went a step further and also devised his own fantasy TdF stage as well, featuring one of his favourite rides in the area:

Start in Annecy – all the way around the lake, up over Col de Bluffy – and round to Thônes. Over the Col de Marais and Serraval – along and up Col de l’Arpettaz and then over Col des Aravis – dropping through St Jean de Sixt.

Then down to Entremont and up to the Plateau de Glières for a summit finish after crossing the gravel for 2km! 145km – 3997m elevation

Roc des Alpes – La Clusaz 2017

Roc des Alpes – La Clusaz 2017

Roc des Alpes is a mountain biking festival that takes place in La Clusaz every June. It is spread over a 3-day weekend, and offers a variety of races and events open to people of all ages. Participants travel from around the world to compete among the best.

Races include the Roc Trophy, the Roc Marathon and Enduroc Electrique (on electric bikes).

This year, one of the events came through Saint Jean de Sixt too, through the forested gorge just below the Aravis Lodge. It is a great spectator event, as well as one to participate in for mountain bike (VTT) riders.

The Alps Bike Festival 2018

Next year, the event is totally rebranding itself, and will be called the The Alps Bike Festival, taking place on the 15th – 17th June 2018.

So why not make a weekend of it, to experience the best mountain biking the area has to offer, as a race participant or simply for fun.

It’s not just about the Alps Bike Festival here though – there are more than 200km of marked trails, with 13 cross-country circuits, 10 downhill runs, 6 lifts open to mountain bikers, and 3 bike washing stations to try out for yourself in the Aravis – Annecy region. Plenty for every level of rider, on all styles of bike, with stunning views all around. It’s popular with gravel road riders too.

Mountain bikes are available to hire in numerous outlets in the area, as well as all the gear you might need for an exciting and hassle-free long weekend break in the French Alps.

If you would like to find out more, check out our ‘Lite’ short break holiday options here >>>

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