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…

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Paul, Teak, & Jess

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