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Rise to the challenge of the Grand Tour Alpi Marittime-Mercantour

Off we go, bye bye comfort zone, hello Grand Tour Alpi Marittime-Mercantour by bike. This cycling itinerary in the Mercantour challenges you to ride in the traces of the great champions of the Tour de France. Your calves will definitely suffer (a bit) but your pride will be enormous as you do ascent after ascent.

Published on 26 April 2021
TourDuration5 days
Col de Saint-Martin
Col de la Couillole
Col de la Cayolle
Col de la Bonette
Col de la Lombarde
Madonna del Colletto
Col de Brouis
Col de Turini

Climb on your bike for the Grand Tour Alpi Marittime-Mercantour

Conquering the cols of the Parc de Mercantour

The Grand Tour Alpi Marittime-Mercantour is a reference in mountain cycling destinations. The itinerary which is accessible in the spring and summer is, actually, reserved more for seasoned cycle-tourists and sports cyclists. You will need patience and endurance to finish the 5-stage circuit – in 5 days – which goes across a large part of the Southern French Alps. Cross the cols of the Massif du Mercantour and the Alpes-Maritimes which are some of the most beautiful cols in France at your own pace. On your ride, admire the charming little villages in lush, green valleys. Let the steep peaks intoxicate you. In good weather, you’ll even be able to see the sea. Breath-taking landscapes. In all, you will have pedalled 360 km with around 10,000 m of height difference.

Step 1Saint-Martin-Vésubie to Valberg Head for the Col Saint-Martin and the col de la Couillole

You start with a stage on the foothills of the Mercantour which gives you ample opportunity to warm up. Climbing the cols of the Alps by bike is a challenge which has multiple rewards. From col Saint-Martin at 1,503 metres, the view is amazing. Ride down the mountain and find time to discover the le village of Valdeblore and the little hamlets hidden away in the mountains. You’ll then ride up the col de la Couillole which reaches 1,678 metres. Splendid landscapes to see as you climb this road surrounded by nature at its most majestic, and champion cyclists as this is one of the cols on the Tour de France.

Stage profil 

  • Distance: 58,6km
  • Elevation gain: 1952m

We recommend : to get your energy back, try the Chalet Suisse for an invigorating meal. We recommend you stay the night at La Croix Saint-Jean, a gîte managed by Christophe, a cyclist and race organiser.

Step 2Valberg to BarcelonnetteClimbing the Col de la Cayolle

The Alps by bike continues with a second stage which stretches along the Var Valley. Ride to the Col de la Cayolle, meeting point of the Hautes vallées du Var and the Ubaye. You will be riding on a medium gradient for 20.5 km to reach an altitude of 2,326 metres. This is an unavoidable section of the Route des Grandes Alpes when you’re planning a cycling holiday. It winds through prairies, forests and Alpine pastures. Stops in the little mountain towns and villages are more than welcome, but it you find it too easy, take the even more extreme alternative route over the Col des Champs and the Col d’Allos.

Stage profile

  • Distance: 75,3km
  • Elevation gain: 1533m

We recommend : after your effort, there’s your reward in Hôtel Le Cheval Blanc in Barcelonnette. If you want to put your bike in a secure garage, you’d better try Le Grand Hôtel.

Step 3Barcelonnette to Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée The ascent of the famous Col de la Bonette

Things start getting serious on this stage. First of all it follows the road which takes you to the well-known Cime de la Bonette at 2,802 metres. It’s merely the highest col in Europe. You’ll get your reward after a 24-km athletic climb. The peaks of the Alps rise before you in all their majesty. This mythical itinerary is one of the most beautiful in the crossing of the Alps by bike. The intense effort doesn’t stop you admiring the remains and forts dotted along the circuit such as the Fort de Pelousette or the Camp des Fourches.

Stage profile

  • Distance: 55,6km
  • Elevation gain: 1666 m

We recommend: in Auron, l’Hôtel l’Écureuil opens its doors to you for a good meal and a peaceful night.

Step 4Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée to Borgo San DalmazzoHead for the Col de la Lombarde and La Madonna del Colletto

This fourth stage will leave you slightly painful memories and feeling very proud! You’re actually going to reach 2,350 metres. The route itself is a real ascent of the French Alps but also the Italian Alps at the end of it. Start with the Col de la Lombarde. After 21.5 km of intense effort, you will reach the highest point of the stage. A cycling itinerary in the Alpine forest with larch forests. As you go down you’ll ride past the Alpine pastures before heading for the Valle Stura. The transalpine part takes you to La Madonna del Colletto, at 1,305 metres. A unique place pilgrims have been flocking to for centuries

Stage profile

  • Distance: 93,8km
  • Elevation gain : 2000m

We recommend: stop off for a coffee in the village of Isola. Take some time for lunch at the Sant’Anna di Vinadio sanctuary. When you arrive, take a room in the Hotel-Ristorante Da Politano in Boves for a well-earned rest.

Step 5Breil-sur-Roya to Saint-Martin-Vésubie End on a good note with the Col de Brouis and the Col de Turini

The last stage before the finish: a last effort to end the Grand Tour Alpi Marittime-Mercantour on the most beautiful cols in the Alps. The landscape is one of contrasts between the Mediterranean in the distance and the mountains. You’ll start with the ascent of Col de Brouis and the Col de Turini. 879 metres seems a modest altitude compared with the other cols on the itinerary. But to complete a cycle ride around the Alpes-Maritimes you have to make a last effort… It’ll take you 10.2 km to reach the Col de Brouis with its incredible view of the Alpine valleys and villages. Thanks to your well-exercised legs, you’ll easily reach the Col de Turini at 1,604 metres after a climb of 24 km. You’ll be able to gaze into the distance where the sea and the mountains come together. And if you have a bit of strength left, the top of l’Authion is a short ride away!

Stage profile

  • Distance: 72,9km
  • Elevation gain: 2300m

We recommend: celebrate the end of your ordeal in the place of your choice. In Berthemont-les-Bains, the village de vacances La Semeuse is ideal for relaxing. In Saint-Martin, La Bonne Auberge offers a room and a very good meal.
Our tip: before you set off on each stage, check the condition of the trails on the dedicated web page