The Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is full of natural areas that are best explored by mountain bike. Heads up cycling fans – you are about to discover the 5 best mountain bike routes in the Région Sud.
THE TRANSVERDON GRANDE TRAVERSÉE
Mountain lakes, Gorges du Verdon, and Provençal atmosphere
Start: Col d’Allos (Parc National du Mercantour)
Distance: 270 km
Climb: 7,850 metres
The TransVerdon is one of the three Grandes Traversées: dedicated mountain bike routes in the Alpes-de-Haute Provence. It extends from the Parc National du Mercantour to the Parc Naturel Régional du Verdon, featuring some of the Alps and the Verdon’s most beautiful landscapes. On this exceptional mountain bike route, a change of scene and wonderment are guaranteed.
From the Col d’Allos, you reach the charming village of Colmars-les-Alpes and its two 17th-century forts. Marvel at the mountain lakes of Lignin, located at a height of more than 2,200 metres. The climb to the Montagne de Maurel marks your entry into the Parc Naturel du Verdon. Take the time to admire the Alpine landscape there and take a photo once you arrive at the Lac de Castillon.
Next, head to the Gorges du Verdon. If you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of some vultures while looking at the view of the large canyon below.
After a descent to the Lac de Sainte-Croix, cross the lavender fields of the Plateau de Valensole. Enjoy the lovely panorama over the Lac d’Esparron before arriving at Gréoux-les-Bains. There you can continue the adventure, if you wish, as far as Manosque.
The TransVerdon is one of the finest long-distance mountain bike routes in France due to its 12- to 24-kilometre stages on very diverse trails that are both fun and technical.
Despite including a fair bit of climbing, the TransVerdon also descends by around 10,000 metres. A real pleasure for lovers of all-mountain biking, this route is now accessible by E-bike on a special route.
THE GRANDE TRAVERSÉE L’ALPES-PROVENCE
From Alpine summits to the Luberon
Start: Col de Larche (Parc National du Mercantour)
Distance: 300 km
Climb: 8,500 metres
The Grande Traversée l’Alpes-Provence promises you a unique mountain bike journey by connecting Alpine summits to the trails of Provence and the Luberon. You cross the Vallée de l’Ubaye and the town of Barcelonnette, renowned for its amazing Mexican villas that were built by emigrants who had crossed the ocean to make their fortune in the textile industry. Next, follow the rushing Ubaye River to the Lac de Serre-Ponçon and dive into the Vallée de la Blanche, a verdant landscape of lakes and mountain pastures. An opportunity to catch a glimpse, if you are very lucky, of the so-called “prestigious” species such as wolves, golden eagles, or wild goats.
Then, head to Digne-les-Bains and the Réserve Naturelle Géologique de Haute-Provence, the biggest one in Europe. Its most famous site, the Ammonite Slab, is made up of 1,550 fossils – making it unique in the world.
We keep on our journey in the lunar setting of the Terres Noires (one of the finest mountain bike spots in France, no less!). Then, you continue onto a concentration of single tracks in the Val de Durance.
The end of this meandering mountain bike holiday takes you across the massif of the Montagne de Lure, the summit of Haute-Provence, followed by its incredible descent via the Enduro route. You’ll end up in Manosque at the heart of the Luberon.
This route is accessible to mountain bikes or electrically-assisted mountain bikes with a route reserved for eMTBs that is slightly different from that of non-electric models.
THE GRANDE TRAVERSÉE DES HAUTES-ALPES
Take to the heights!
Start: La Grave-Villar d’Arène
Distance: 350 km
Climb: 17,000 metres
The demanding and technical Grande Traversée des Hautes-Alpes route, made up mainly of single tracks, offers experienced mountain bikers a variety of contrasting landscapes across the highest summits and iconic sites of the Hautes-Alpes. You will set off in a high mountain setting from La Grave/Villar-d’Arène, which lies at the foot of the Meije glaciers at the edge of the famous Parc National des Ecrins.
The finish at Laragne Montéglin/Sisteron plunges you into a Provençal atmosphere among the orchards and lavender fields of the Parc Naturel Régional des Baronnies Provençales.
There are two possible routes from which to choose. The first, via the “Cols d’Altitude,” leads you through the Parc Naturel Régional du Queyras and its larch forests, the Alpine fields of Le Champsaur, and the bright limestone massif of Le Dévoluy.
The alternative “Balcons Sud,” passes through the Grand Tour des Ecrins and Gap. After Embrun, the Alpine landscapes give way to a stunning view of the man-made Lac de Serre-Ponçon.
THE GRANDE TRAVERSÉE DE VAUCLUSE
Between vineyards, ochres, and picturesque villages
Start from: Savoillans
Finish at: Merindol
Distance: 400 km
Climb: 10,000 metres
The Grande Traversée du Vaucluse is to the department what Route 66 is to the United States: LEGENDARY! A 400 km, 10,000 m climb that is divided into nine 35 to 55 km stages, this mountain bike route is a real adventure into the wild, wild Provence. This dedicated, technical route offers you a concentration of the most beautiful views of the Vaucluse.
The route begins with the wild and precipitous north face of Mont Ventoux: the mysterious Vallée du Toulourenc with its alpine look. Then, the chiselled ridges of the Dentelles de Montmirail challenge you before you attack the third, and one of the most exceptional, stage: climbing the famous Mont Ventoux by its southern face. On this moon-like ridge, you feel alone in the world – magnificent views are guaranteed! The path runs along the Sault plateau’s sea of lavender, then dives into stunning views and the Gorges de la Nesque, a canyon carved by the river, before climbing again on the Monts de Vaucluse.
At Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt, two route options are available:
Heading east, you cross the orchards, vines and lavender fields as well as the forest of hundred-year-old cedars and the blazing ochre massifs of the Provençal Colorado before reaching Mérindol.
Heading west, the route alternately climbs and descends until the famous hilltop village of Gordes, renowned for its abbeys, castle, and “bories,” a kind of dry-stone hut. Before you reach Mérindol, bike along La Sorgue to the charming villages of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This typically Provençal village, the source of La Sorgue, has inspired many poets and writers such as Petrarch, Chateaubriand and Mirabeau. The enormous fountain is located at the foot of an over 200-metre-high cliff, which makes it one of the most powerful springs in the world.
If this route tempts you, but you prefer a shorter version for a day or a weekend ride, you can download the GPX co-ordinates of these eMTB grand tours (from 41 to 145 km) on the Provence à Vélo site.
THE TRAVERSÉE DU MARGUAREIS
Lakes and verdant meadows
Start: Col de Tende
Distance: 60 km
Climb: 1,000 metres / Descent: 2,100 metres
This cross-border route traverses the frontier of France and Italy while plunging you into local history. Here, the border has actually fluctuated. Some villages, like Tende, only returned to being French after World War II.
You will also find many Italian fortifications like the central fort in the Col de Tende section and its surroundings.
This mountain bike route also features extraordinary landscapes at the centre of the Parc Naturel du Mercantour. Do you appreciate poetry and the sunlight on the massifs? La Vallée des Merveilles and La Vallée de la Roya will certainly charm you.
The Marguareis mountain bike route also offers you alpine settings close to the impressive summits. It’s certainly the case for La Pointe Marguareis (2,650 metres) or La Cime Missouri (2,356 metres). They adorn the ridge line which, by the way, serves as the Franco-Italian border.
On this mountain bike ride, you will also traverse most of the passes in the area. Get ready to crank those pedals!
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Events are subject to change and cancellation.
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