On this high-altitude route, and its 10 high-mountain passes, the driver is in danger of getting dizzy! Demanding, lunar and lofty, this journey skirts the Italian border, whose majestic, chiselled peaks loom above. Historically strategic, since it connects the Alpine valleys of the north and south within a stone’s throw of the once-distrustful Italy, it has become a tourist attraction and a marvellous example of the expertise of human engineering. It’s hard to resist the Route des Grandes Alpes when the weather is fine, but in the winter it is impassable!
Col du Lautaret
Col de la Bonnette
Col de la Cayolle
The Col du Galibier
Start with the Col du Galibier. Rising to more than 2,620 m, this pass is a legend for cyclists, too many to count almost whatever the weather. Hurry up, there are still nine passes to go! You leave the Galibier by the Col du Lautaret, in the shade of the 3,983 m Meije, at the gates of the Parc National des Écrins.
The Regional Natural Park of Le Queyras
Beholding such sites as the fortifications of Briançon, or those that are further down the road at Mont-Dauphin, we can better understand how soldiers managed to defend this region—it is in thanks to their huge, impregnable forts. You will now begin the ascent of another legend: the 2,360 m high Col d’Izoard! At first dotted with wide, forested hairpin bends, which are all quite tame, it quickly becomes bare and rocky. The road slithers at the feet of imposing cliffs, a great thrill before you descend to another natural park, Le Queyras. The confines of the Vallée du Saint-Véran are worth the detour: Alpine pasture, streams and the great outdoors will tempt you to take a snooze in the grass. At the end of the day, Château-Queyras is a good way of reconnect with the valley.
The Parc du Mercantour Awaits You
Around Guillestre, a series of valleys unfurl before the Col de Vars and the strange Colonnes Coiffées. Perched at 2,109 m high, the Parc du Mercantour connects the Vallée de la Durance and the Vallée de l’Ubaye, and the Hautes-Alpes to the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. You’ll have just enough time to climb the hundreds of steps to the Fort de Tournoux, and then you will reach the highest road in Europe. You can best take on the park via the Col de la Bonnette. Redesigned and often wide, this road pleasantly wriggles up to the summit, at 2,802 m!
The Vallée de la Tinée or Mexican Villas
Here, the bravest will go back down the Vallée de la Tinée via the D64 before winding up the Col de la Couillole towards Valberg. Much wilder, watch out for deer (no joke!) the road passes through crimson gorges before climbing the Col de la Cayolle, which is closed six months a year. Others will make a U-turn and go through Barcelonnette to admire its Mexican villas, and Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes to taste some “farci niçois” (stuffed Mediterranean vegetables) or a “tarte aux blettes” (chard tart).
The last two passes: Col de Turini and Col de Castillon
This marks the end of the high mountains, but the road is still as winding, with the last passes almost entirely dedicated to motor sports. To start with, the forbidding Col de Turini is so imposing it is a benchmark for rallies and attracts motorbikes. Behind the Gorges du Plaon and the lovely village of Sospel, you’ll find the Col de Castillon and its motocross circuit. Arriving on the Côte d’Azur, why not finish with a swim in the Mediterranean in Menton to recall the memories of the unforgettable Route des Grandes Alpes?