Update on August 11th: 28 down, 45 to go! Over 1/3 of the way there.
When I can combine two of my passions, cycling and visiting French villages, I’m about as happy as I can be. At some point around 2003 or 2004, on one of my first cycling trips to France, I picked up a big, coffee-table book called Vu du Ciel: Villages – Des Alpes-Maritimes et du Var. It features 73 villages from the Alpes-Maritimes department and 59 from the Var department. There are beautiful aerial photographs of each village along with a short, one paragraph description. Some of these villages I was already quite familiar with (Eze, La Turbie, Peillon, Peille) but many more were new to me. I made a goal to cycle to each and every one of the 73 villages in the Alpes-Maritimes section. It took me nine years (I was only able to cycle in France about three to five weeks each year), trying to reach as many as I could every summer when I was here, and in 2013 I finished. Now, seven years later, I’ve decided to do it all over again.
The villages are divided into eight different groups based on their location:
Le Mentonnais et Monaco (6)
Le Paillon (7)
Le Var Inférieur et le pays Grassois (11)
La Roya (8)
La Vésubie (4)
La Tinée (13)
Le Var et le Cians (12)
Le Loup et l’Estéron (12)
Many of the villages in the book are well-known to me now. I pass through some of them on a weekly basis. However, there are still a lot of them which I have still only been to once or twice. So, now that I’m much more familiar with the entire area I’m going to do the whole thing over again. Visit all 73 villages by bike. I’m not going to set any strict timetable for when this needs to be finished, but in my mind I’d like to do it in a year or less if possible. If I can do one of these rides per week I should be able to accomplish that.
I should also point out that there are a ton of interesting villages here in the Alpes-Maritimes which are NOT featured in this book. I will pass through many of them on these rides and will make a point to mention them as well. Some are quite nice and I really don’t understand why they are not represented in the book, but hey, I didn’t write it! For instance, great villages near me such as Gattièrres, Bouyon and Le Broc are conspicuously missing.
Vence is situated very near the southern edge of the Alpes-Maritimes department, just about in the middle (from west to east). Keep in mind that the department covers 4,299 square kilometers (1,660 square miles), a fair amount of distance. It’s not realistic (for me, at least) to cycle from Nice (at one end of the department) to Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage (at the other end) and back in one ride. So, I have a few realistic guidelines.
- I’ll ride from one village to another, eventually visiting all 73.
- All rides will start and end at the same point. This makes it possible to do these rides on my own, I won’t need someone to pick me up in a car at the end of a ride (which would be necessary if I didn’t return to my starting point).
- I’ll make every effort to cycle as close as I can to the actual center of each village. Sometimes the road passes right through or close to the center of the village (for instance, Gréolières). Sometimes it passes right on the edge of the village (for instance, Tourrettes-sur-Loup) and sometimes it passes close to the village but you must make a small detour (for instance, Coursegoules). In the latter two cases I’ll ride up into the village and then back down to the main road. It makes the ride a bit longer, but I really want to “see” each of the villages as best I can on my bike, not just pass them by.
- If I have already reached one village on bike, I can then drive to that village the next time and use it as my next starting point. For instance, let’s say I ride from Vence to Gilette and back one day. The next day I can then drive to Gilette, park and ride from Gilette to Sigale and back. The next day I can drive to Sigale, park and ride from Sigale to Auvare and back. You get the idea. Eventually, I will have covered every inch of the roads between all the 73 villages on bike, but in a manageable way.
For each ride I’ll write up an article with the details, including the route, stats, photos and information about the villages. I’ll post a little synopsis here on this page with a link to each more in-depth account.
2 villages: Tourrettes-sur-Loup & Gourdon
July 9th, 2020. Vence to Tourrettes-sur-Loup to Pont-du-Loup to Gourdon to Pré-du-Lac to Le Bar-sur-Loup to Pont-sur-Loup to Tourrettes-sur-Loup to Vence. A circuit I make on a regular basis. Gourdon is one of my favorite villages in the area, one of the official “Most Beautiful Villages of France.” It’s a nice climb up through the Gorges du Loup and then on to Gourdon, a great descent coming back down on the other side. [read about the entire ride]
2 villages: Gréolières & Cipières
July 12th, 2020. Vence to Tourrettes-sur-Loup to Pont-du-Loup to Gréolières to Cipières to Pont-du-Loup to Tourrettes-sur-Loup to Vence. Another ride up the Gorges du Loup but this time instead of turning up towards Gourdon I headed straight up to Gréolières, a charming, small village at the foot of the mountains. From there down into the valley and back up the other side to Cipières and then back home to Vence. [read about the entire ride]
1 village: Aiglun
July 14th, 2020. Gréolières to Le Col de Bleine to Le Mas to Aiglun and back. A nice ride with lots of climbing, fantastic views of deep valleys below, pine trees galore and two small villages. Climbing both sides of the Col de Bleine and racing down the “James Bond Descent” just outside of Gréolières really adds a lot of fun to this ride. [read about the entire ride]
4 villages: Coursegoules, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Carros & Saint-Jeannet
July 18th, 2020. Vence over the Col de Vence to Coursegoules, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Bouyon, Le Broc, Carros, Gattières, Saint-Jeannet and back to Vence. This is one of my favorite rides near Vence, I make it on a very regular basis and I’ve gotten to know these villages and roads like the back of my hand. It starts off with a bang, climbing over the Col de Vence, but after that it’s mostly downhill. Seven beautiful villages to explore, mountains, valleys, clear mountain air. Who could ask for more? [read about the entire ride]
2 villages: Sigale & Briançonnet
July 21st, 2020. Saint-Auban to Le Mas to Aiglun to Sigale to Briançonnet and back to Saint-Auban. A wonderful loop that sits right on the edge of where the Alpes-Maritimes department meets the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department. Mountains, valleys, rivers and more. A fair amount of climbing and some spectacular views of the Clue de Saint-Auban. [read about the entire ride]
3 villages: Aspremont, Levens & La Roquette-sur-Var
July 25th, 2020. Vence to Saint-Jeannet, Gattières, Colomars, Aspremont, Saint-Blaise, Levens, La Roquette-sur-Var and back. A visit to the other side of the Var River valley and several wonderful villages. A lot of ups and downs as the ride alternates between climbing and descending. Magnificent views of the valley from La Roquette-sur-Var. [read about the entire ride]
2 villages: Entrevaux & La Penne
July 28th, 2020. Briançonnet to Entrevaux (one of my favorite villages) to Puget-Théniers to La Penne to Briançonnet. Not a particularly long ride, but three big climbs that certainly made it challenging: Col de Buis, Col de Saint-Raphaël and the long climb along the valley back to Briançonnet. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Gilette & Revest-les-Roches
August 1, 2020. Vence to Carros to Gilette to Revest-les-Roches to Bonson and back. Great ride on the other side of the Esteron River. From Vence I rode up to Carros village then down to the river, up to Gilette and Revest-les-Roches, down and over to Bonson and then back down to the river, up to Carros and back home. Beautiful views of the Esteron and the Var, lots of climbing. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Villeneuve-d’Entraunes, Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes & Châteauneuf-d’Entraunes
August 4, 2020. Entrevaux to Guillaumes to Villeneuve-d’Entraunes to Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes to Châteauneuf-d’Entraunes and back to Entrevaux. A really fantastic ride up the Var River north of Entrevaux. The scenery is magnificent all along the route, but the real highlight is the Gorges de Daluis, just breathtaking. [read about the entire ride]
4 villages: La Bollène-Vésubie, Belvédère, Saint-Martin-Vésubie & Venanson
August 8, 2020. 100km ride starting from San-Martin-du-Var, climbing all the way up the Vésubie Valley to San-Martin-Vésubie and back. Three side trips to the perched mountain villages of La Bollène-Vésubie, Belvédère & Venanson. Throw in the Gorges de la Vésubie and you’ve got another fantastic ride through a beautiful portion of the Alpes-Maritimes. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: La Croix-sur-Roudoule, Puget-Rostang & Auvare
August 11, 2020. Three villages in the mountains north of Puget-Théniers. Each of these villages is quite interesting and each of them are rather remote, especially Auvare. Again I have to wonder, who lives here? Not a long ride by kilometer standards, just 36km, but constant climbing. Really beautiful countryside with lots of dazzling views. [full details coming soon]