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 (you can find it in many bookstores in France and on amazon.fr). 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, Gourdon, etc.) 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. I can’t begin to tell you the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I rolled into that village (Tende). What an adventure it had been. Seven years later, I decided to do it all over again.
The villages are divided into eight different groups based on their location:
Le Mentonnais et Monaco (6)
Èze, La Turbie, Sainte-Agnès, Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, Castellar, Castillon
Le Paillon (7)
Peille, Lucéram, L’Escarène, Peillon, Berre-les-Alpes, Coaraze, Levens
Le Var Inférieur et le pays Grassois (11)
Aspremont, La Roquette-su-Var, Carros, Saint-Jeannet, Saint-Paul-de-Vence, Tourrettes-sur-Loup, Cabris, Gourdon, Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne, Auribeau-sur-Siagne, Mougins
La Roya (8)
Pienne-Haute, Moulinet, Breil-sur-Roya, Bergue Supérieur, Saorge, Granile, La Brigue, Tende
La Vésubie (4)
Belvédère, Saint-Martin-Vésubie, Venanson, La Bollène-Vésubie
La Tinée (13)
La Tour, Bairols, Marie, Clans, Ilonse, Saint-Dalmas (Valdeblore), La Roche (Valdeblore), Roubion, Rimplas, Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, Roure, Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage
Le Var et le Cians (12)
Malaussène, Thiéry, Rigaud, Entrevaux, Puget-Rostang, Auvare, La Croix-sur-Roudoule, Beuil, Péone, Châteauneuf-d’Entraunes, Villeneuve-d’Entraunes, Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes
Le Loup et l’Estéron (12)
Coursegoules, Cipières, Gréolières, Les Ferres, Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Gilette, Cuébris, Revest-les-Roches, La Penne, Sigale, Briançonnet, Aiglun
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 were still a lot of them which I had only been to once or twice when I decided to make this second go round. Since I was now more familiar with the entire Alpes-Maritimes area I decided to do the whole thing over again and really get to know these villages. Visit all 73 villages by bike. Again. I didn’t set any strict timetable for when I hoped to finish this challenge, but in my mind I thought if I could do it in less than a year that would great. I actually completed everyting in about three and half months.
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. It’s obviously selective. There are almost 200 villages and towns in the department and they just picked the 73 they liked best (I guess). I passed through many of the other villages on these rides and tried to 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 had a few realistic guidelines.
- I rode from one village to another, eventually visiting all 73.
- All rides started and ended at the same point. This made it possible to do these rides on my own, I didn’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 original starting point).
- I made every effort to cycle as close as I could 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 examples I rode 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 could on my bike, not just pass them by from the road. I also got off my bike and spent considerable time walking through each village and exploring them all in depth.
- If I had already reached one village on bike, I could then drive to that village the next time and use it as my next starting point. For instance, let’s say I rode from Vence to Gilette and back one day. The next day I could then drive to Gilette, park and ride from Gilette to Sigale and back. The next day I could drive to Sigale, park and ride from Sigale to Auvare and back. You get the idea. Eventually, I covered every inch of the roads between all the 73 villages on bike, but in a manageable way.
How It Went
I made the first ride on July 9th and the last on October 20th. So, almost three and a half months. In total I made thirty rides. I did the vast majority of them by myself, though my friend Semon joined me on a handful of them. I had one flat tire and another case where my front tire developed a big blister, but other than that I had no real mechanical difficulties. The weather was fantastic most of the time. A bit hot on some of the summer days and once we made it into October things started to cool down quite a bit so I started riding in the afternoon instead of the morning.
Overall, this was a fantastic experience, even better than the first time around. I love, love, love visiting these villages and everything that comes between them: the roads, the gorges, the cols, etc. I really feel like I now know this area very well and each of these little villages provides a bit more understanding of this part of France. I’m already putting together part two of this challenge where I’ll vist the rest of the villages and towns in the Alpes-Maritimes that were not included here. Stay tuned.
In 30 rides I rode 1,940 kilometers (1,205 miles) and climbed 38,415 meters (126,033 feet). I didn’t bother to count up the hours on my bike, but most of these rides were at least three hours of ride time, some up to five. A lot of miles, a lot of climbing, a lot of hours in the saddle. But, man, what a great experience.
For each ride I’ll write up an article with the details, including the route, stats, photos and information about the villages. I’ve finished with some, but I still have a lot go to. I have posted a little synopsis of each ride 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. [read about the entire ride]
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. [read about the entire ride]
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]
3 villages: Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée, Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée, Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage
August 15, 2020. Starting to hit some of the villages in the Tinée Valley now. This route begins in Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée (about an hours north of Vence) and heads straight north up the valley through Isola, Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée and finally Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage. Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée is one of my favorite villages on the list and it sits right at the beginning of the famous climb up the Col de la Bonette. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Rimplas, La Roche & Saint-Dalmas
August 18, 2020. The Col Saint-Martin (also known as the Col de la Colmiane) sits between the Vésubie Valley and the Tinée Valley. I climbed it from the Tinée side and visted the villages of Rimplas, La Roche & Saint-Dalmas along the way. Rimplas is especially interesting with a huge World War II fort at the top. The Tour de France will be passing over this Col in just a couple of weeks. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Roure, Roubion & Beuil
August 22, 2020. One of the great (though sadly unrecognized) climbs in this area is the Col de la Couillole which begins at the mountain village of Saint-Sauveur-de-Tinée. It’s 16 kilometers at an average grade of 7.3%. On the way up I took a detour to Roure adding on another 5 kilometers of climbing. Closer to the top is Roubion and then about 7 kilometers down the other side is Beuil. A wonderful day of climbing. [read about the entire ride]
3 villages: Piène-Haute, Breil-sur-Roya & Saorge
August 25, 2020. Started this ride in Sospel, a village Carole and I have some history with, but that is a story for another day. Climbed up to the tiny village of Piène-Haute and then headed for Breil-sur-Roya which required a quick 5 kilometers through Italy. Breil-sur-Roya is a beautiful village right on the banks of the Roya River. Then up the valley and up the side of the mountain to Saorge (another gorgeous perched mountain village) and back to Sospel over the Col de Brouis. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: La Turbie & Eze
September 2, 2020. La Turbie and Eze are the first two “perched” villages I discovered in southern France. La Turbie was completely by accident when Carole and I got lost looking for another village. This ride includes the famous Col d’Eze used almost every year in the Paris-Nice race and also this year in the Tour de France. Gorgeous views of the coast and wonderful scenic villages. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Les Ferres & Cuébris
September 23rd, 2020. A fairly short little ride (50km) starting in Bouyon and heading to the sweet little village of Cuébris. Along the way stops in Les Ferres, Conségudes, Le Roque en Provence and Roquestron. Lots to see, wonderful villages, geat roads. [full details coming soon]
4 villages: Berre-les-Alpes, l’Escarène, Lucéram & Coaraze
September 25th, 2020. Four villages today! A wonderful little loop starting in Contes in the Paillon valley. A short climb up to Berre-les-Alpes, a short descent into l’Escarène and then a longer climb up to Lucéram (the beginning portion of the Col de Turini). Instead of heading up the rest of the way on the Col de Turini I turned west to the Col Saint-Roch. From there it is mostly downhill to Coaraze (another of the official “Most Beautiful Villages of France“) and back to Contes. [full details coming soon]
4 villages: Peillon, Peille, Sainte-Agnès, Roquebrune-cap-Martin
September 27th, 2020. Four more villages today. Absolutely fantastic loop beginning in La Turbie and taking in another of the official “Most Beautiful Villages of France” – Sainte-Agnès. An early start that found the temperature much lower than I had anticipated (in the upper 40s), but things warmed up nicely during the day. Peillon was the first perched village I ever visted and really the one that got my fascination with them going. Peille is an old favorite which I’ve been to many, many times. Roquebrune-Cap-Martin is a pretty little village down on the coast. Mountains and beaches all in the same day. What a delight. [read about the entire ride]
4 villages: Berghe Supérieur, Granile, La Brigue & Tende
September 29th, 2020. What a week! I’ve managed to get in four significant rides in the last seven days covering 14 new villages. Today I finished off the northern end of the Roya Valley starting with Berghe Supérior and a brutally steep climb of 5kms. Then on to Granile for another good climb. La Brigue was a piece of cake compared to the other two villages and Tende finished things off. I decided I wasn’t through though and headed up the valley climbing more up to the tunnel that is cut through the mountain to Italy. Then it was 20kms all downhill to finish up. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Mougins & Saint-Paul-de-Vence
October 3rd, 2020. Today two villages much closer to the coast. Lately I’ve been up in the mountains but the weather is starting to turn cold and today I chose a warmer ride in the south. Mougins and Saint-Paul-de-Vence are two gorgeous little villages, but, because they are closer to the French Riviera, they are much more popular with tourists. Nevertheless, they are still worth a visit. Today, however, the traffic was horrible. I prefer the empty mountain roads where I don’t see a car for kilometer after kilometer! [full details coming soon]
1 village: La Tour
October 5th, 2020. Well, this ride was sort of by accident. Three days ago a powerful storm swept through the area and the Roya, Vésubie and Tinée valleys were hit very bad. There were lots of reports of washed out roads and collapsed bridges. Many of the roads were closed, but I wanted to see where I could get on my bike so I drove to Saint-Martin du Var and rode north to the entrance to the Vésubie valley. There was a blockade there with several gendarmes. They wouldn’t let up the valley, but they said I could head north towards the Tinée. So, I headed up to La Tour. It was getting late so I headed back after just this one village. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Castillon & Castellar
October 6th, 2020. At first glance this ride from Sospel to Menton doesn’t look like much. By car it’s only 43 kilometers round trip. However, by bike it’s a bit longer and requires a climb over the Col de Castillon as the main road has a tunnel that bikes are not allowed through. Throw in some side trips to Castillon and Castellar and it’s really a good little ride. Not two of my favorite villages, but still worth a visit. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Rigaud & Péone
October 8th, 2020. A fantastic loop through both the Gorges du Cians and the Gorges de Dalius. Started the ride with my friend Semon in Puget-Théniers, headed east and turned north along the Cians River heading towards Beuil. A short detour to the little perched village of Rigaud, before heading into the magnificent gorges full of their huge red rocks. A quick lunch in Beuil and the final climb up to Valberg. From there it was all downhill back through Péone, Guillaumes, Entrevaux and back into Puget-Théniers. A truly beautiful route. [read about the entire ride]
2 villages: Ilonse & Marie
October 10th, 2020. Another start from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée in the Tinée Valley. First stop, Ilonse. The highest village in the Tinée Valley, it’s an 11 kilometer climb at over 7% average grade. Beautiful little village with a wonderful church sitting at the very top of the peak overlooking the village. Then down to the valley bottom and back up again, this time on the other side to visit the small village of Marie. It’s only a 3 kilometer climb here. I also took a short detour a bit farther down the valley to see some of the damage done to the main road by the recent storms. [full details coming soon]
1 village: Moulinet
October 12th, 2020. An epic loop starting and ending in l’Escarène. Up the Col de Turini (1607m) through Luceram and Peïra-Cava, a long 27 kilometer climb with fabulous views. Some traces of snow near the top. Then down the eastern side of the col into Sospel with a stop at Moulinet along the way. Finally a climb up the Col de Braus and back down into l’Escarène. Over 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) of climbing! [read about the entire ride]
2 villages: Cabris & Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne
October 15th, 2020. Down from the mountains to finish out three villages close to the south-western edge of the Alpes-Maritimes department, very close to the Var department. I had planned to also visit Auribeau-sur-Siagne today but a problem with one of my tires forced me to cut the ride short. Cabris sits high up on the mountains north of the coast and features some spectacular views of the area. Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne is home to a wonderful 12th century chapel. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Clans & Bairols
October 17th, 2020. Finishing up the last two villages in the Tinée Valley. Clans and Bairols sit almost exactly across from each other on each side of the valley. Bairols is a bit higher, but not by much. Each is approximately 7 kilometers from the main road, the M2205. I started in Pont de Clans, headed up to Clans, spent some time exploring the village, then back down to the valley floor and up to Bairols. Both very nice villages with exceptional views of the area. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Malaussène & Thiéry
October 18th, 2020. A beautiful autumn day for two villages along the Var river in between the Tinée Valley and the Gorges du Cians. Malaussène is just a few short kilometers off the main road but with a very steep climb. Thiéry has got to be the most isolated mountain village in the Alpes-Maritimes, located 17 kilometers from the main road and 14 kilometers from the other nearest village. It’s a long climb, but the village is quite beautiful. [full details coming soon]
1 villages: Auribeau-sur-Siagne
October 20th, 2020. Well, this ride was not part of my original plan. I had intended to include Auribeau-sur-Siagne in ride #27 along with Cabris & Saint-Cézaire-sur-Siagne. But, alas, a problem with my front tire forced me to return without making it here. No big deal. Today I rode straight from Vence, through Chateauneuf and Grasse down to the village. A nice 70 kilometer ride (round trip) with some climbing here and there. The village is quite beautiful and now I’m happy to say I’ve completed all 73 villages! [full details coming soon]