Update on March 8th: over two thirds of the way there, 61 villages down, 27 to go.
This summer I set out on a 73 Villages by Bike challenge wherein I visited 73 villages in the Alpes-Maritimes department on my bike. I’d actually done the same thing several years ago (from 2004 to 2013). This time around I was able to do it in four months instead of nine years! The villages were from a 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). But here’s the thing: I have no idea how these 73 villages were chosen. Certainly many of them are among the best villages in the department, but, as I noted in my original article, there are many, many more that are just as beautiful (Biot, Gorbio and Bonson, anyone?).
So… I went to Wikipedia and got a list of every “commune” in the Alpes-Maritimes department, of which there are officially 163. French communes are analogous to civil townships and incorporated municipalities in the United States. Last time I also visited five villages that aren’t on this list (one was actually in the Var and four were too small be considred communes). That leaves 95 villages, towns and cities from the official list that I didn’t visit on my first challenge. I put together a list of everywhere that I still had to go and then took out the eight biggest cities in the department (Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cannes, Grasse, Mandelieu-La Napoule, Menton, Nice and Saint-Laurent-du-Var). I’ve ridden through these large cities countless times and I didn’t feel a need to include them on this challenge. That brought the count down to 87. I snuck in one village in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department (Sausses) because it lies right on one of the routes. And a new challenge.
So, here I go again. I’m starting this challenge at the beginning of December, so it is definitely going to take a bit longer to complete than the last one. The winter months will make it difficult and/or impossible to visit a lot of the villages in the mountains of the northern part of the department. But, there are quite a few down here in the south so I should be able to get a lot done while I wait for the spring and summer months to return. Some of these villages are among my favorites in the area, including Gattières, Puget-Théniers, Guillaumes, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Tourette-du-Château. In truth I probably went through more than half of these villages on the 73 Villages challenge. But, since they weren’t part of the official itineray, I’m going back again.
Like last time, the villages are divided into eight different groups based on their general location (bold = visited):
Le Mentonnais et Monaco (6)
Beausoleil, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, Cap d’Ail, Gorbio, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Villefranche-sur-Mer
Le Paillon (11)
Bendejun, Blausasc, Cantaron, Chateauneuf-Villevieille, Contes, Drap, Falicon, Saint-André-de-la-Roch, Touët-de-l’Escarène, Tourette-Levens, La Trinité
Le Var Inférieur et le pays Grassois (28)
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Biot, Caille, Le Cannet, Castagniers, Châteauneuf-Grasse, La Colle-sur-Loup, Colomars, Courmes, Gattières, La Gaude, Mouans-Sartoux, Opio, Pégomas, Peymeinade, Roquefort-les-Pins, La Roquette-sur-Siagne, Le Rouret, Saint-Blaise, Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey, Séranon, Spéracèdes, Théoule-sur-Mer, Le Tignet, Valbonne, Vallauris, Vence, Villeneuve-Loubet
La Roya (2)
La Vésubie (5)
Duranus, Lantosque, Roquebillière, San Martin-du-Var, Utelle
La Tinée (4)
Isola, Massoins, Tournefort, Villars-su-Var
Le Cians & Le Daluis (11)
Amirat, Collongues, Daluis, Entraunes, Guillaumes, Lieuche, Pierlas, Puget-Thèniers, Saint-Léger, Sausses, Sauze, Touët-sur-Var
Le Loup et l’Estéron (20)
Andon, Ascros, Bonson, Bouyon, Le Broc, Caussols, Conségudes, Escragnolles, Gars, Le Mas, Les Mujouls, Pierrefeu, La Roque-en-Provence, Roquesteron, Saint-Antonin, Saint-Auban, Sallagriffon, Toudon, Tourette-du-Château, Valderoure
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 Entraunes (at the other end) and back in one ride. So, just like last time, I have a few realistic guidelines.
- I will from one village to another, eventually visiting all 85.
- All rides will start and end at the same point. This makes it possible to do these rides on my own, I don’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 will 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, Fontan). Sometimes it passes right on the edge of the village (for instance, Biot) and sometimes it passes close to the village but you must make a small detour (for instance, Sallagriffon). In the latter two examples I will go to up into the village and then return 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 from the road. I will also get off my bike and spend considerable time walking through each village and exploring them all in depth.
- 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 Vallbonne and back one day. The next day I can then drive to Valbonne, park and ride from Valbonne to Mouans-Sartoux to La Roquette-sur-Siagne and back. You get the idea. Eventually, I will cover every inch of the roads between all the 85 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 will post a little synopsis of each ride here on this page with a link to each more in-depth account.
3 villages: Vence, Courmes & Le Bar-sur-Loup
November 30, 2020 Easy enough to knock out the first village on the list, Vence, since, of course, I live here. From there it’s west through Tourrettes-sur-Loup and a short climb up to the tiny isolated village of Courmes which is about 3 or 4 kilometers from the main road. Then back down to the Loup River at Pont du Loup and another short climb up to Le Bar-sur-Loup. From there it’s back home the way I came. A wonderful little ride, close to home. Much of this route I ride on a regular basis. [full details coming soon]
5 villages: La Colle-sur-Loup, Roquefort-les-Pins, Le Rouret, Opio & Châteauneuf-Grasse
December 2, 2020 Another little loop very close to home. La Colle-sur-Loup is just down the hill from Vence, a little past Saint-Paul de Vence. It’s an interesting little village, smack dab in the middle of the Côte d’Azur madness. You wouldn’t know there was even a little village there unless you took the time to seek it out. Roquefort-les-Pins is a bit disappointing, it’s just a relatively new town, no history, no old town. Pretty much the same for Le Rouret, though at least there is a nice church and chapel there. So, on to Opio where the tiny old town is a climb up from the main road. Fantastic view of the surrounding countryside. Finally a stop in Châteauneuf before heading home. Châteauneuf has a decent old town, again with fantastic views of the area. [full details coming soon]
4 villages: La Gaude, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer
December 6, 2020 A coastal ride today. I threw in La Gaude because it’s close to Vence and I could route my descent down to the coast via this little village. All three of these coastal towns are very well known, very popular with not only the tourists but the native French as well. On this Sunday afternoon, one week after the COVID confinement was relaxed a bit, they were out in droves! I’ve rarely seen it so busy along the coast, even in the summer. Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of the most beautiful harbors on the Côte d’Azur. Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat has some of the most expensive real estate in the entire world. Beaulieu-sur-Mer is another seaside village that attracts lots of the rich and famous crowd. A very nice, relaxing ride along a gorgeous stretch of the Mediterranean. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Gattières, Le Broc & Bouyon
December 13, 2020 These three villages, Gattières, Le Broc and Bouyon, are villages that I pass through on a regular basis. They all lie on the big Vence 7 Village Loop which I have done countless times over the past ten years. For this current challenge I made a special little “out and back” ride to knock the three of them out. Normally I would simply continue on the loop from Bouyon to Bézaudun-les-Alpes, Coursegoules and then over the Col de Vence back home. But, it being December and having rained recently there was a good chance there could be some ice on the roads at the higher altitudes, so once I reached Bouyon I just turned around and came back the same way. [full details coming soon]
5 villages: Pégomas, Peymeinade, Spéracèdes, Le Tignet & Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey
January 13, 2021 Due to weather, confinement rules, the holidays and more it has been full month since my last “villages” ride. I made up for some of the lost time today with a route that took me through five villages in the areas west of Grasse. Not my favorite area to ride in (way too much traffic), it was nevertheless a fine ride, the highlight being Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey. Peymeinade and Spéracèdes were mostly new to me (having just passed through quickly in the past) though Le Tignet and Pègomas were more familiar. The fact that I had to be back home to the 6PM curfew put a bit of a damper on things as I felt a bit rushed, but overall a good ride with some nice villages. [full details coming soon]
4 villages: Colomars, Castagniers, Sainte-Blaise & Saint Martin-du-Var
January 14, 2021 Another sunny, almost warm January day so I’m off again, this time to the other side of the Var River and up into the hills behind Nice. I drove down to Pont de la Manda (The Manda Bridge) which is, believe it or not, the only bridge across the Var River from the coast for 23 kilometers! From there I headed up to Colomars, over to Castagniers and Sainte-Blaise. All are villages I’ve been through many times, but now making them official for this challenge. From Sainte-Blaise I headed up to Levens and then down through La Roquette-sur-Var to Saint Martin-du-Var and back to La Manda. A nice ride through some fine little villages. [full details coming soon]
5 villages: Valbonne, Mouans-Sartoux, La Roquette-sur-Siagne, Le Cannet, Vallauris
January 17, 2021 Not one of my favorite areas to ride in, but I did discover some new villages I was not familiar with. This part of the Alpes-Maritimes, mostly north and west of Cannes, is heavily populated and there is a LOT of traffic. I started in Valbonne, a village I am quite familiar with, having been there numerous times riding, hiking and just exploring. Mouans-Sartoux has a wonderful castle and La Roquette-sun-Siagne is just a little blip on the map. The real surprises here were Le Cannet and Vallauris, both of which have very nice old towns and lots to see. I’ll be back to check these villages out in more depth in the future. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Gorbio, Beausoleil & Cap d’Ail
January 19, 2021 An interesting loop, beginning in one of my favorite villages, La Turbie. Some very isolated mountain riding and some very busy city riding. Straight up into the mountains to the ancient perched village of Gorbio high up in the hills overlooking Menton. I’ve been to Gorbio many times, but it has been several years since I was there. Then a fast ride down to Menton, a quick loop around the Cap Martin and up onto the hill above Monaco for a stop in Beausoleil. An interesting village right on the border of Monaco and France, it’s hard to think you’re not in Monaco from the way it blends in. Then down to the coast at Cap d’Ail and a nice climb back up to La Turbie. [full details coming soon]
4 villages: Tourrette-Levens, Châteauneuf-Villevieille, Bendejun & Contes
January 24, 2021 Mostly an “out and back” trip with a newly-discovered little loop on the end. The ride begins in Asprement and heads down into the village of Tourrette-Levens where you’ll find a wonderful old castle perched high on tiny hill at the edge of the town. Then it’s climb up to Châteauneuf-Villevieille (another castle) and over the mountain range down to Bendejun in the next valley. On this ride I discovered a new road, Chemin de Remaurian, which allowed me to head straight over to Bendejun from Châteauneuf-Villevieille instead of going down into Contes first. From Bendejun it’s a quick little descent to Contes, the only village in the area I know of with a “funiculaire” that carries people up from the main road to the high perched village. Finally, back up over the mountain range to Tourrette-Levens and Aspremont. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Bonson, Tourette-du-Château & Toudon
February 5, 2021 A wonderful little ride through some beautiful perched villages in the mountains north of Vence. I started today’s ride in Saint-Martin-du-Var north of Nice along the Var River. This ride is basically all climbing for the first half, then turn around and descend for the entire second half. The first stop is Bonson, situated right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Var and Vésubie Rivers. Continue climbing up through Revest-les-Roches and into Tourette-du-Château. Great views of Gilette below on this portion of the ride. Tourette-du-Château features breathtaking views of the valleys and mountains to the south. Toudon is a few kilometers further on. I turned around in Toudon and came back down via Gilette. The sun was out for a lot of the ride and the temperatures were close to 60°. Not bad for early February! [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Duranus & Utelle
February 10, 2021 The Vésubie valley is one of my very favorite places to ride. It begins at the town of Le Plan-du-Var (where I began today’s ride) and continues up the valley to Saint-Martin-Vésubie. Today’s two villages are located on opposite sides of the valley about a third of the way up. Duranus is a tiny village on the eastern slopes, about 5kms from the river. Not a lot here, but they do have a nice little church. From Duranus it’s back down to the river and up a longer climb, about 9kms to Utelle. The highlight in Utelle is also the church, much bigger than you would imagine for a small mountain village like this. You can also continue another 6kms past Utelle to La Madone d’Utelle another church up on the very top of the mountain. It’s also possible to continue over the mountains to reach La Tour in the Tinée Valley, a ride I’ve done once before and really enjoyed. [full details coming soon]
1 village: Théoule-sur-Mer
February 11, 2021 I needed to figure out a nice ride to Théoule-sur-Mer which is on the coast just west of Cannes. Unfortunately, there weren’t any other villages anywhere near it that I could use to put together a new route. However, earlier in the week Carole and I had visited Tanneron to see the mimosa trees in full bloom. I’ve always want to ride through the mimosa forests on my bike as well, so suddenly I realized I could make a great ride from Pégomas up to Tanneron and then down to Théoule-sur-Mer and back. And what a wonderful ride it was. Mid-February but the skies were blue, the sun was full, there was no wind and the temperatures were close to 60°! The ride up from Pégomas to Tanneron was absolutely beautiful, filled with mimosa trees the entire way. (The rest of the ride was also great.) [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Villeneuve-Loubet & Biot
February 18, 2021 It’s a short ride, almost all downhill, from Vence to Villeneuve-Loubet. There’s a castle there, a nice chapel and a church. The castle is only open a few days a month so I haven’t had the chance to visit it yet. Villeneuve-Loubet is built on a big hill next to the Loup River just a few kilometers from the beach. The village is small with lots of steep little streets that lead from the river up to the castle. From there I headed to Biot, one of my favorite villages in the area and one which I have been to too many times to count. It’s always worth a visit though and there’s a lot to see and do in the village. I spent a little time wandering around taking photos and then headed down towards Antibes where I took the coastal road back to Cagnes-sur-Mer. One last climb back up to Vence and I was home again. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Puget-Théniers, Saint-Léger, Dalius & Sausses
February 23, 2021 Well this turned out to be an adventurous ride. I certainly learned a lesson that I’m surprised I hadn’t learned a long time ago. Check Google street view to see if they have actually mapped a certain road! This little loop started in Puget-Théniers, a small village on the Var River that is a great starting point for lots of wonderful rides. I headed straight north towards La Croix-sure-Roudoule but turned left on the D316 to go to Saint-Léger. A nice climb up to the Col de Saint-Léger and then a short descent into the village. From there I headed back down to the Var River and the small village of Daluis. Little did I know that the last 2 kilometers of the road were not paved! And very wet, muddy, rocky and treacherous. Like I say, lesson learned. The climb up to Daluis is short (only 1 kilometer) but quite steep with one portion over 18%. I also stopped at the village of Sausses though it isn’t really in the Alpes-Maritimes department (it’s in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) before heading back through Entrevaux into Puget-Théniers. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Lantosque and Roquebillière
February 25, 2021 The Vésubie Valley which runs from Plan-du-Var north to Saint-Martin-Vésubie is one of my favorite areas in the Alpes-Maritimes department. There are eight significant villages in the valley, four of which were featured in the original “73 Villages by Bike” challenge and four more of which are featured in this current challenge. Today I started from Plan-du-Var and road the length of the valley, all the way into Saint-Martin-Vésubie with stops in Lantosque and Roquebillière. Lantosque was one of the first villages I visited in this valley many years ago while cycling with my friend Connie. Roquebillière, destroyed by landslides over the years, is now basically a divided village, the old village on the east bank of the river and the “new” village on the west bank. I was happy to visit Saint-Martin-Vésubie, probably my favorite village in the department, but heartbroken to see the destruction to the land around it done by Tempest Alex last October. [full details coming soon]
3 villages: Villars-sur-Var, Massoins & Tournefort
March 1, 2021 This is a quick little loop that starts in the Tinée Valley at Pont-de-Clans. I headed straight down the M2205 until I reached the turnoff to Puget-Théniers, the D6202. It’s almost all downhill, riding alongside the Tinée River. There was still a fair amount of work being done on the roads because of the big storm last October which caused quite a bit of damage in this area. The ride along the D6202 to Villars-sur-Var can be a bit busy but the road is big and wide so it’s not a problem. After about 10 miles it’s a right turn and a small climb up to Villars-sur-Var. From there you head back into the mountains along a very nice, very quiet small country road to Massoins. It’s a wonderful little village with the ruins of an old castle. There’s really not a lot to see in Tournefort. The old village is several kilometers outside of the “new” village and unfortunately the road is much too steep to cycle up and too long to walk in just my socks. Then just a quick descent back down to Pont-de-Clans. It’s a relatively short ride (under 40km) but the road from Villars-sur-Var to Tournefort is very nice. [full details coming soon]
2 villages: Sospel & Fontan
March 3, 2021 In early October 2020 a big storm (Alex) tore through southwest France leaving a large path of devastation and destruction. Flooding in the Roya, Vésubie and Tinée valleys caused so much damage it’s hard to fully take it all in. I started this ride in Sospel and village I’ve been through many times. Over the Col de Brouis and then on past Saorge into Fontan. Fontan is a strange little village, built right along the Roya River it’s dirty and run down. The facades of most of the houses and buildings are in terrible shape. Not one of my favorite villages, that’s for sure. I headed back down the valley to Breil-sur-Roya, on into Italy and then climbed back up to Sospel via the Col de Vescavo (which is not too long, but quite steep). I’ve been riding several times since Alex in the Vésubie and Tinée valleys, but this was my first trip back to the Roya. I have to say, I think it might have been hit the worse. The beautiful little village of Breil-sur-Roya was really sad to see. [full details coming soon]
5 villages: La Trinité, Drap, Cantaron, Blausasc & Touët-de-l’Escarène
March 8, 2021 Not a very long ride but I was able to knock off five villages on this little out and back trip. I started in La Trinité which I really consider to be a suburb of Nice. It’s very busy, not particularly interesting and not particularly scenic. From there it’s just a couple of kilometers north to Drap though you’d never know you left one town and entered another with the road signs. Cantaron is a tiny bit more interesting (but not a lot). From there I took a back road up to Blausasc. It was nearly deserted which was a nice change from the traffic at the start. The road winds through scenic forests up into the hills and was quite steep in some places. Blausasc was one of the few villages I’d never been to before and I found some interesting things to see there. A little more climbing up to and over the Col de Nice, a short descent into L’Escarène and then a few more kilometers of climbing to the final village, Touët-de-l’Escarène which is on the road to the Col de Braus. It’s a small village, one of those that is literally built right on the road. My favorite village on this trip. [full details coming soon]