Update on January 14th: over one-quarter of the way, 24 villages down, 61 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 ten biggest cities in the department (Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Cannes, le Cannet, Grasse, Mandelieu-La Napoule, Menton, Nice, Saint-Laurent-du-Var and Vallauris). 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 85. 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 (26)
Le Bar-sur-Loup, Biot, Caille, 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, 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, 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-Châeau, 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 enought 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]