Distance: 65 kilometers (40 miles)
Time: About 3 to 3 1/2 hours depending on your pace
Difficulty: Moderate (with a lot of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 1,180 meters (3,871 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 2 Villages
Gréolières and Cipières are two small villages situated very close to one another on opposite sides of a small river valley. Grèoliéres is particularly charming and features a ruined castle in the center of town and an even older one in ruins on the mountainside above the town. There are a couple of ways to visit these villages on bike from Vence, one being to go straight up over the Col de Vence and then head west. For this ride I chose to head west from Vence through Tourrettes-sur-Loup and then climb up through the Gorges du Loup. There’s a lot to see along the way and the scenery is gorgeous throughout. The first portion of the route is similar to the ride I did to Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Gourdon, but instead of turning south on the D3 towards Gourdon you continue on the D3 north towards Gréolières. There’s a lot of climbing involved but none of it is very steep.
[click on any image to enter the gallery – more info after the photo gallery]
Vence > Tourrettes-sur-Loup > Pont- du-Loup > Gréolières
From Vence I ride west on the D2210, through Tourrettes-sur-Loup. It’s a short, easy 5km (3 mile) climb to Tourrettes-sur-Loup from Vence. The road passes right through the town, but if you really want to see more turn left at the car park in the center of town and walk down into the heart of the village. Be sure not to miss the spectacular view of the village after you pass by it. Tourrettes-sur-Loup will be on your left and it’s really quite a site to see, perched on the side of the hill, the exterior houses forming a natural rampart.
Then it’s all downhill as you continue on the D2210 down to Pont-du-Loup. Just before you get into town you will turn right on the D6 and begin the climb up through the beautiful Gorges du Loup. The river cuts its way through the rocky cliffs here as the road winds back and forth over it. There are three small tunnels on the way, but they are fairly short and very well lit. Just be careful because they can be quite wet inside, especially after a storm. There’s a very cool waterfall on the right about half way up, the Cascade de Courmes. Just past that is another interesting place to stop if you are so inclined, the waterfalls at Saut du Loup. You can pay 1€ to go through the gate and see the waterfalls. They can be quite spectacular in the winter and spring, but you’ll find less water in the summer and fall.
At a tiny little place called Bramafan the road will change from the D6 to the D3. If you turn left you can ride up to Gourdon, but for this ride I continued straight which will took me to Gréolières. From Bramafan it’s about eight more kilometers of climbing to Gréolières. The first three are fairly easy but just after you pass by the 5km left to go marker the road will kick up considerably. Shortly you’ll see Gréolières ahead of you on the mountainside. After another kilometer or two Cipières will also come into view, to your left on the opposite side of the valley.
You’ll reach a large roundabout where the D3, the D2 and the D603 all come together. Follow the D2 into Gréolières. It’s about three kilometers from this point and you’ll navigate up a couple of steep switchbacks on the way. As you come into town the road splits, take the left road, as it runs right into the center of town.
Located on the southern slope of the Cheiron mountain, Gréolières dates as far back as the fifth century when a castle was first erected here. Situated in the Loup river valley it once sat on a Roman road that connected Vence to Castellane. Today the village is home to less than 600 people and while it is not a particularly well known tourist destination, it is quite popular with lots of cyclists. If you pass through Gréolières on any summer morning you are bound to see cyclists relaxing with a cup of coffee or espresso at one of the two local restaurants. Though the town is quite small you’ll find a lot of interesting monuments and sites if you wish to do some exploring. There are two “ruined” castles, the Castle of Basses-Gréolières, located in the heart of the village, and the Castle of Hautes-Gréolières, located on a rocky spur above the village. There’s also a ruined church, Notre-Dame-de-Verdelaye, a chapel and two current churches, one of which, St. Peter’s Church, dates back to at least 1312. There’s a small grocery store in the village and a very nice Office de Tourisme. Just recently a small boulangerie/pâtisserie has opened up as well. It’s worth scheduling a bit of extra time on your ride to have a look around the village.
Before leaving Gréolièrs I would suggest continuing out on the D2 for just under one more kilometer of climbing. Here you’ll find the ruins of the Castle of Hautes-Gréolièrs and also the Saint-Etienne Church. You’ll have a wonderful view of the village from this vantage point.
[click on any image to enter the gallery – more info after the photo gallery]
Gréolières > Cipières
Leave Gréolièrs the way you came in on the D2. After just under two kilometers you’ll see a road on the right. It’s easy to miss because it’s not marked very well in this direction, but make a hard right turn here on the D703 to head towards Cipières. Cipières and Gréolièrs are both very close to the same elevation, the problem is they are on opposite sides of the Loup River valley. Which means you have to descend down into the valley, cross the river and then climb back up again to Cipières on the other side. The D703 will dead-end into the D603 where you will turn right. A few more kilometers of climbing and you’ll arrive at the village.
I’ll be honest. Cipières is not one of my favorite villages in the area. I find it a bit boring. It lacks the charm and appeal that I find in most small French villages. When you arrive you’ll need to turn off the main road and ride a short bit to get into town. There is a castle (Castle Cipières) dating from the 17th century, a church and a little chapel on the outskirts of town. But, to tell the truth, there’s not a whole lot else to see in this small village. I like to ride into the main square where there is a nice fountain, fill up on water (maybe splash some on my head and face), have a bar to eat and head back out.
Cipières > Tourrettes-sur-Loup > Vence
At this point, most of the climbing is done. From Cipières continue on the D603 for several kilometers until you come to the turn off at D3 to head back down to Pont-du-Loup. You’ll reconnect with the route you took coming up at Bramafan and then it’s just a matter of retracing your steps. Stop at Pont-du-Loup if you need more water and then take the D2210 back to Vence. It’s uphill for about eight kilometers but then the last five are downhill into Vence.
There are plenty of places to stop along this route to take in the scenery. You’ll also find numerous places to get water and/or food.
Important Notes: There is some climbing on various parts of this route. There can also be some traffic on certain portions of the route at certain times of the day. If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the ride for another time. As always you’ll want to make sure you have a good bike and plenty of water. The best time to make this ride in the summer is early in the morning when it’s the coolest, the best time in the winter is early in the afternoon when things have warmed up a bit. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. You’ll be able to find food and drink all along the route. If you are riding alone make sure someone knows where you are going and what time you should be back. I always wear an identification bracelet that I got from Road ID.