Distance: 117 kilometres (73 miles)
Time: Around 6-7 hours depending on your pace
Difficulty: Difficult – long with several climbs
Elevation: 1637 meters
Note: This is an account of a ride I did in the summer of 2014. Everything is still pretty much the same if you were to ride this route today.
Another magnificent day on the bike here in southern France. I know I say something similar after almost every ride, but it’s just the way it is. There are very, very few things I enjoy as much as exploring the towns, villages, back roads and countryside of France, especially here in the Alpes-Maritimes area. I never get tired of it. It never grows old. There’s still so, so much left to explore in France. I’m not in the least bit tired of it yet. And, there’s no better way to explore it then on a bike. I feel so much more connected to the environment, to everything around me, when I’m on my bike instead of driving in a car. I suppose walking and hiking is even better, but it’s just a little too slow sometimes. I can cover sixty to eighty miles easily on any given day on my bike. Can’t do that hiking.
[more info after the photo gallery]
La Roquette-sur Var & Levens
On Saturday I rode from Nice to Levens, a wonderful little village high up in the mountains almost directly north of Nice, with a couple of new friends I met here recently. Today I decided to pick up where we left off in Levens and continue on up into the mountains. I took the M2210 from Vence to Gattières and then down to the Var River near Carros. Across the river and north along the big M6202 road that runs right next to the river. Just after passing through Saint-Martin-du-Var is a great road (the M20) that climbs up to one of the most picturesque, beautiful “perched villages” in this area, La Roquette-sur-Var. I’ve been there once before, but coming in from the opposite direction. The climb is steep and heavily wooded. La Roquette-sur-Var sits right on the top of a little rocky perch, protected from whomever might have wanted to invade it so many years ago. The view from the town out across the Var River is spectacular.
From La Roquette-sur-Var I continued the climb on the M20 to Levens. Another nice mountain village where I had wanted to spend some time today exploring. It’s one of the few villages I’ve found up here that has a guided audio tour you can rent and listen to as you walk around. Unfortunately, the “Office de Tourisme” was closed today, so that didn’t happen. So, I continued north on the M19 from Levens to Duranus, a village featured in one of the small books I have on perched villages. It was a good ride, some downhill portions and some climbing portions. It must have rained during the night or early in the morning because the road was wet in many places that were still shaded from the morning sun. Duranus was something of a disappointment, however. Not really much to see and not on par with most of the other villages I have passed through in these parts.
From Duranus I dropped down into the Vallée de la Vésubie and the town of Saint-Jean-la-Rivière which sits right at the bottom of the valley on the Vésubie River. Then it was up the M32 on a very nice 10km climb to Utelle, the next stop on my trip. At the foot of the climb I realized that I could continue on over the mountain range to the next valley over, the Vallée de la Tinée and the village of La Tour. I know it might seem odd, but I was very excited about this prospect. These two valleys are two of my favorite places. I’ve cycled up and down the length of each, visiting villages and towns all along the way. Much farther north there is a main road that connects the two valleys via Saint-Martin-Vésubie and Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée. It’s a great climb that I have done from the both sides. But, I did not know that there was a smaller road connecting the two valleys at the other end and once I realized this I decided immediately to continue on over the top at Utelle and head into La Tour.
On to La Tour
The climb to Utelle was great. The sun was shining, the air was warm and the sky was clear. I took it a very easy pace, making sure my heart rate stayed in the 120s. Nice and easy. I stopped in Utelle for some water and a look around then headed on up. I assumed I would have to do some more climbing to get to La Tour, but was pleasantly surprised when I realized that Utelle basically sits at the top of the mountain range. Just outside of town the road turned (still on the M32) and I was headed straight down a very steep and winding road. The road itself was in good shape, but it was covered by lots of loose rocks, stones, sand and just general debris so I had to take it pretty slow and careful. It’s about 12km from Utelle to La Tour and the first 6 or 7 were straight downhill. Then a little climb for about 1km, then some more downhill and finally the last 3 or 4kms into La Tour were very, very steep, averaging over 10% the entire way. Storm clouds were building in the mountains to the north and when I heard thunder at one point I feared that I might get rained on today.
Back To Vence
Not much happening on a Monday afternoon in La Tour. I ate a bar, got some more water and headed down into the Vallée de la Tinée, picking up the M2205 that heads back south to Vence and Nice. The ride home was not too eventful. I followed the M2205 back to the M6202, crossed over the river to the west side at the bridge just before the road up to La Roquette-sur-Var. Now on the M901 I followed the road to Carros, took the M2210 on the climb up to Gattières and then zipped back home via Saint-Jeannet.
Overall, a wonderful ride that I’m looking forward to sharing with someone one of these days. Any of my cycling friends would love this route.
Important Notes: This is a long ride with a lot of climbing. If there is any sign of rain I would suggest leaving the ride for another day as you don’t want to be caught in the rain here. 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 pass through several villages, most of which have fountains, so stocking up on water should not be a problem. Several also have small grocery stores and restaurants, but they may or may not be open depending on the day and time you ride. 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.