Moulinet, Col de Turini & Col de Braus

October 31, 2020

Distance: 73 kilometers (45 miles)
Time: About 4 to 5 hours depending on your pace
Departure: l’Escarène
Difficulty: Difficult (long with lots of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 2,001 meters (6,565 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 1 village

This is one hell of a ride! The Col de Turini is one of those unique mountain passes that has three approaches. Most of the cols have only two, you go up one side and down the other. The Col de Turini has an approach from Sospel on the east side, one from Lantosque (via La Bollène-Vésubie) on the west side and one from l’Escarène on the south side. I think the Lantosque climb is probably the most famous (it was used in the Tour de France this year), but the southern climb from l’Escarène is the longest at 27 kilometers. I still had one more village in the Le Roya area to visit (as part of my 73 Villages by Bike challenge), Moulinet, but I also needed to connect a previous ride through l’Escarène with Sospel, so I decided on this route. Start in l’Escarène, climb the Col de Turini, head down on the eastern side into Sospel and then climb the Col de Braus to return to l’Escarène. It’s not that long, but it’s probably the most climbing I’ve done in one ride in several years. It made for a long day, but a very rewarding one to be sure.

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L’Escarène to Lucéram

The ride begins in l’Escarène a nice little village nestled at the bottom of the Paillon de l’Eescarène Valley where the Paillon and Redebraus rivers come together. About halfway between the ocean and the Mercantour National Park, l’Escarène dates back to the 11th century. The Train des Merveilles stops there on its run from Nice to Tende. If you want to spend a little time exploring the village before starting the ride (or after finishing it) there’s quite a bit to see and do. The old town is very nice with lots of historical sites to see including an oil mill and museum, the Pont-Vieux (an old bridge dating back to the middle ages), the Saint-Pierre-ès-Liens church (with an historic organ build in 1791) and several chapels. I started the ride with my friend Semon and we left l’Escarène on a brisk October morning with cool temperatures but lots of sunshine. From the center of the village cross over the big bridge, turn left and head up the D2566.

The climb up the Col de Turini begins immediately, but thankfully the first few kilometers are not bad. The village of Lucéram is just over 6 kms and it is from there that the grade really kicks up. I’ve written about Lucéram and their famous Christmas “creches” on this website and if you’re ever in the area during December this is a must see. Lucéram itself is a terrific little village, one of my favorites in the area. It’s very well preserved and the steep, narrow, winding streets through the old town are second to none. The village is mentioned for the first time in 1057 and in 1108 it is cited as a fortified village. The Saint-Marguerite Church is very special and full of an amazing amount of treasures and antiques. There are several chapels in and around the village as well as the ruins of an ancient enclosure that protected the village.

The Col de Turini

Be careful passing through Lucéram. As you come to the north end there are two routes you can take, the D2566 and the D21. Now, the funny thing is both of them will take you to the top of the Col de Turini and both are almost the same distance. But, you want the D21 which is the “classic” approach up the Col. Once you’re through Lucéram the Col de Turini begins in earnest. From l’Escarène to Lucéram the grade averages around 4%. After Lucéram the next 10 kilometers average over 7% until you reach the winter resort of Peïra-Cava. The climb is very nice with lots of switchbacks and turns, great views of the valley below and the coast in the distance. Lots of trees and greenery provide for great scenery. About three-fourths of the way to Peïra-Cava there is a road to the right, the D54, which will take you over to the Col de Braus, but that’s not the way we’re going, so make sure to continue straight on the D21. Eventually the D21 reconnects with the D2566 where you will turn right and head into Peïra-Cava.

From this point it’s about 11 kilometers to the summit. However, the climb changes drastically. Most of the hard work is behind you at this point. The road now resembles something of a roller coaster, with some portions going up, some going down and some fairly level. As you pass through Peïra-Cava you’ll see a sign for a “Table d’Orientation” on the left. I highly suggest taking this short road, getting off your bike and walking a short distance to this magnificent overlook. There’s a majestic view of the mountains, the valleys and the coast which is well worth the short detour.

On this trip I had brought a windbreaker and some light gloves for the descent down into Sospel, but I found that I needed them before I reached the top of the climb. Passing through Peïra-Cava I got rather cold and stopped to put them on. There were patches of snow on the ground all around me, but luckily no snow or ice on the road itself.

The actual col itself is an interesting little spot. The three roads come together here and there is a small collection of restaurants and hotels. I took a well deserved break at this point, refueled on some bars, made sure to take in some water and took a few photos. Then I got ready for the descent down to Moulinet.

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Col de Turini to Moulinet

From the summit you turn right which means you stay on the D2566. It’s about 12 kilometers down the eastern side of the mountain to Moulinet. On my ride it was quite cold as much of the route remained in shade. The road was also not in very good condition with lots of rock, sand, dirt and gravel on the asphalt. I took it slow and soon arrived in Moulinet.


Located about 32 kilometers from the coast, Moulinet sits in the upper Bévéra Valley, just on the edge of the Mercantour National Park, at about 800 meters. It’s almost exactly halfway up the Col de Turini from the Sospel approach. The entire population of the village was relocated to Cuneo, Italy during World War II by the Germans. The town was awarded the French Croix de Guerre in 1948 to mark its service during the war. Today tourism, agriculture, logging and sheep farming are the main sources of employment for the small population (just under 300). The Rallye Automobile Monte-Carlo, a car race usually held in January of each year, often includes Moulinet in the route. I spent some time wandering around the village (with my bike in tow) exploring the narrow streets and small squares. It’s a very nice little village though it’s pretty quiet these days with not a lot happening. A lot of businesses have gone under and there seems to be very little actual commerce in the town. There are lots of interesting sites to see and it’s worth taking some time to visit on your ride.

Moulinet to Sospel

From Moulinet continue down the D2566 towards Sospel. After about 3 kilometers you’ll see the Notre-Dame-de-la-Menour Chapel above you on the right. Built on a rocky spur overlooking the Bévéra gorges, it really is something special. The oldest part of this chapel dates back to the 12th century and is thought to have served as a defense to the Menour Castle which was destroyed in the early 14th century. Most of what we see now though was built in the 17th century. What makes it such an interesting site is the staircase bridge you must cross to reach the chapel. Beginning on the right side of the road you walk up a set of stairs, then cross over the road on a large bridge and finally continue up the hillside on another long stone staircase. The chapel lies at the top of the last set of stairs. A series of twelve oratoires, forming a Stations of the Cross, connect the chapel with the village of Moulinet. You will see them along the side of the road on your ride down. I highly recommend that you stop here and make the climb to the chapel. It’s well worth it.

From Notre-Dame-de-la-Menour Chapel its a fairly uneventful descent into the outskirts of Sospel. The road is much better on this portion of the descent than it was higher up. You don’t actually pass through Sospel on this ride, as the D2566 connects with the D2204 just a few hundred meters from the town.

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The Col de Braus

The climb up the Col de Braus is almost exactly 11 kilometers with an average grade of 5.7%. It’s actually two climbs, as the first 5 kms take you to the Col St. Jean, from where it’s possible to head down towards Menton. There’s a small stretch near the top of 9% but other than that the grade is pretty even. Just pass the Col St. Jean I ran across a small heard of goats coming up the side of the mountain and onto the road. They rushed over towards me and I stopped to take a few photos. One of the goats actually jumped right up and put both his front paws on the handlebars of my bike! I was a bit taken aback by the aggressiveness, but I managed to get him down fairly quickly. They were certainly not shy and followed me for a little while as I tried to get some more photos.

At the top of the Col de Braus (the summit is at 1,002 meters) you’ll find a small restaurant, the Buvette du Col de Braus, though it has never been open when I’ve been there. It’s a 10 km ride down the other side back into l’Escarène. You’ll pass through the small village of Touet-de-l’Escarène a few kilometers before you arrive again at the starting point.

Like I said at the start, this is a hell of a ride. Lots of climbing, some wonderful villages, a couple of great cols and lots and lots of things to see along the way. Highly recommended.

Steve and Carole in Vence - Moulinet, Col de Turini & Col de Braus
The loop from l’Escarène, up the Col de Turini, down into Sospel and up and over the Col de Braus.

Important Notes: There is a lot of climbing on this route so be prepared. The traffic is usually not too bad throughout most the route but during peak tourist seasons it can get busier. 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 and in the winter early in the afternoon when it’s warmest. When I rode during early October there were small traces of snow and ice at the top of the Col de Turini. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. You should be able to find food and water in each of the villages along the way. 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.

Juste les Faits:
What: Bike ride to Moulinet via the Col de Turini and Col de Braus.
Where: Moulinet (Google Maps)
When: Most of the year, though the cols will be closed in winter
Phone: Marie de Moulinet – 04 93 04 80 07 Website:
Facebook: MairiedeMoulinet

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