Rigaud, Péone & the Gorges du Cians

November 10, 2020

Distance: 86 kilometers (53 miles)
Time: About 4 to 5 hours depending on your pace
Departure: Puget-Théniers
Difficulty: Somewhat Difficult (long with lots of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 1,635 meters (5,364 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 2 villages

This is one of the longest rides in my 73 Villages by Bike challenge and there is a fair amount of climbing involved. On the plus side though, almost all the climbing is done in the first half of the ride. It begins with about an 8km slight descent from Puget-Théniers to just before Touët-sur-Var. Then the climbing begins, all the way up to the small ski resort village of Valberg. Which means that last 47 kilometers it is almost completely downhill – and how nice that is! This ride follows a very unique loop through not just one, but two fantastic gorges: the Gorges du Cians and the Gorges de Daluis. The Gorges du Cians are one of my favorite areas in this part of France, just magnificent, full of deep ravines and beautiful dark red rock. If you’ve been following the 73 Villages by Bike rides you might remember that I passed through the Gorges de Daluis on an earlier ride from Entrevaux up to Saint-Martin-d’Entraunes. But, hey, another chance to ride through these very pretty gorges is always welcome.

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Puget-Théniers to Rigaud

Puget-Théniers is always a great place to start a bike ride. There are a lot of possibilities for different routes and courses in the area. I think I’ve started at least three of my 73 Villages rides here. The town is a nice size and you’ll find a good selection of restaurants, shops, bakeries and more here. There’s plenty of parking and it’s easy to get to. I made this ride on an early October morning with my friend Semon and there was a bit of chill in the air when we began, though things warmed up gradually during the morning as the sun came up over the hills and mountains. The first portion of the ride, heading east along the D6202, is completely downhill. It’s not steep, just a gradual descent. Just before you come to the town of Touët-sur-Var you’ll see a turnoff to the left for the D28. It’s well marked and will guide you towards Valberg, Beuil and the Gorges du Cians, all of which we’ll be passing through on this ride.

Once you make the turn onto the D28 you begin a continuous climb of almost 35kms. This is the heart of the ride and the portion that takes us through the Gorges du Cians. About 6 kilometers into the climb you’ll arrive at the turn off for Rigaud, on the left. It’s a very short climb up to the village on the D228, only 2kms or so and not very steep.


Rigaud is a very small village (a population of just over 200) with a long and fascinating history. In the 13th century the town was one of the four Templar settlements in the Var Valley. The Templars had been called upon during the 1100s to help defend the the coastal regions from the invading Saracens. The command center in Rigaud is first mentioned in a text from 1269. In 1307, when the Templars were massacred into near extinction they held property throughout the region, from the villages of Saint-Sauveur to Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée to Saint-Dalmas-le-Selvage to Guillaumes, Entrevaux and more. During the Second World War the French Resistance organized a parachute drop site on the nearby Dina Plateau.

Take the time to hop off your bike and go for a little stroll through the village. The narrow, winding cobblestone streets are quite typical of this part of France and there are many old medieval houses and buildings to admire. I love old doors and I found several here, even a few with splendidly carved lintels above them. The town has six chapels in and around it, including the Saint-Sébastion Chapel and the Sainte-Catherine Chapel which are both easy to find in the village. The Saint-Antoine-et-de-la-Transfiguration Church is itself converted from another old chapel with a bell tower and sacristy that were added in the late 1800s. The remains of an old castle can be seen on the hillside above the village and a 19th century washhouse and fountain are located near the town hall.

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Along the Gorges du Cians to Beuil

After a short stop in Rigaud it’s back down to the D28 and a turn to the left (north). This portion of the ride is my favorite. Shortly after Rigaud the Gorges du Cians will begin to emerge along the river to the right of the road and the grade becomes steeper at this point. In fact, it can get quite steep in a few places. The Cians River begins in Beuil and continues for only 25kms until it empties into the Var River just west of Touët-sur-Var.

You’ll begin to see lots and lots of deep chasms which the river has cut into the red shale and limestone. These gorges are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the entire Alpes. You’ll find similar gorges to the east in the Tinée Valley and, as we’ll see shortly, the Gorges de Daluis to the west. However, none of these can compare to the Cians. They are simply spectacular in their scope, a long parade of rough red, wine-colored jagged rocks, narrow crevasses and deep ravines.

Throughout the ride you’ll find many, many small passages that are worth stopping and admiring. There are a handful of tunnels along this road, but, interestingly enough, they all seem to be rather recent additions to the highway. At each of them there is an old road which winds to the right along the river. These portions are no longer accessible via car, but they can be easily ridden through on a bike. Semon and I chose this alternate path in several cases and found it to be much more enjoyable (and scenic!) than riding through the tunnels. Be careful though, some of these portions of the road are in horrible shape. There is lots and lots of broken rock on the surface and I did worry a bit about cutting my tires. Luckily, I was fine.

The steepest part of this climb is the portion that passes through the gorges. Once you’re past them the road evens out a bit until you come to Beuil. Here you’ll need to make one final ascent up a number of switchbacks to reach the village. Beuil is another of the 73 villages on my challenge and I’ve written about it for another ride, one which features the Col de la Couillole. Semon and I stopped for lunch in Beuil, some very nice pizza at one of the small restaurants along the main roundabout through town. After this refueling we were headed off to Valberg, a small ski station about 7kms further on.

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Beuil to Péone

Continue on the D28 leaving Beuil. It takes a turn to the west here and continues on towards Valberg. The road is mostly uphill, but there is a nice little break at one point where you get to descend for a short time. Shortly after leaving Beuil you’ll get some very nice panoramic views of the village and the surrounding areas to your left. Valberg is a small ski station and to be honest, not of much interest to me. I’m sure it’s very pretty in the winter when its covered in snow, but other than that it’s just a big collection of shops, stores, restaurants and ski villas. From Valberg it is possible to head down to Guillaumes on two roads: continuing on the D28 or, what we want to take, the D29 so be careful not to get on the D28. The D29 loops to the north and passes through Péone, the next village in our list of 73. It’s quite a steep descent out of Valberg so be careful. I found the road to be in pretty good condition, but there are lots of switchbacks and hairpin turns along the way.


The village of Péone sits on the edge of the Mercantour National Park on the banks of the Tuébi River. Once part of the House of Savoy, Péone did not become a permanent part of France until the middle of the 19th century. It’s a charming medieval mountain village with lots of half-timbered houses and typical narrow, winding streets. The Saint-Arige-et-Saint-Vincent-de-Zaragoza Church dates from the middle of the 18th century and is built on the remains of the town’s first church, built in the 11th century. While Semon watched my bike I spent ten or fifteen minutes wandering around the village and taking photos. It was very quiet, I didn’t see many people at all. There’s not a lot going on here, but it is known as an excellent place to stay if you want to do some hiking in the mountains nearby.

Back to Puget-Théniers

From Péone it’s a short 6kms down to Guillaumes along the Var River. The descent is not nearly as steep as the portion from Valberg to Péone and the wide road is in excellent condition. I’ve written about the section from Guillaumes to Entrevaux in another article, so I won’t spend too much time on it here. Guillaumes is another wonderful little village and if you need some food or water you can find it here. On the D2202 head south. In just a very short time you’ll enter into the Gorges de Daluis and if you haven’t been here before, it’s well worth taking your time to get a good look. Not as impressive as the Gorges du Cians, but they are still very cool.

It’s almost all downhill from this point on. Entrevaux is one of my very favorite villages in the Alpes-Maritimes with a spectacular citadel and drawbridge entrance, so again, if you haven’t been here before it’s worth a stop. I’ve written an entire article about Entrevaux that explores it in a lot of depth. From there is just a short 8kms back to Puget-Théniers and the end of the ride.

This was one of my favorite rides during my 73 Villages by Bike challenge. The scenery throughout is breathtaking, the roads are in good shape, the two villages were beautiful and interesting and the gorges are just magnificent. I highly recommend this ride if you have the chance to ride in this area. The fact that the entire last part of the ride is almost all downhill makes it a lot of fun as well.

Steve and Carole in Vence - Rigaud, Péone & The Gorges du Cians
The loop from through the Gorges du Cians and Gorges de Daluis, beginning and ending in Puget-Théniers with stops in Rigaud, Beuil, Péone, Guillaumes & Entrevaux.

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 it was a bit chilly at the beginning, but warmed up quickly as the day went on. 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 Beuil or Guillaumes. 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 through the Gorges du Cians and Gorges de Daluis with visits to Rigaud and Péone.
Where: Gorges du Cians, Gorges de Daluis, Rigaud & Péone (Google Maps)
When: Most of the year, except for winter months
Phone: Marie Puget-Théniers – 04 93 05 00 29
Facebook: GorgesduCians

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