Roure, Roubion, Beuil & le Col de la Couillole

September 7, 2020

Distance: 59 kilometers (37 miles)
Time: About 4 to 5 hours depending on your pace
Departure: Vence
Difficulty: Difficult (long with a fair amount of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 1,828 meters (5,997 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 3 villages

If you cycle anywhere near the Côte d’Azur and you like to climb mountain cols there are a handful of really great climbs within an hour or two drive from the coast: Turini, Braus, Madone, Cayolle, Lombarde and Bonette are the most well known and most popular with cyclists. There is, however, another climb that I think is very under appreciated and not nearly as well known. Le Col de la Couillole begins at Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée and snakes up the valley for 16 kilometers at an average grade of 7.3% for a total elevation gain of 1,168 meters (3,832 feet). It’s a beautiful climb, there’s usually not much traffic, the roads are pretty good and there are two wonderful villages along the way: Roure and Roubion. So why isn’t it more popular? It’s not a grand “mountain” climb with a fantastic panoramic view from the top. The summit sits at 1,678 meters compared to say 2,326 for Cayolle, 2,350m for Lombarde and 2,802 for Bonette. Yes, it’s a “col” and you’re at the top of a mountain overpass, but it’s not high enough to provide the spectacular views that many of the other mountain climbs do. But, if it’s the climb you’re interested in and not just the views, le Col de la Couillole is definitely worth checking out.

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Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to Roure

This is one of those rides where you start climbing right out of the gate. Some people like to do some warmup cycling before tackling a big hill at the start of a ride, and I have to admit it is probably a good idea, but I just can’t bring myself to do it most of the time. I’m eager to get going up that mountain! When you depart Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée head north on the M2205. Just after leaving the village you’ll see the M30 on the left and this is the road you want. You’ll get a couple hundred meters of a slight downhill, but then as soon as you cross the Tinée River it’s all uphill. This climb never really lets up. There aren’t any portions where the road flattens out or eases up in the grade. There’s a sign at the foot of the climb with all the information about each kilometer. I made this climb on a clear morning in August and I was in the sun for almost the entire ride. Be prepared and use sunblock because the sun really is relentless.

It’s just over 4 kilometers from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to the turn off for Roure. It’s a quick climb with the grade averaging about 7.4% the entire way. It’s a “balcony” road, one which hugs the side of the mountain providing a nice view below. If you keep an eye on the road and valley behind you you’ll find some very nice views of Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée down in the valley below.

You certainly don’t have to turn and make the additional climb to Roure. If you want you can continue straight up the M30. However, you’ll miss a really wonderful little village if you decide to do that. To reach Roure turn right on the D130 (the only way you can turn). It adds on another 5.3 kilometers of climbing at around 6-7%. It’s a very narrow mountain road, the kind where only one car can pass in many places. I’ve driven this road before and it really is a bit stressful because if another car approaches from the other direction one of you is going to have to back up until the road widens enough to let both cars pass. Luckily, there isn’t a whole lot of traffic here. The road winds around behind the mountain and you eventually pull into Roure which is built mostly on the slope of the hill.


Roure sits perched on the slope of a mountain near the entrance to the Tinée Valley and just on the edge of the Mercantour National Park. When you first enter the town the houses will be perched on the hillside below you on the left. The road circles around to the other side of a very small valley and from there you can get a really great look at the buildings and houses on the other side. Roure is first mentioned in 1067 under the name of “Rora,” from the Latin “robur,” meaning “oak.” It’s said that the villagers, who raised cows and goats, conducted business under a large oak tree, hence the name. Because the village is so isolated its inhabitants were forced to live in almost complete self-sufficiency for many centuries. In the early 1900s the villagers set up a 1,850 meter cable that was powered by an electric motor and carried wooden wagons up from the valley which they used to transport supplies. The only road into the village was not created until after the Second World War. The Saint-Laurent Church, listed as a historical monument since 1987, dates from the 14th century (though it was rebuilt in the late 17th century) and is easy to find in the center of the village. Also look for the old washhouse with its three arches, a communal oven (which I think still operates on weekends) and a flour and oil mill which has been restored. On the site of the former castle, which was destroyed long ago in 1621, there now stands a fabulous piece of sculpture, Le Grand Guetteur (The Great Watchman), who looks out over the the valley keeping the villagers safe.

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Roure to Roubion

From Roure just head back down the same road you came up on, the D130 and rejoin the M30 again. It’s a little over 7 kilometers from here to Roubion at an average grade of 7.5%. There are a series of tunnels (the only ones you’ll encounter on the ride) just past Roure. None of them are too long but none of them are lit. It can make it difficult to see the pavement so be careful when going through them. There aren’t a lot of turns as the road pretty much hugs the side of the mountain as it climbs for most of the way. Keep your eye out at about the 3 kilometer point where the road makes a sharp 180° turn over the Vionène river. Someone has hung an old bike from the bridge and it makes for an amusing site. Unlike Roure, Roubion lies just off the main road and you don’t have to add any extra climbing to reach it. As you get closer you’ll see it perched high on the mountain to the right.


Another village built on the side of a cliff, this time overlooking the Vionène Valley, Roubion first appears in recorded history in 1067 as Robio. As you pull into the village you can see the houses spread out on the side of the hill before you. After you pass through a small covered archway you’ll arrive at the Parish Church of St. Stephen, also known as Église-Notre-Dame-du-Mont-Carmel. It was rebuilt in the 17th century and features a Romanesque bell tower. The village was set fire and suffered serious damage during the wars of the League of Augsburg and the Spanish Succession. Today it hosts just over 100 inhabitants. The remains of a feudal castle are close by. The village is famous for its “painted doors,” which you can see on a walk through the streets. Several small chapels are located nearby including Chapel Saint-Sébastien from the 1400s. Also of interest are several fountains and old doors and walls which date back to the 12th century.

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Roubion to le Col de la Couillole

From Roubion there are only 5 kilometers left to reach the Col. There are a few turns here and there but for the most part the road is relatively straight with an average grade of 7.1%. The last kilometer is one of the steepest at 7.9%. As I said earlier the view from the Col is not very panoramic. It’s still quite nice but it is blocked by trees and hills all around you. There’s the normal col sign at the top, one I was pleased to see wasn’t covered by stickers as so many are. Instead, here they were all plastered to the pole instead of the sign.

Le Col de la Couillole to Beuil

It’s almost all downhill from the Col to the ski resort of Beuil, about 7.6 kilometers. There are a few places where the grade evens out to almost level and a few very short spots where you’ll do a bit of climbing, but for the most part it is a quick descent into the village.


One of the three largest winder sports resorts on the Côte d’Azure, Beuil sits at the top of the Gorges du Cians (which we will not see on this ride, unfortunately). Just on the outskirts of the Mercantour National Park, Beuil boasts a wide and varied flora and fauna. The area was settled by the Romans and served as a relay point between Italy and Nice. A large number of Jewish refugees found shelter in Beuil during the Second World War due to the fact that it was never occupied by the Germans. A castle which dates from the 12th century was destroyed in 1650 and now only ruins remain. The Church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste and Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire can be found in the middle of town. Six other chapels, including The Chapel of The White Penitents, dating fro 1710, are scattered around the area. A large washhouse and old houses and doorways are also of interest.

Beuil Back to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée

You’ll need to do a bit of climbing to get back to the Col de la Couillole from Beuil, but it’s a big, nicely paved road and the grade is not too bad. Once you reach the summit it’s all downhill to Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée. Be careful on the descent as this road is not the best, and there can sometimes be lots of debris in the road. Take it easy through the tunnels as well, it’s hard to see the road in front of you when you pass through a few of them.

Steve and Carole in Vence - Roure, Roubion & Beuil
The climb from Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée to Roure, Roubion and Beuil.

Important Notes: There is a lot of climbing on this route and it is non-stop from the start to the Col de la Couillole. 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. 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 up the Col de la Couillole with stops in Roure, Roubion and Beuil
Where: Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée (Google Maps)
When: Most of the year, though the col will be closed in winter
Phone: Saint-Sauveur-sur-Tinée Marie – 04 93 02 00 22
Facebook: Saint-Sauveur-Sur-Tinée

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