Sigale, Briançonnet & the Clue de Saint-Auban

July 23, 2020

Distance: 65 kilometers (40 miles)
Time: About 3 to 4 hours depending on your pace
Departure: Saint-Auban
Difficulty: Somewhat difficult (a lot of climbing)
Elevation Gain: 1,354 meters (4,442 feet)
73 Villages by Bike Challenge: 2 villages

One of the highlights this loop that circles through the Parc naturel régional des Préalpes d’Azur (Regional Natural Park of the Préalpes d’Azur) comes at the very end. After hours of climbing and descending, with only about 1 kilometer of climbing left until you reach the end of the route, the magnificent Clue de Saint-Auban comes into view. Now for me it’s sometimes hard to stop on a long ride when there is less than 1 kilometer left to go. That satisfaction and sense of achievement that comes with finishing a challenging ride is just too great. That’s not the case here though. The beauty of this little area (and it doesn’t last long) is such that I’m off my bike almost immediately looking around and taking photos. It’s too stunning to just ride quickly through with a passing glance. Add in the villages of Aiglun, Le Mas, Sigale and Briançonnet, beautiful views of the valleys below, tall pine trees lining the roads, a famous “balcony road,” (along with a couple of dark as night rough hewn tunnels) and you’ve got a very memorable ride through the southwest corner of the Alpes-Maritimes department.

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Saint-Auban to Aiglun

My friend Semon and I decided to begin this ride in the small village of Saint-Auban. But really, it’s a big loop so you can start anywhere on the circuit you want. Sigale or Briançonnet would also be fine places to begin if they are closer to you. Saint-Auban is perched up on the side of a mountain about 3/4 of a kilometer from the main road (the D2211) so I knew when I drove up and parked that I would end this ride with a steep little climb.

From Saint-Auban we traveled east on the D2211 and then veered to the left on the D5. The road here is fairly even, some small downhill portions followed by some easy uphill portions. It’s a good way to warm up for all the climbing and descending ahead. After about 8 kilometers we arrived at the intersection of the D5, where you can, if you are so inclined, turn right and (continuing on the D5) climb the Col de Bleine. That climb (both sides of it) was included on our ride last week to Aiglun from Gréolières. We however were headed for Sigale so we continued straight ahead on what then became the D10 for the small village of Le Mas. This portion of the ride, from the D5/D10 intersection to Aiglun, is the same as a portion of the ride last week. You can read more about that ride, Aiglun and the Col de Bleine in the article “Aiglun & The Col de Bleine.”

There’s a bit of a climb for a couple of kilometers and then the road levels out for a short distance. You’ll find yourself right on the edge of mountainside with a very deep valley below you on the right. The views are spectacular. There are lots of tall pine trees all around and you’ll see some amazing rock formations as well. In a few kilometers the road will head down and from this point on it’s basically all downhill for the next 11km or so through Le Mas and almost into Aiglun.

For such a small village (a population of around 150) Le Mas is home to a variety of interesting religious buildings. You’ll find a 12th century Romanesque church, three chapels, the remains of an 11th century castle, an old mill and the Arboretum du Sarroudier. For more information about Le Mas see the link to the article for Aiglun & The Col de Bleine above.

After you pass through Le Mas you’ll continue on the D10 (really, it’s the only way you can go!). About 1.5km outside of town there is the possibility to turn right on the D110, but you’ll want to continue straight ahead on the D10. Unfortunately, the road gets a bit worse at this point. It becomes narrower, much less smooth and there is a fair amount of rock and gravel on the surface. It’s still downhill so be careful while you are on this portion of the route. 

In another 5km the road will make a big turn to the left and the village of Aiglun will come into view across the valley on the right, high up on the side of the mountain. Shortly you’ll reach the Pont d’Aiglun, a small bridge that crosses high above the Esteron River. Just before the bridge there are two very small, very dark tunnels. They are not lit at all, are barely wide enough for just one car and can be quite wet at certain times of the year. Luckily, there is hardly ever much traffic on this road, but take things slowly and carefully while going through these little tunnels as it can be a bit intimidating. The downhill portion of the road ends at this point and from the bridge it’s about 2.5km of climbing up into the village of Aiglun.

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Aiglun > Sigale

Aiglun is a tiny little perched village with a population of less than 100. There are some interesting sites, monuments and landmarks in and around the village and it attracts lots of visitors looking for outdoor, climbing and water activities. On this ride we sailed right through it, planning to make our first top in Sigale. The road turns once you pass through Aiglun and you begin another descent, this time down to the Rioulan, a small river that empties into the Estéron. Once you cross a little bridge over the river (take a look, the river cuts a really cool pattern through the rock here) it’s more climbing. You’re still on the D10 for another few kilometers until it dead-ends into the D17 just outside of Sigale. Take a left on the D17 and in about 2 kilometers you’ll be in Sigale. As you ride into the village be sure and take in the amazing view on the left. The clocktower that looms over the village is impossible to miss, perched a very narrow piece of rock that seems to thrust it into the sky. Even though I have dozens of photos from previous trips I can’t help but to stop and take some more each time I pass by on this road.


The current village of Sigale dates back to at least the 12th century but the area has Greco-Roman origins dating back much further. The town remained Sardinian until 1860 when it was incorporated into France. My favorite part of the town comes into view almost immediately, where the Municipal Fountain sits next to an old wash house. Directly behind it is the Parish Church of Saint-Michel and towering in the background is the clock tower. This clock tower, built in the 19th century, still features the original clock mechanism. Semon and I stopped for water and a bite to eat here. There’s a café right around the corner, but unfortunately it was closed. At the very entrance to the village is a small, rustic chapel known as Saint-Sébastien and few kilometers from the entrance is another small chapel, the Notre Dame d’Entrevignes, which features some primitive frescoes from the 1500s. Scattered around the village you can still see remains of the original ramparts and two castles.

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Sigale > Briançonnet

Leaving Sigale it’s still uphill for another five kilometers on the D17 where you’ll reach the intersection with the D221A. The road runs closely alongside the Rioulan river and there are several very impressive parts of the route where it is cut into the side of the mountain with the valley far below. A left turn on the D221A and more climbing! After about 5km the climbing ends and you get a very nice, very quick 3km descent into the village of Collongues. The D221A passes right by on the edge of Collongues, so if you want to see this pretty little village you’ll have to make a very short detour.

We chose to continue straight ahead on the D2211A for what now becomes the longest climb of the route. It’s a long, amazingly straight ascent of about 7km up the D2211A until you are about 3km outside of Briançonnet. Then, once again, the road changes and down you go into the village. I found these alternating ascents and descents to be quite nice, constantly changing the rhythm and the pace of the ride.


Located just a kilometer or so away from the Estéron river, Brianconnet is an ancient “oppidum,” an old Roman fortified settlement. The stones from these old Roman buildings were later used in building the current village. You can still see sixteen Roman inscriptions, dating as far back as the 2nd century, which have been preserved on the walls of the houses and the buildings in the town. During the Roman times the village sat on a main road that linked Castellane with Entrevaux. The Church of Our Lady of The Assumption, built during the 1600s, features a painting by François Mimault from 1640 and an altarpiece attributed to Louis Brea from even earlier. The Chapelle Saint-Martin (14th century) has been listed as a historical monument since 1936. Two more small chapels, Chapelle Saint-Joseph and Chapelle Saint-Roch can be found alongside an old castle from the 1600s. The ruins of an even older castle sit on a peak just outside the village. Briançonnet is a very small village that runs in a straight line with three short streets running parallel to each other. Quite different from the twisty, tangled mountain villages we so often see in these parts.

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Briançonnet > Saint-Auban

From Briançonnet it’s only another 8km to the end of the ride. The first half is downhill (thank you!) and the second half is uphill. It’s mostly uneventful until you get a few kilometers from Saint-Auban and then you’ll notice things start to change. There are a few twisty turns and then you’ll cross a small bridge over the Vallon de Saint-Pierre, a small river that connects with the Estéron. At this point, as the final climb begins, there are several hairpin switchbacks and then the Clue de Saint-Aubun comes into site.

Clue de Saint-Auban

A “clue” is a very narrow channel or groove cut by a strong river through a solid rock-walled valley. Similar to a “gorge” but nowhere near as big and as long. What makes this Clue de Saint-Aubun even more spectacular is the “balcony road” that runs alongside it for a kilometer or two. We’re still on the D2211 and as it coils its way along the side of the mountain, next to the Estéron river, the road is cut right out of the stone cliff, simply sitting on a small ledge high above the water below.

It’s basically a one-lane road at this point with little to no possibility of two cars passing each other most of the way. If they do meet one is going to have to back up until the road widens a bit. For several years this road was included in the famous Monte Carlo Rally car race. To say it is picturesque would not do it justice. The clue itself is one of the deepest and most breathtaking in all of Provence. There is a small little “open” chapel cut out of the rock on the right hand side of the road and if you are really adventurous there is a steep path on the left side that leads down to the river.

If you’re traveling by car there is a small place to park but there is only room for a few cars and on most days this area will be full. As with so many sites in France, traveling through this clue on bike is the absolute best way to go. Just don’t be in a hurry. Stop. Take in the fabulous views all around you. Marvel at the men who built the road. Take some photos. When you’re ready continue on, it’s now just another kilometer or so to Saint-Aubun.

I mentioned at the beginning of this article that I parked my car up in the village of Saint-Aubun. That meant that I still had one last steep little climb. I really didn’t mind as I felt pretty good and it had been a great ride. I put a little extra effort into the climb and in no time at all I was back up at my car. I would highly recommend this ride to anyone who happens to be in the area. As I said before, you don’t have to start from Saint-Aubun. Anywhere along the route would be just as good.

Steve and Carole in Vence - The loop that begins and ends in Saint-Auban and goes through Sigale and Briançonnet
The loop that begins and ends in Saint-Auban and goes through Sigale and Briançonnet.

Important Notes: There is a lot climbing on this route. Basically you’re either going up or down, there is very little level ground. The traffic is usually not too bad throughout the ride and in fact, for large portions of it, you many not see many cars at all. 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. You’ll want a helmet and sunscreen no matter what time of the year you go. You should be able to find water at several villages along the way, but food is harder to come by. On this ride we didn’t find any cafés open and no grocery stores or épiceries either. So, keep that in mind. 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 from Saint-Auban to Sigale, Briançonnet and back to Saint-Auban
Where: Sigale & Briançonnet (Google Maps)
When: All year round (though winter can be touch and go)
Phone: Marie de Sigale – 04 93 05 83 52
Facebook: villagesigale

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