Semnoz is Annecy’s closest HC climb. Approached several ways, including from the city centre, it can be an at times grueling slog to the 1655m summit. But on a clear day you’ll be rewarded with a view towards the high alps and Mt Blanc. Semnoz is named for the ski station on top though the peak is technically called the Crêt de Châtillon and gained notoriety in the 2013 Tour de France when Nairo Quintana dropped Chris Froome to take the Annecy – Annecy Semnoz stage. It was also where stunt rider Romain Marandet jumped Quintana, Froome and Joaquim Rodríguez on the hill.
Everyone has their favourite route – up and down – and I will start with my favourite. There may only be two roads to the summit but there are numerous ways to get to the halfway point on both sides.
1. Annecy side (the Direct Route)
There are many reasons why this is my favourite – the winding road up through the forest, the relative quiet and the good road surface – but the most important is perhaps that it’s simply the quickest way to the top. From the roundabout at the old hospital, you’re looking at a 17km climb to the summit, with helpful bollards at each km reminding you of the gradient and distance left. The first half is the easiest, and includes a decent false flat past the school at kilometre 6. And things kick up after the Quintal intersection with a steady 8 – 9% on the final 7km. There are some views out over the valley to the west with you hit 5km and when the climb starts to feel more like a “real” col – think hairpin bends – before you reach the ski statio
n. For me, this is always the toughest section – you can see the summit but then the 2km sign reminds you that you’ve still got another ways to go. Still, the views from the top are among my favourite in Annecy, and you know you’ve earned them.
Incidentally, this is also my favourite descent. It hasn’t got the lake views of Leschaux but it’s got a wide road, generally well surfaced, some great banked turns,and when you approach the Quintal turnoff on the way down you can really bomb it as the road first straightens and then flattens out. Watch out for cars – and pedestrians! – on the final few km especially but otherwise, enjoy the fast way down.
2. Quintal side (the Tour de France Route)
Made famous by the 2013 Tour de France, this stage put Semnoz on the map. This route assumes you’ve already made it to the town on Quintal, which can be reached via the D5 from Annecy – a fairly gentle 10km climb through Seynod and up to Quintal – or from the Bauges side (Viuz-la-Chiésaz). If you’re feeling strong at the end of the Massif des Bauges loop, this is a a bit of a slog but you’ll earn that beer!
This is also the steepest ascent to Semnoz – with the gradient hitting 14 or 15% at times – right out of Quintal village. Steep but pretty, you’ll wind up through the forest for 4km to join the main Semnoz climb for an average 9% for the remaining 7km to the top.
This is definitely my second favourite way up and if only it didn’t require the slightly unpleasant climb through the suburbs of Seynod, it’d probably top the list. And it’s a great little climb for intervals – either slogging it up and down the Quintal – Semnoz intersection segment, or continuing all the way to the top.
3. Leschaux three ways (at least)
If you’re unsure whether your fitness is up to the summit, or if the mountain weather is looking grim, Col de Leschaux is a great intermediate way up. Also, if you’re training for the longer alps climbs such as the Grand and Petit Saint Bernard, then Semnoz via Leschaux is the closest you’ll get around Annecy. Sévrier to Semnoz via Leschaux is approximately 26 km. Regardless of which way you climb, you will be rewarded by stunning lake views on the way up. Or enjoy the views on the way down after toughing it out on the Annecy or Quintal routes.
Col de Leschaux via Sévrier: this is perhaps the most common route to the summit and the climb to Col de Leschaux is a great introduction to the alps. I’ve seen relatively inexperienced cyclists climb the 12 km at 4% on hyrbids and mountain bikes with ease. Just follow the signs from the bike path up from Sévrier. https://www.strava.com/activities/601434175
Col de Leschaux via St Eustache: there are technically two routes via St Eustache – the first begins in St Jorioz itself, while the second starts a little further south on the bike path but it’s well signposted on the right if coming from Annecy. This second route is many local cyclists’ favourite given the lack of cars, and other cyclists. As you wind up through the valley through picturesque French villages through St Eustache and then La Chapelle Saint Maurice, I’ve no doubt you’ll agree. This is the longest of all the approaches to Semnoz, and it varies from a gentle climb to rolling. It’s also a great connector to build out a lumpy lake route (taking in Col de la Forclaz as well) or even heading over to do a Bauges loop. The other benefit of taking this route to Leschaux is you get a fantastic view of the switchbacks up to Semnoz, a taste of what’s to come if you continue on to the summit! https://www.strava.com/activities/577914533
Col de Leschaux via the Bauges: you can also get to Leschaux from the Bauges side of the Massif. I’ve only ever gone in the other direction but I’ll be sure to come back and fill this section out once I’ve ridden it.
From Leschaux to Semnoz: this is the gentler of the two final ascents, averaging 6% from Leschaux to the summit. The final 4 km feel tough after the long climb from the lake, as the road narrows and potholes and rocks litter the road. Watch out on the descent! At the time of writing (June 2016), the road still hadn’t been repaired and it can be tough to see around tight corners.
Regardless of which way you choose to go up – or down – it’s a fantastic climb, and a really great way to test your climbing legs if new to the alps.