Calling out one climb as the most “anything” is always going to be contentious. You may think the Dent du Chat is the toughest climb in France, or the Alps, or just the Haute Savoie, and someone will always find something tougher. Longer, steeper, gravel, mountaineering with a bike strapped to your back before navigating a glacier on road tyres… That said, I’m going to give Col de l’Arpettaz the title of “Annecy’s most beautiful climb”.
The view from Semnoz is phenomenal but something about climbing a 40-hairpin, single-lane road through a forest before climbing out into the alpine meadows, surrounded by fields of flowers, the rocky face of Mont Charvin rising above you, is simply magical. Add to that 360 degree views of Alpine valleys and mountains, and some of the finest vistas of Mt Blanc on the descent, and it’s hard to beat. Did I also mention that Mont Charvin is the source of the Fier River? And there’s a bistro on top. That also sells beer. Because it’s the French Alps.
But with that introduction, one might ask how has this gem remained off the major touring agendas? My guess is that it’s a little out of the way. If it weren’t the 30km bike path between Annecy and the base, I would climb Col de l’Arpettaz every day.
The climb itself begins below Mont Dessous, approximately 30 km along the bike path towards Ugine, from an unmarked left hand turn. The road first winds up through a couple of little villages but keep an eye out for a sharp left on Route des Montagnes, which is marked Col de l’Arpettaz, where the climb begins in earnest. From here it is around 12 km at 8% average. The road is narrow and windy, a single lane country path with bumps and potholes along its 40+ hairpins bends. For the first 9 km or so, you’ll be winding up through the forest, mercifully free of cars, and out of the sun as the day warms up.
It’s once you come out of the trees that the views begin to open out with valleys down to your right and Mont Charvin rising to your left. The vistas are worthy of the high Alps, rocky and snowy peaks high above the distant valleys. I would love to come back in May or even early June when there is more snow on the peaks. Though without the Alpage filled with flowers and inquisitive cows, the final kilometres wouldn’t quite be as magical.
We didn’t have time for a stop at the bistrot – it was warming up and my companions still wanted to tackle two smaller cols on the way home – but I would love to come back one day. Another great reason to come earlier in the season when it’s not so warm and where a cool beer in the sunshine with nothing other a quiet descent to follow, is the perfect lunchtime treat.
Instead, we headed on down, the views of Mont Blanc rose on our left. There aren’t 40 hairpin bends on the descent but it is technical and it is best to take your time as you wind down through valleys and villages en route to Ugine.
Instead of heading straight back to Annecy, we passed through Ugine and towards Allondaz and the Col de Vorger, a relatively short climb of 4 km at 8%. It was starting to get warm by this point and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to Col de Tamié afterwards but a quick drink of water and we were back on the road for the final climb.
Col de Tamié was actually a pleasant, if not particularly exciting, climb. Around 5.5km at 6.5%, the narrow road winds up through a the cool forest, a blessing as it approached midday in early July. Unfortunately, there’s no view at the top of the Tamié, just a blip in the tarmac with a sign, before the road winds down once again.
From here, we headed back to Faverges and along the bike path towards Annecy. Given the time of day and the beautiful weather, we decided to try our luck along the Talloires side, staying away from the crowds of roller bladers on the eastern bike path. It was a wise choice and the final 25 km went by fairly quickly. As always, I will happily suck a wheel all the way home.
And after all that, I figured I’d earned a swim so I headed down to the “beach” by the lake.