The Trois Vallées (or Three Valleys) region of the Savoie are mostly known to English winter holiday makers where the three stations join to form the largest ski resort in the world. But the area has so much more to offer year-round, with winding roads leading you to hidden valleys deep in the Parc Nationale de la Vanoise. As with all rides in this region, be sure to take the time to stop for photos en route!
Warning: regardless of sunny skies and optimistic weather reports, the descents from Champagny le Haut, Pralongon, and Bozel are often shady, the roads can be wet and even icy so pack that extra layer of clothing.
With my latest hideaway not far from the spa town of Brides-les-Bains, I was eager to explore what this micro-region had to offer beyond the out-and-back routes to Courchevel, Meribel, and Les Menuires. And in peak fall, I wasn’t disappointed.
Starting from Moutiers, climb the montée des Frasses – included in the 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné – to get you out above the valley above the Doren de Bozel river, which remains shaded much of the day thanks to the steep valley walls. The 8km, 6.5% climb brings you up to the village of Montagny, rewarding you with views of the Grande Casse along the way. After a cold snap in early October, the peaks across the Vanoise were already white with snow.
From Montagny, enjoy a gentle descent to Bozel – and be sure to enjoy the view of the typical alpine church on the way. [Note: there’s a little montée up to the hamlet of La Cour on the left that I will see if I can fit in before it closes and will update accordingly].
Once in Bozel, I like to do the following loop clockwise, starting with the climb to Champagny en Vanoise but it could also be enjoyed counter-clockwise. Also, between seasons, the only place with any cafes or shops open will be Bozel, so be sure to refuel here if you need it.
From Bozel, it’s a 4km climb up to Champagny en Vanoise, averaging 7%. Once you reach the village, keep your eyes peeled for the first turn on the left, signposted to the Vallon de Champagny le Haut, which will take you through the center of town. And up the remaining 3km or so to the valley. You will see the road wrap around the mountains further up as you approach the turnoff. There are some steep sections but overall it’s still an average 7% to the top.
In peak fall, the hillsides are resplendent with orange, yellow, and red hues. These fade away as you head above the treeline and a small valley stretches out before you. A waterfall streams down the left flank, a small hamlet with tiny church is dwarfed by the snow-capped peaks of the Vanoise behind. In the winter, this nordic skiing hideaway must be magnificent.
The road dead-ends after the village but it’s only a few kms back to Champagny en Vanoise from where you can either loop back around to Bozel via La Villard, or if you have the time, it’s worth heading up to the ski town of Pralgonon en Vanoise.
Compared to the climbs up to Champagy en Vanoise and Champagny le Haut, the road to Pralognon en Vanoise is a breeze. Often around 3 – 4%, you’ll slowly wind up a couple of shady hairpins before reaching the village. Pralongon is not the prettiest town but you feel as though you’ve reached the high mountains as a steep, rocky cirque surrounds you. [Note: if you also enjoy hiking, there’s a stunning walk up to the Col de la Vanoise just above Pralongnon]
Again, nothing will be open in town between-seasons so make sure you bring a snack for a stop or be prepared to wait till you get back to Bozel for a coffee .
From here, you’ve just got an easy, winding descent back to Bozel, with stunning autumn colours and relatively few cars. Enjoy a coffee/hot chocolate on the terrasse in Bozel before heading back to Moutiers. The San Roch is the local hangout – fondly called The Red Lion for all the Brits that frequent the terrasse – but the view is worth the stop for coffee, hot chocolate, or even a beer!
One note, the descent from Bozel is not only cold and shady but also filled with impatient drivers en route to/from Meribel and Courchevel. Also, I would advise returning via Brides-les-Bains as the main road after the turnoff is downright dangerous. From Brides, you can rejoin the Frasses montée and descend more safely to Moutiers.