Returning to the Bauges

After a cold snap in the mountains, I found myself back in Annecy with 14C days. Snow melted, I figured it was time to revisit one of my favourite places to ride – les Bauges. Dominated by the Semnoz/Cret de Chatillon, the Bauges Massif feels a world away from the crowds on the Aravis chain or along the Annecy bike path. Even on the most beautiful summer days, you’d be lucky to see more than a handful of riders, and if you seek out the most quiet roads, you’ll ride for miles seeing no-one at all.

I last wrote about riding in the Bauges in the springtime and the joys of watching the green valleys give way to alpine meadows, that would come to life from one week to the next. In early spring, there was still snow up on the Féclaz – and I had one particularly horrific ride where I got snowed on the entire climb up to Mont Revard – but within weeks, the plateau was green, alpine flowers springing up along the side of the road.

And then I discovered the magic of the Bauges in autumn, where quiet roads through green valleys were flanked by bright red and orange hillsides and cliffs. This is when I really began to explore some of the smaller Bauges roads, each outing it became a mission to go a slightly different route until I had the perfect circuit for any length of ride. And today, I went out for a wintry Bauges ride (the top temp was 2C) but the sun was shining and I didn’t see a soul. Perfection.


Particularly if you live on the Semnoz side of Annecy, the Bauges is the perfect place for an afternoon of quiet rolling around away from the Aravis traffic and bike path crowds. My only warning – the tranquility of the Baugues is matched by a decided lack of coffee stops. My favourite is the Cusy bakery and depending on the day, you might find a bar or restaurant open in Le Chatelard or a cafe in Bellecombe en Bauges but otherwise I wouldn’t bank on it. Also, it is frequently at least 5C colder in the Bauges than in Annecy so take an extra layer, regardless of whether you think you’ll need it.

Here are some of my favourite little loops.

Getting into the Bauges – from Annecy there are essentially two ways I would recommend. Either via Col de Leschaux or via Quintal. For me, this is the difference between doing the loop clockwise (along the bike path to Sevrier or even St Jorioz and up to Leschaux) or anti-clockwise (you can head up to Quintal through the suburbs of Seynod or climb the first 9km of Semnoz and descend to Quintal).

From Leschaux, you could head straight down the main road to Lescheraines for the popular local “Tour du Semnoz” but I prefer to take the road slightly less traveled and take a left at the intersection followed quickly by a right-hand turn towards the village of Bellecombe en Bauges. Regardless, you’ve now got miles and miles of quiet country roads and rolling green valleys to ride in for hours.

From Bellecombe en Bauges, you can either head left towards Le Chatelard for a quiet, winding descent, or take the slightly more direct route to Lescheraines before heading up the 2km climb to Arith. As you descend – look to your right, those rock columns at the base of the hills are just above the Pont de l’Abime, which you’ll cross en route back to Annecy.

The climb to the village of Arith is short and punchy at 6%  . From the top you could take a left if you wanted to head towards St Francois les Sales and into “Les Deserts” (which includes the climb up to the Col de Planpalais IMG_7265.JPGand Mont Revard) or if you’re looking for a shorter circuit (around 60km), then take a right and enjoy one of the prettiest little autumn descents in the area. As you wind down the quick 3km descent, be sure to glance right for some autumn colours against the cliffs.

At the bottom of the hill, you could go either right or left but personally I prefer to head towards Cusy as a) there’s a great bakery to stop for pastries, sandwiches, and quiche; and b) you get to cross the Pont de l’Abime. From the bottom of the hill, it’s a few kms towards Cusy and it’s worth going the extra 500m into town if you need a pitstop but otherwise you’ll turn right towards Gruffy before you reach the village (all well sign-posted).

pontdelabimeThis is one of my favourite little roads in the area. The suspension bridge with vertigo-inducing drops into the gorge, the spectacular hills rising above you, and the cycling-holiday-brochure-worthy little climb to Gruffy. Stop and take a photo on the bridge before you head up the windy little 2km climb to Gruffy and be sure to hug the cliffs on your right in case a car is coming the other way.

From here, most of the hard work is done. It’s an easy rolling ride through Gruffy and a gentle climb into Quintal. The final decision about how to get home is up to you. Descend through Quintal and the suburbs of Seynod into Annecy old town, or earn that cream-filled patisserie and tackle the 4km climb up towards Semnoz before enjoying a fun, 9km descent into town. Warning, with an 8% average and hairpins hitting 14% it’s a fun little climb but I never said it was easy.

And you can also do the whole loop backwards

Winter Riding in the Alps

Just because winter is upon us, it doesn’t mean we should stop riding. As long as the roads are dry, I plan to keep getting out there – plus adding some skiing to the mix in the new year. Fat bikes, gravel, CX, and MTB are one way to get around the problem. Unfortunately, with only one bike in my current arsenal, I’ll just be following the sun and hoping for the best.

Mid-November surprised us with an early snow dump in the Tarentaise, and we got several inches on the ground as low down as Fontaine. But with bluebird skies, I couldn’t resist a morning spin in the sunshine, even if the thermometer read -2C.  But I kept it to the sunny side of the valley, where the roads were dry and snow melt had evaporated, rather than turned to ice.


Cycling in the winter in many ways is not so different from riding at any other time of the year. As they say, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” This means:

1. insulated tights: leg warmers are fine if it’s not particularly cold but they won’t insulate your bottom, and they can be uncomfortable, and they’re pretty unstylish (like most winter cycling gear), and I find that any splash-back from wet patches immediately penetrates the thin summer lycra. Or get some thermal bib shorts to match!

2. insulated, waterproof gloves: and for me, with any descents longer than a kilometre or two, I would probably need to add a merino glove underneath as well to keep my thumbs from freezing up. There is nothing worse than having bad gloves. One particularly terrible day on the bike, I was so underdressed that when it started snowing and I was only in shorts and thin, long-fingered spring/autumn gloves, I had to stop three times on a descent to warm up my hands enough to brake. I was also shivering uncontrollably and borderline hypothermic. Lessons learned.

3. buff: handy for descents to keep your neck and mouth (and even nose if you’re particularly chilly and your breath doesn’t steam up your glasses like me). You can double up on the thin buffs or get fleecy ones for colder days. Some also come with holes to increase breathability and avoid the fogging problem. img_7802Personally, I just let my nose get cold.

4. headgear: fleecy cycling beanies and merino caps with ear covers are all the rage and will keep your ears from freezing off.

5. thermal booties: depending on the style of cycling shoes you have, all that lovely summer ventilation will lead to frosty toes in the winter. Make sure they’re tight around the ankles and if you can only have one pair of booties in your entire wardrobe, get thermal & waterproof ones that will do for most conditions. Cold, wet feet are just the pits.

6. layers: keeping your core warm is important but personally, I find that unless it’s supremely cold, then layers are more comfortable as I tend to still get hot on the climbs. In the mountains, you’re going to have more variability (warm on climbs, cold on descents) than if you’re cycling somewhere that’s flat or rolling. Go for merino base layers, fleecy jacket or thermal long-sleeved jersey, and a wind or rain jacket in the back pocket for times when sleet catches you unawares.

Still, the roads can be icy and dangerous. Black ice is often invisible and skidding off the edge of the mountain is a sure way to ruin your off-season enjoyment. So if in doubt, just stay out of shady, wet roads in frosty conditions, stay off the brakes if you can’t avoid rolling through an icy patch, or just head a little lower to where conditions are more favourable. Being outside is always preferable to a day on the trainer in my opinion. And you might find that you actually enjoy being out in the winter. Go on, explore!