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 and 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).
This 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 https://www.strava.com/activities/788832855