Chamonix is for Lovers

Chamonix has one of the best views in the Alps and yet it is often decried for its lack of cycling options. As you slog along the only road in and out of town, you cling to the edge as cars stream past, cursing the lack of cycling infrastructure in a town that could be such a cycling centre. Still, there are some spectacular views to be had, even if not much in the way of great loops and if you find yourself in Chamonix with two wheels, it’s definitely worth the ride.

We decided to cycling up the valley, from Passy to the Col des Montets, and were rewarded with perfect spring conditions. Blue bird skies and snow capped peaks. Spring cycling doesn’t get much better.

FullSizeRender 10From Passy, you warm up on an easy 4-5% climb up to Servoz, following by a flat and rolling section before heading up to Les Houches. The road has been improved in the last year. It’s not perfect but it’s a lot better than it used to be, when it was one of the worst roads I’d ridden in France. The climb itself is mostly quiet, and winds up the Route de Vaudagne at 7% for 4km. From the top, it’s an easy descent into Les Houches, where the Mont Blanc massif starts to rise up around you.

Riding through Chamonix itself is pretty, if not particularly cyclist-friendly. But it’s a great place to stop for lunch (or a beer at the microbrewery Mont Blanc – which also serves nachos and veggie burgers). Just be careful in town and also on the road out. The is no cycling lane and no shoulder on the single carriageway route, and plenty of traffic heading in and out of town.

From Chamonix, we decided to keep going up to the Col des Montets –  “minimum effort, maximum views” kind of climb. While the signs say it’s 11km, I’m fairly sure (and strava agrees with me) that it’s significantly shorter. It rarely tops 5% and the strava segment is less than 8km.


The only downside is that many Chamonix rides, it’s an out-and-back. For us, this meant heading back down to town for some nachos and the cruising along the valley back home. A perfect spring Sunday in the Alps.

Tour du Lac (Bourget)

Uninspired by the Tour du Lac Annecy – which is beautiful but we all need a change – we headed over the Bauges to Aix Les Bains for the Tour du Lac Bourget. I’ve often wondered about riding around the lake Bourget, you get a spectacular view from the top of Mt Revard. FullSizeRender 9

One unexpectedly warm March day, I had the chance to find out. Theoretically you could ride from Annecy but it would be a hell of a day so we started (and ended) at Albens, just the other side of the hill from the lake.

From Albens, it’s a gentle climb up to the Col de la Chambotte before a gorgeous descent to the lake itself. From here, you’re climbing again but often in the valleys with no lake views. Unlike the Tour du Lac d’Annecy, where you’re right on the water but left sharing the bike path with 1,000 of yoIMG_8686ur closest cycling/running/roller blading mates, we saw few other cyclists but also often forget we were near the lake at all. The next section is largely rolling, and being a little lower and warmer than Annecy, it was already in the full throes of spring. As you circle around the base of the lake and begin to climb again, you’ll be rewarded with the lake views you came for.

The climb to the Col du Chat is a tease, undulating through the back of the hills and winding back up again. Officially, it’s about 8km at 5% but that feels more like three or four rollers. As an aside, the Col du Chat must not be confused with the Dent du Chat – a gruelling climb of 10%+ for 10km+.colduchat

The sign itself is unassumingly in the trees on the side of the road. Take a photo, post it to strava, and never think about it again. Instead, continue on and enjoy the views on the descent. We took it easy on the way down to take in the lake views and the cruised along the flat in search of a lakeside boulangerie for lunch.

From the eastern side of the lake – Aix les Bains –  you have nIMG_8679umerous options for the return trip. We decided to head back over the Chambotte becuase the descent was so fantastic on the way over. But what I didn’t realise the first time is that you can keep going up for some extra credit – an extra km at 13%+… I had no idea what I was in for and probably would have appreciated a heads up but it was worth it. The view is similar to that you get from Mont Revard behind you.

All in all, a highly recommended “Tour du Lac” with some good little climbs, fantastic views, and none of the crowds of Annecy.