Located just an hour away from Geneva, the Aravis Mountains are a spectacular cyclist’s playground, famous for Tour de France gems such as the Col de la Colombière.

We caught up with Teak from Bike Weekender, who gave us the lowdown on cycling in this awesome part of the world.

Read on to get the inside story!

1. Where are you based and what’s it like?

We are based in the Aravis Mountains in the Northern French Alps. Our accommodation is in the village of Saint Jean de Sixt, between the beautiful and traditional ski resorts of Le Grand Bornand and La Clusaz, just an hour away from Geneva airport. It makes getting here for a weekend trip very easy!

The cycling terrain is fantastic, with famous Tour de France climbs such as the Col de la Colombière, Col des Aravis and Col de la Croix Fry accessed straight from our door.

The terrain is varied, but is typified by quiet roads, stunning scenery and fabulous climbs through flower-filled Alpine pastures. The weather, by and large, is sunny and predictable from June through to September with warm days punctuated by the occasional short, heavy shower, helping keep the area lush and green.

Aravis mountain switchbacks
Cyclists cycling the Col de la Colombiere

2. Col de la Colombière is the most famous cycling climb in your area. What’s it like?

We are lucky to have a good number of climbs locally that feature regularly in the Tour de France and the Criterium de Dauphine.

The climb that has featured the most is the Col de la Colombière which can be climbed from its south side, departing from the village of Le Grand Bornand or from its north side, departing from the town of Scionzier.

The climb to the Colombière pass from Scionzier is without doubt the more challenging side! The first section climbs through forest up to the intermediary plateau and the village of Reposoir. After that, the road climbs steeply along a series of switchbacks before opening up with 4km to go. This is where the pain really begins, with the gradient rarely dropping below 10%!

3. What’s the best route in the Aravis Mountains (that not many people know about)?

One of the our guests’ favourite routes sticks to nice quiet roads and takes in a couple of the area’s lesser known climbs, the most challenging of which is the 17km climb to the Col de l’Arpettaz at the southern end of the Aravis chain.

It rises up above the town of Ugine and climbs up to the shadow of Mont Charvin before dropping back down to the Arly valley. The climb proper starts in the village of Mont Dessous above Ugine on a relatively small lane. The ‘regular’ profile belies the steepness in parts along the 42 hairpin bends of the climb to the top.

After a few initial kilometres in open Alpine meadow dotted with fruit orchards, the climb ramps up through a deciduous forest offering some welcome shade in the height of the summer.  As you emerge from the forest for the final three kilometres, the Aravis chain stretches out in front of you, with the arrival at the col offering up terrific views of Mont Blanc.

4. What are your top tips for people cycling in the Alps for the first time?

Whilst Alpine riding is not simply the preserve of the experienced cyclist, neither is it for absolute beginners; a good base level of cycling fitness is helpful.

A kilometre in the mountains is equivalent to two kilometres on the flat, so the fitter you are, the more you will get out of your cycling trip in the mountains!

Probably the most important element to successfully riding in the mountains is having the correct gearing. Trying to do a long climb with the wrong gears will result in you exhausting yourself, with little chance to recover. The most common choice is a compact, with 50-34 chainrings and an 11-32 cassette. This combination will enable you to keep a decent cadence on almost any climb.

Cyclists climbing towards mountain in Alps
Cycling around the Aravis Mountains near Geneva

5. What are your favourite coffee/bar stops in the Aravis Mountains?

We are very lucky that even the smallest of French villages tends to boast an excellent boulangerie to stop for an excellent pastry.

However, coffee doesn’t feature as highly in French cycling culture as it does in the UK, so until recently, coffee stops have been limited to the local bars or Tabacs.

This has now changed with the arrival of Lo Garajo, a concept coffee bar that wouldn’t look out of place in trendy Shoreditch. Halfway up the climb of Col de la Croix Fry in the village of Manigod, Lo Garajo doesn’t just serve up excellent coffee and pastries, it is also a wine and deli bar dishing up deli meats, cheeses and other tasty treats. Set just past the school on an elevated position off the road, there can’t be a coffee stop anywhere in the Alps boasting a better view.

6. When’s the best time to visit?

Cycling in the Aravis is at its best during late spring and early summer through to the end of July, and again in September once the August holiday crowds have dispersed.

From late May through to July, the weather is warm and the lush Alpine meadows are filled with colourful flowers. The roads are quiet and all the cols begin to open as the snows recede.

Whilst there are plenty of great off-the-beaten-track routes and climbs to tackle throughout the summer, some of the more famous cols in the area can be markedly busier during August.

The area often enjoys warm summer days in to late September and early October, which along with quiet roads, lends itself to some fabulous days in the saddle enjoying the Autumnal landscapes.

Feeling inspired to book a trip?!

Bike Weekender would love to help you. They say: “We have been organising short cycling breaks and weekends for over 15 years from our base in the Northern French Alps, where we live, work and adventure. We have always specialised in short breaks and know exactly how to help you get the most from your road cycling long weekend.

Our home, the charming village of St Jean de Sixt, is ideally located equidistance from the resorts of La Clusaz and Grand Bornand, near Annecy. We love the region and our knowledge and experience of the area make us an ideal choice to organise your road biking weekend. Our thirst for adventure has taken us all over France (and beyond) so we also know the quiet roads, great cycling routes and the best places to stay in Provence – Ventoux, the Southern Alps and on the Côte d’Azur.”

You can find out more at www.bikeweekender.com.

We haven’t used Bike Weekender ourselves, but would certainly consider it next time we’re in the Alps!

Have you cycled Col de la Colombière and the Aravis Mountains?

Tell us your experiences in the comments below!

 

 

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Teak knows the Northern Alps extremely well and regularly clocks up 150,000 metres of climbing each summer. He is a tour leader with  Bike Weekender.

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2 Responses to “Cycling the Aravis Mountains and Col de la Colombière: Q&A with Bike Weekender”

  1. I loved cycling in this part of the Alps with Teak and the Bike weekender team back in 2019. Unfortunately Covid put a halt to my plans in 2020. I will start planning for a return trip:)

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