• Distance 111 km
  • Elevation gain 2540m Max 13%
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

This route is popular with locals and for good reason. It takes in the Col d’Ornon, which featured on the 2017 Tour de France, but also little known gems: the punchy ascent to Oulles and the small, little used roads that wind over the Plateau of Matheysin.

This ride is a great antidote to box-ticking the famous cols with the cycling masses. It gives you a real flavour of rural France and, at 111km and over 2,500m of climbing, your legs won’t forget it for a while either.

All metrics in this article are approximate.

Col d’Ornon loop highlights

If you love to climb, don’t miss the ascent to Oulles. The village only became accessible to vehicles when the road was cut into the rockface in 1963. It’s hairpins galore on this narrow, quiet road to the tiny hamlet at the top.

We also loved turning our backs on the rest of the world and heading north after Siécoz. You ride through the quiet valley leading back to Bourg d’Oisans, passing little villages where the houses puff out woodsmoke and it feels like you’ve gone back in time.

Road to OullesThe narrow, rocky road to Oulles
Road up to Oulles, from aboveThe quiet road to Oulles
Country road, Plateau MatheysinQuiet country roads after Siécoz on the Plateau Matheysin

Route notes

1. Bourg d’Oisans to Oulles: 0-10.5 km

The gritty ascent to Oulles falls firmly in the “hidden gem” category: most people just cycle past on their way to Col d’Ornon.

The climb is about 6km long from the turn off, has a 9% average gradient and you’ll climb just under 600m in total. It’s a quiet road with impressive hairpins and spectacular views down the narrow valley.

If you’ve got the legs for it, make the diversion up and back down this climb. You won’t regret it.

Twists on the road up to OullesSwitchbacks on the road up to Oulles
Water stop in the hamlet of OullesWater stop in Oulles – can’t guarantee it’s drinking water but we were fine!
Road up the Ornon valleyView along the Ornon valley from the Oulles climb

2. Oulles to Ornon: 10.5-26 km

After the turn off to Oulles, the climb to the top of Col d’Ornon is relatively gradual – it’s about 9.5km with an average gradient of 6%.

It’s more accessible than many of the climbs in the area, but it’s harder than it looks. This is perhaps due to the long straight sections of road (a rarity in the Alps!) and the fact you’re cycling through a wide valley surrounded by jagged mountain ranges, rather than up a valley side.

Cycling Col d'OrnonOn the Col d’Ornon
Cyclists on the Col d'OrnonThe Ornon climb
Col de la Morte, on the way back to Bourg d’Oisans

3. Ornon to Bourg d’Oisans: 26-111 km

From the top of Col d’Ornon, it’s a straight run down to Valbonnais and the little town of Siécoz. This is where you turn off onto the tiny D114A and the fun really begins.

You wind your way up through tiny villages, where the smell of woodsmoke lingers on the air and it’s just you, your bike, beautiful green countryside and the grey tarmac unravelling before you. The climb kicks up 4 or so kilometres before you reach the little ski resort of La Morte. It’s a twisty, long descent down to the main road which brings you back to Bourg d’Oisans.

 

Café stops

Bourg d’Oisans is obviously well equipped. Other options include:

  • Oulles: there’s a small cabin that sells refreshments. But don’t rely on it being open: when we arrived at 10am on a weekday in August it was firmly shut.
  • Col d’Ornon: at the top of the col, there’s a gite where you can get drinks and light refreshments.
  • La Morte: there’s a supermarket and grocer’s shop too.

 

Accommodation

We did this ride from our base at Chalet Ribot, at bend 12 of Alpe d’Huez, just above Bourg d’Oisans. It was a great base for the riding we wanted to do.

Not right for you?

Take a look at more of our accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to the Alps: Alpe d’Huez and surrounds.

 

Tips

Take particular care on the descent from Oulles, it’s narrow and you don’t want to meet a car if you’re on the wrong side of the road. There can be rock falls and the road climbs through forest, so watch out for debris and wet patches.

If you can’t face the climb to Oulles, it’s easy to skip it. Just carry on up the climb to the Col d’Ornon rather than taking the right to Oulles. It’s still a fantastic ride.

Read our tips for cycling in the French Alps before you set out.

Click here for our complete guide to planning a holiday in the central Alps.

Found this guide useful?

Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a road cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com to help make it easy for road cyclists to explore new places by bike.

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