This is a super tough 133 km, nearly 3,500m ride that includes 24 km and 1,250 m elevation gain on the Col de Turini alone (comparable with the Col du Galibier).
But wow, what a route. It easily falls into our top three rides around Nice.
You take the beautiful Moyenne Corniche out of Nice, before heading inland on quiet, unforgettable roads to Peille and La Grave de Peille. In most places, that would be an epic ride in itself. Here it’s just the warm-up for the famous hairpins of the Col de Braus and snow-covered peaks of the Col de Turini. Both are known for their Monte Carlo car rally connections as well as their cycling pedigree; they’re popular with pros heading inland from Nice or Monaco for a dose of Alpine climbing.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
En route to the Col de Braus, you ride from La Turbie to Peille. This is one of our favourite stretches of road in the region: a winding ledge in the rockface, that passes through tunnels, with sweeping views of the Alpine foothills
A more obvious, yet superb, highlight is the exhilarating descent from the Col de Braus to Sospel, followed immediately by the never-ending climb to the dizzy heights of the Col de Turini
1. Nice to L’Escarène: 0-38 km
This route starts straight out of Nice, and heads upwards on the Moyenne Corniche to Èze before cutting up to La Turbie. As you leave Nice, there are wonderful views down to the Bay of Villefranche and Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. The gradient is never too steep, and it avoids some of the seafront congestion sometimes found on the Basse Corniche.
Èze is one of the highlights of the Moyenne Corniche; a beautiful, medieval village, perched on the hillside above the sea. To see it properly, you need to get off your bike and walk; the shops and buildings on the road aren’t the main village. It’s a bit of a tourist mecca and gets very busy in summer. Note that this route doesn’t take in the Col d’Èze, which is on the Grande Corniche, above the Moyenne Corniche (our Madone and Èze ride incorporates this).
You turn off and leave the Moyenne Corniche after Èze. You meet the Grande Corniche, and the gradient subsides as you roll down into La Turbie. After going through the town and up a hill, you turn off onto a tiny road that climbs away from the coast. As you leave the coastal views behind, you are met with an endless expanse of green rolling hills and dramatic rocky outcrops. This gem of a road is blasted from the side of the rock face and weaves in and out of rock tunnels to arrive in the village of Peille.
If you love descending, the road after the town is a real treat. It’s kilometre after kilometre of tight steep hairpins. This is a stretch where disc brakes and great bike handling will pay dividends!
At the bottom, you take an extremely sharp right turn, turning back on yourself, and reach La Grave de Peille, a town scarred by a large industrial plant; it seems incongruous in surroundings that are otherwise unspoiled and quiet.
As you leave the factory behind, you climb gradually on a tiny single track road. It’s a top notch route, with very little traffic. Note that there is a sign that states the road is closed 9:30-12:00 on Tuesdays to Thursdays (we assume this is to allow access to a quarry – see the yellow sign here). You climb through a narrow river valley ever upwards and finally pop out in L’Escarène.
2. L’Escarène to Sospel (via the Col de Braus): 38-60 km
From L’Escarène you are now quickly on to the climb of the Col de Braus. This western climb is the more popular one (read this for the eastern climb up Col de Braus) and has kilometre signboards, showing the elevation gain remaining, how many kilometres to go and the gradient of the next kilometre.
In total, the climb from L’Escarène is just shy of 10km at an average of 6.3% that remains fairly uniform over the length of the climb. There are a few wide hairpins that serve as a warm-up, before you reach the famous and photogenic main part of the climb. Each leg of the hairpin is packed so tight that it touches the next one, with each level banked up on stone walls.
Once you’ve completed this section you are treated to a magnificent view of the hairpins from above, and down the valley to L’Escarène. Another kilometre or so and you’ve reached the nondescript summit with a little snack bar.
The descent to Sospel is fantastic. Slightly longer and less steep than the ascent at 11.2km and 5.7%, it combines commanding views, fast sweeping turns and fantastic hairpins.
3. Sospel to Nice (via the Col de Turini): 60 – 133 km
At the bottom, you turn left on the Route du Moulinet before the long climb to the Col de Turini, the highest of the coastal climbs near Nice. If you’re running short on food/drink, instead of turning left on the Route du Moulinet, turn right and detour a short distance into Sospel to stock up on provisions.
From the turn, it’s 24km of solid climbing to the top of the col at 1,604m. That’s almost 1,250m of altitude gain at an average of over 5%. The first half alternates shallower gradients with log sections at around 5%. Most of the second half is between 7% and 9%!
The end of the first climbing section is marked by the chapel of Notre Dame de Menour, a memorable landmark with a bridge that crosses over the road. At this stage of the ride, you’re on a road cut into the cliff above the Gorges du Piaon. The low stone walls offer little protection against the drops to your right and might look like grey castle ramparts to those with a poetical disposition.
There’s some false flat to the village of Moulinet, then the road ramps up again for the second main climbing section. The surroundings become wilder, the road becomes rougher, and you’re in thick pine forest. It’s a final push to the summit, which is a four-way crossroads with hotels and bars with views of the Alps beyond (assuming it’s not cloudy/foggy!).
Be prepared with warm clothes for the col – it may well be close to freezing unless it’s mid-summer! Even then, warm, wet sea air often causes downpours as it hits the forested slopes of the mountain; a rain jacket is a must.
At the top of the climb, you’ll be pleased to know that you have broken the back of this ride, with almost no ascent left despite almost 50 km to ride! The descent starts through the forest before two sections of the most picturesque and breathtaking hairpins you’re likely to have ever seen, before the town of Lucéram.
After L’Escarène there is a very short climb and a scenic detour to Blausasc before you reach the valley that runs down to Nice. The run-in is not a classic stretch of road, but it serves the purpose of depositing you back into Nice.
This is truly an epic ride that merits raising a glass in the bars of Nice!
This route starts and finishes on the busy French Riviera, but it takes you into a different world of quiet roads and mountain villages. While you’re on the coast, you’re spoiled for choice with where to stop for refuelling. Inland your options are a bit more limited, but if you plan you should be fine. Here are some of our suggestions for where you could stop:
Èze (10 km): it’s a bit early on for a stop, but it may be useful to know that there is a small supermarket on the road, as well as a boulangerie.
Peille (24 km): a pretty stone village, perched on the side of a mountain, with a couple of restaurants to pick between.
L’Escarène (38 and 111 km): a small town with a grocery shop, boulangerie and restaurant options.
Sospel (59 km): it’s a short diversion to this small town where you’ll find lots of options for refreshments.
Moulinet (72 km): a small village with a grocery shop and restaurant.
Col de Turini (84 km): a small ski resort with hotels, bars and restaurants at the summit.
Lucéram (105 km): a village with grocery store and boulangerie.
We were based on the Place Garibaldi in Nice, near the Port. This is a particularly good location for rides to the east of Nice as you can quickly escape the urban areas via the wonderful corniche roads.
Find our more about where we stayed and our accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to Nice for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in Nice before you set out.
This route includes a lot of hairpins, many of which are tight and require confident bike-handling skills. It’s a challenging ride and not one for inexperienced cyclists.
Note that there is a sign that states the road between La Grave de Peille and L’Escarène is closed 9:30-12:00 Tuesday to Thursday mornings (see the yellow sign here). Pick a different route for those days!
The Col de Turini is famous for its car rallies. Check when they are taking place. Otherwise you may end up climbing up to the first village before hitting a closed road guarded by a gendarme. More information, here.
Rich from VeloGuide reminded us about the water fountain at the top of the Col de Turini. On this route, it’s on your left as you arrive at the col.
As mentioned in the ride log, the weather on Turini can often be inhospitable. When we visited in early April there was still a significant amount of snow at the top and it was close to freezing. Choose a day when the weather is set to be good and pack for every eventuality. Check Col de Turini meteo before setting out.
When you get to the top of the Col de Turini pass, you’ll see a road continuing upwards to your right. Unusually for an Alpine col, the pass is not the highest road – should you have the energy you can take the road up again to a small ski resort and even further up, to the summits of the Authion. There’s even a little-known 17 km loop with an additional 425m of climbing you could tackle… Let us know if you explore these roads; we were too cold!
The Col de Turini was picked by Top Gear as one of the top 10 roads in the world. With this and its Monte Carlo rally fame, you may be concerned that the road is full of petrol heads – that certainly wasn’t the case when we were there in early April. It was quiet, and we came across more cyclists than cars.
The Col de Turini has only been climbed three times by the Tour de France in 1948, 1950 and 1973. That’s probably more due to the logistical nightmare of closing roads in the busy coastal area adjoining the Southern Alps, than anything else.
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Don’t miss our other ride guides on Nice: see the related rides section above.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Nice and other articles on the French Riviera, below.
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