Each year many of the local tourism authorities organise what is known as ‘Car Free Days’. On these days the roads to several of the famous mountain passes in France are closed to traffic. This allows recreational cyclists of all fitness levels to experience riding these roads without needing to share the road with cars. Car free days are very popular and are marked out in the calendar well in advance. So with a bit of pre-planning you could look to make sure your cycling holiday in the mountains coincides with some of these dates.
Riding the famous French cycling climbs on closed roads is a fantastic experience and allows you to savour the ride with no thoughts or concerns to cars on the road as well. Typically speaking there are also refreshment / aid stations organised at the top of the summits so you can restock on food and water. Depending on the region there may also be organised group rides which you can partake in so you can feel like you are part of a ‘virtual peloton’ so to speak. The mountain passes are typically closed off to motorised traffic (e-Bikes not included!) from early in the morning until lunchtime which should allow most riders to reach the summit and return before the roads reopen again. Unlike bigger gran fondo style events or cyclo-sportives, there is no need to pre-register your participation in these events.
To help you plan out your cycling holiday we have researched the various tourism departments in the French Alps and Pyrenees and listed out the car free days which have been designated for 2021. For each region we have also listed the dates which each mountain pass will be available to ride. Check below for more details and start your holiday planning now.
This event runs from the final weekend in May through to the first weekend in September. You will find the earlier dates have been set for climbs at a lower elevation as the higher peaks may still be impassable due to winter snow. Many of the highest mountain passes in the French Alps are then set aside for the summer months of July and August. You will be able to experience cycling the mountain passes of the Col du Galibier, Col d’Izoard and Col d’Agnel. Click through each tab on the table below to see which mountain passes are available to ride each month.
Saturday May 29: Upper Clarée Valley
Sunday May 30: Col de l'Echelle
Sunday June 6: Ascent Ailefroide / Pré Mme Carle
Sunday July 4: Montée Puy Saint Vincent 1600
Thursday July 8: Col d'Izoard
Monday July 19: Col de Vars
Tuesday July 20: Col de Moissière (Ancelle)
Wednesday July 21: Col de Granon
Thursday July 22: Col Agnel
Thursday July 22: Col du Galibier
Tuesday August 3: Montée de Chabre
Wednesday August 4: Col de Pommerol
Thursday August 5: Col d'IzoardMonday August 16: Col de Vars
Wednesday August 18: Col de Granon
Thursday August 19: Col du Galibier
Friday August 20: Montée des Orres
Sunday 05 September: Col d'Agnel
This region of the French Alps is full of amazing riding. Read our comprehensive guide on cycling in the French Alps here.
This series provides amateur cyclists with the opportunity to take on some of the most Tour de France mountain climbs such as the Alpe d'Huez. For 2021 these car free days will take place every Tuesday in July and August beginning on 06 July. The event is entirely free and registration is not required. Refreshment stations are also available at the top of the climbs as well. Click through each tab on the table below to see which mountain passes are available to ride on which days each month.
Tuesday 06 July from 0900 to Noon: Col de Croix de Fer and Col du Glandon:
Tuesday 13 July 2021 from 9am to 11am: Col du Solude
Tuesday 20 July 2021 from 9am to 11am: Villard-Reculas ascent
Tuesday 27 July 2021 from 9am to noon: Col du Sabot
Tuesday 3 August 2021 from 9am to 11am: Col d'Ornon
Tuesday 10 August 2021 from 9am to 11am: L'Alpe d'Huez ascent
Tuesday 17 August 2021 from 9am to 11am: Oz-en-Oisans ascent
Tuesday 24 August 2021 from 9am to 11am: Les 2 Alpes ascent:
Tuesday 31 August 2021 from 9am to noon: Col de Sarenne
Want to plan a cycling holiday in this region of the Alps? Read our practical destination guide here.
At 2770m in elevation the Col d’Iseran is the highest paved road in Europe and each year the mountain pass is closed off to traffic for a day. In 2021 the designated car free day for the Col d'Iseran is Sunday 24th June. More information can be found here.
Interested in cycling the Col d'Iseran? Check out our comprehensive ride guide here.
From the 19 – 23 July 2021, the roads to 12 Cols in the Pyrenees will be reserved wholly for cyclists. The roads will be closed to cars from 09:00am to 12:00pm making this an ideal time to test yourself on some of the most famous Tour de France climbs. Across the five days there will be different peaks available to ride such as Col d'Aubisque, Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aspin. As with the events being run in the French Alps, there is no need to register your participation. If you were ever to plan for a perfect cycling holiday in the Pyrenees, then riding there during this particular week would have to pretty close! For more information check the official website or simply click through each tab on the table below to see which mountain passes are available to ride each day.
Port de Balès (09:00-12:00)
Col de Peyresourde- Altiport 007 (09:00-12:00)
Col de Val Louron – Azet (09:00-12:00)
Col du Portet (09:00 – 12:00)
Col d’Aspin (09:00 – 12:00)
Col du Tourmalet (09:00 – 12:00)
Luz Ardiden (09:00 – 12:00)
Col du Couraduque (09:00 – 12:00)
Hautacam (09:00 – 12:00)
Col des Spandelles (09:00 – 12:00)
Col du SoulorCol d’Aubisque (09:00 – 12:00)
Taking place on the second Saturday of the Month from June to September, the road to the summit of the Grand Colombier is closed off to traffic from 7am to 3pm. This particular event has been run successfully since 2013 and is gaining in popularity with each year. There is a refreshment station and pit stops put on at the top of the climb and coffee offered at the bottom of the climb by the local Tourism body at Maison du vélo. There is also an option to ride with part of a larger group leaving from the local tourism body at Maison du vélo at 09:00am in the small town of Culoz, at the base of the climb. More information can be found here. We have listed the dates for this years car free days in the table below. Click through each tab to see which date has been set for each month.
Saturday 12 June (7:00am – 3:00pm)
Saturday 10 July (7:00am – 3:00pm)
Saturday 14 August (7:00am – 3:00pm)
Saturday 11 September (7:00am – 3:00pm)
The other way to experience these climbs traffic free is to be there to witness a live stage of the Tour de France. On these days literally thousands of people cycle or hike up the mountain passes with a view of watching the professional peloton whizzing past live. On the day of the stage the route of the Tour de France is closed off to traffic early in the morning which means you can enjoy a ride up the mountain pass with all the atmosphere of the Tour as well. It is a great experience for sure and one to seek out if you plan to watch a stage live. Just be aware this won’t be a day to look at riding the climb at a fast pace. The road will be crowded so keep this in mind and enjoy the party atmosphere.
For more tips on spectating a stage of the Tour de France roadside read our article here.
If you ever wanted to experience cycling in Paris free of cars than this is the day to do it. Paris’ annual Car Free Day for 2021 will take place this year on Sunday 19th September. The city will be car free from 11am through to 6pm. These annual car free days are extremely popular. Be aware that buses, taxis and tour buses will still be operating on this day but other than this the city roads will be filled with people enjoying the outdoors on bike, foot, Segway or scooter! In addition to this annual car free day, Paris also closes the Champs-Élysée and many other streets off to traffic on the first Sunday of each month from 10am to 5pm.
Our article on planning a cycling holiday to France goes through some great planning tips. You can read the article here.