Cycling in France: Experience the Magic of traffic-free roads
Did you know that it is possible to ride many of the famous climbs of the Tour de France on closed roads? Yes, that is right, this means you can experience cycling the famous climbs in the French Alps and Pyrenees on car-free days. Read on to discover more about cycling on Car Free days in France and what is planned to take place in each region for 2023
What are Car Free Days?
Each year many of the local tourism authorities organize 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.
What is it like to ride on Car Free Days in France?
Riding the famous French cycling climbs on closed roads is a fantastic experience and allows you to savor the ride with no thoughts or concerns about cars on the road as well. Typically speaking there are also refreshment/aid stations organized at the top of the summits so you can restock on food and water. Depending on the region there may also be organized group rides that 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 motorized 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 cyclosportives, there is no need to pre-register your participation in these events.
Where and when are the designated Car Free Days in France for 2023?
To help you plan out your cycling holiday we have researched the various tourism departments in the French Alps and the Pyrenees and listed out the car-free days which have been designated for 2023. For each region, we have also listed the dates on which each mountain pass will be available to ride. Check below for more details and start your holiday planning now.
Region: French Alps – Hautes Alpes
Event: Cols Réservés 2023 – Hautes Alpes
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.
The road is closed to traffic between 9:00 am and 12:00 pm and you can simply turn up on the day to ride these iconic mountain passes. More details for this event can be found on the Haute Alpes website, however as of April 2023 they gave not updated their website with the 2023 information. Check back on it to see once they have.
- No dates listed yet
- Ascent Ailefroide / Pré Mme Carle – Sunday June 4
- Montée Puy Saint Vincent 1800 – Sunday July 2
- Col de l’Echelle (Vallee de la Claree)- Monday, July 3
- Col d’Izoard – Tuesday, July 4
- Col d’Agnel (Queyras) – Wednesday, July 5
- Col du Galibier – Thursday, July 6
- Col du Granon (Serre Chevalier) – Friday, July 7
- Col de l’Echelle – Friday, July 8
- Col du Galibier – Thursday, 20 July
- Montée de Chabre – Tuesday, 1 August
- Col de Pommerol – Wednesday, 2 August
- Col d’Izoard – Thursday, 3 August
- Col de Céüze – Friday, 4 August
- Col du Noyer – Thursday, 11 August
- Col de Granon – Wednesday, 16 August
- Col du Galibier- Thursday, 17 August
- Montée d’Orcières – Friday, 18 August
- Montée des Orres – Monday, 22 August
- Col d’Agnel – Sunday, 3 September
Region: L’Oisans French Alps
Event: 2023 Oisans Col Series – French Alps
The Oisans Col Series runs through the months of July and August and gives you car-free access to a range of famous mountain passes. Each Tuesday during the period you will have the opportunity to ride the likes of Alpe d’Huez, Col du Glandon, and Col de la Croix de Fer to name a few. No registration is required and food and drink are provided at the top. The Bike Oisans website has all the information about the program.
- Tuesday 04 July from 9 am to Noon: Col de Croix de Fer and Col du Glandon:
- Tuesday 11 July from 9 am to 11 am: Col du Solude
- Tuesday 18 July from 9 am to 11 am: Villard-Reculas ascent
- Tuesday 25 July from 9 am to 11 am: Montee des 2 Alpes
- Tuesday 1 August from 9 am to noon: Col du Sabot
- Tuesday 8 August from 9 am to 11 am: L’Alpe d’Huez ascent
- Tuesday 15 August from 9 am to 11 am: Col d’Ornon
- Tuesday 22 August from 9 am to 11 am: Oz-en-Oisans
- Tuesday 29 August from 9:45 am to noon: Col de Sarenne
Region: L’Isere (Hautes Alpes)
Event: Col d’Iseran Car Free Day
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 2023 the designated car-free day for the Col d’Iseran is Sunday 25th June. More information can be found on the Val d’Isére website.
Region: Hautes Pyrénées
Event: Pyrenees Cycl’n Trip 2023
From 10 – 14 July 2023, the roads to 11 Cols in the Pyrenees will be reserved wholly for cyclists. The roads will be closed to cars from 09:00 am to 12:00 pm 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 be pretty close! Listed below are the Cols you can ride each day over the week or for more information check the Pyrénées Road trip website.
Monday 10 July
- Port de Balès
- Col de Peyresourde
- Col de Val Louron – Azet
Tuesday 11 July
- Col du Portet
- Col d’Aspin
Wednesday 12 July
- Col du Tourmalet
- Luz Ardiden
Thursday 13 July
- Col du Couraduque
Friday 14 July
- Col des Spandelles
- Col du Soulor & Col d’Aubisque
Region: French Jura
Event: Grand Colombier Car Free Days
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 7 am to 3 pm. This particular event has been run successfully since 2012 and is gaining in popularity each year. There is a refreshment station and pit stops put on at the top of the climb and coffee is 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 09:00 am in the small town of Culoz, at the base of the climb. The Bugey Velo website has all the details about the event.
What about riding these climbs during the Tour de France?
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.
Plan to cycle in central Paris on the monthly Car Free Day
If you ever wanted to experience cycling in Paris free of cars then you will have an opportunity to do so once a month. Each month the first 4 arrondissements in Paris go car-free on the first Sunday of the month. These monthly 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 a bike, foot, Segway, or scooter! In addition, Paris hosts an annual car-free day shutting a much larger part of the city to vehicles. The 2023 date is yet to be released, in 2022 it was held in September.
You might also like
If you are thinking about a cycling holiday in one of the regions listed above we have more information on our site to assist. For the Pyrenees start with our Why we think you will love cycling in the Pyrenees article which outlines why the Pyrenees are such a great cycling location. The article also links to our Best Base for Pyrenees Cycling Holiday and Pyrenees Cycling routes to cover all bases.
Finally, if you are heading to Paris we have information about How to Use a Velib bike and Exploring Paris by Bike is now much easier articles to help you out.