A Guide to Cycling the Col des Aravis
The Col des Aravis is a Category two cycling climb located in the Savoie region of the French Alps. From the starting village of Flumet the climb is 11.7km / 7.3mi long, with an average gradient of 4.9%. Over this distance you will ascend 611m / 2005ft in total before reaching the summit which stands at 1487m / 4879ft. The climb of the Col des Aravis has featured in the Tour de France on 41 occasions since its introduction in 1949 when Gino Bartali was the first to the top. It was most recently used in the 2020 edition of the Tour de France on stage 18 with Richard Carapaz leading over the summit. If you are interested in cycling the Col des Aravis then read on in our guide to the climb below.
Anthospace, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Climb Statistics – Col des Aravis Southern Approach
Length: 11.7km / 7.3mi
Average gradient: 4.9%
Start point: 909m / 2,982ft
Elevation at top: 1487m / 4,879ft
Category: Category Two
Nearest town: Flumet
Facilities at top: Food and Water
When to ride: May to Oct
Road condition: Good
Nearest climb: Col de la Colombière
Number of approaches: Yes
Through road at top: Yes
Col des Aravis Cycling route from Chamonix
Ride distance: 121km / 75mi
Elevation gain: 2,925m / 9,596ft
We have put together a challenging route departing from Chamonix to cycle the Col des Aravis. Whilst we have set Chamonix as the starting and endpoint for this ride, you can easily amend this to any village in the Chamonix Valley depending on where you are basing yourself. This is an out and back route that has three distinct long climbs contained within it. With just under 3000m/10000ft of climbing all up, this is a perfect route if you are keen to really test yourself and your climbing legs.
The first section of this route is in the main all downhill as you depart the Chamonix Valley. It can be tempting to ride fast and flat out but make sure you keep in mind you will be taking this road in the opposite direction on your return back to Chamonix meaning all the downhills will be uphills. From Les Houches, you will turn off the busier valley road and descend down a number of switchbacks towards the village of Vaudagne. This section of the route is a real gem as given how busy this region of the Alps is, the road here is nice and quiet in relation to vehicular traffic.
Le Fayet to Megève – all uphill
Once you reach the small town of Le Fayet you will begin the climb to Megève. This section is the first real climb of the day and it is a long one at just over 10km/6mi in length with an average gradient of 5.4%. This will serve as a real test prior to the main climb of the day at the Col des Aravis. The first part of this climb is through charming quiet forest roads. Stunning vistas of the Mont Blanc range are all around you and serve as a good distraction from the climb itself. As you get closer to Megève there is a noticeable increase in cars on the road so be aware of this. On reaching Megève it is a good idea to resupply your food and water before continuing on to take on the main climb of the day up the Col des Aravis.
Cy ling the Col des Aravis approach via Flumet
The Col des Aravis is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes and connects the alpine regions of Savoie with the Hautes Savoie. This southern approach which begins in the village of Flumet is the more challenging way to tackle the climb. The first section starts off relatively gently and the road even flattens off and heads downhill briefly. All this does is serve to skew the average overall gradient of 4.9% and lull you into a false sense of security that this climb will be a breeze. It is from the 5km mark where the real challenge of the Col des Aravis kicks in and the steeper gradients make themselves known as you approach the village of La Giettez. Stretches over 10% will sting the legs.
Cow bells and views of Mont Blanc
Throughout the climb, there are commanding views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding peaks. Green meadows line the roadside and you can hear the clanging of cowbells as herds of cattle graze on the lush pasture. You will have a set of four switchbacks to negotiate and from here the summit is only another kilometer away. There is usually a hive of activity at the summit where a small chapel is stood proudly in a very photogenic position. There are also a number of restaurants and cafes to choose from to resupply with food and water. Why not stop here and enjoy some lunch before making the about-turn and heading back to Chamonix the way you came.
Long downhill to recover on and then one final climb
Halfway into the ride you now have a long and enjoyable downhill ahead of you through Megève and on towards Le Fayet. This section will serve as a good recovery before tackling the final climb of the day. This is actually the longest continuous climb of the whole route at 12.6km / 7.8mi with an average gradient of 4.7%. Having descended these very roads earlier in the ride you will have an idea of what lies ahead including some steeper ramps in what is otherwise a nice and regular climb. The forest-lined sections of the road from Vaudagne will provide you with some welcome shade on a hot summer’s day. A short descent into Les Houches signals that you are almost at the end of the ride and from there, just a few kilometers are left before finishing off what will have been quite a challenging day in the saddle.
Above: This cycling route whilst challenging, also enjoys some stunning vistas such as this one from the climb out of the village of Vaudagne.
Nearby climbs to the Col des Aravis
Unsurprisingly this area of the French Alps is home to some very famous cycling climbs. The Tour de France is regularly using the mountain summits here and as such the roads and climbs are also very popular with cyclists exploring these roads for themselves. We have listed some of the nearby climbs below for you to explore further.
Col de la Colombiere
The Col de la Colombiere has regularly featured in the Tour de France since it was first included in the 1960 edition of the race. The approach from Le Grand-Bornard is 11.7km in length at an average gradient of 5.9% and ascends 690m/2,263ft in elevation. It is possible to include the climb of the Colombiere as part of a longer route from Chamonix. Click here to discover this route in more detail.
Bkornmann, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
The climb to the top of the Plaine Joux is 14.7 km/ 9.1mi long with an average gradient of 5.7%. From the starting village of Passy, you ascend 813m/2,667ft in elevation by the time you reach the summit. In summer the ski resort at the top is transformed as a base for hikers and paragliders. Keep an eye out on the skies above for the gliders soaring above you. To discover more about this climb read our comprehensive cycling guide here.
Martin B., CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Plan your cycling holiday in the Chamonix Valley
If you want to discover more of what is on offer in the Chamonix Valley, our comprehensive guide will help you plan everything you need for your cycling holiday. The destination guide includes information such as:
- a map of the Chamonix Valley with climbs and towns marked
- a list of road cycling routes available to ride as well as downloadable GPX files
- where to base yourself depending on which mountains you would like to ride
- cycling hotels and lodges
- bike hire outlets
- travel tips on getting to and from the Chamonix Valley
- non-cycling attractions and activities on offer in the region
Click below to begin planning your cycling trip to the Chamonix Valley.