Perhaps more well known for its popularity as a winter ski destination, the Serre Chevalier valley offers up a lot of great cycling. Located in the heart of the Hautes-Alpes, there are high mountain peaks all around. The Tour de France is a regular visitor to the area with the yellow jersey often being decided on stages which are contested in this region. This guide covers everything you need to know about cycling in the Serre Chevalier Valley to help you plan your holiday.
In this region you can set out to ride to the lofty heights of some of the most infamous climbs. The Col du Galibier and Col d’Izoard
are two of the highest passes in the French Alps, and both are on offer from this region. We have put together some suggested riding routes which are linked below. Each ride also ends with a long, sustained downhill finish Just reward for reaching the summits of the higher climbs. The routes mapped out below begin and end in Briançon, but you could easily adjust them if you are staying in one of the other villages in the valley. In the route detail pages you also have the ability to download files to a range of devices. Click below to see the riding options in greater detail.
Briançon is the largest town in the area and also the natural gateway to the region. It is connected with regular bus and rail services with onwards connections to other villages in the valley also available. Rome2rio.com is an excellent site to help plan your trip to the French Alps. Simply enter your start and end points and it will tell you the different options available, cost range and timetable.
Air – Lyon, Marseille and Geneva are the closest international airports which service the French Alps. Depending on the airline you travel with, you may have to fly first to Paris and then make your way down by car, train or air. Whilst there is an airport close by at Grenoble, flights only operate during winter and so this is not really an option during the cycling season. See our Airports page for further details on these airports.
Rail – Briançon is accessible by train however due to it’s location in the Alps, there are no high speed rail connections. The journey will take just over 4 hours from Marseille and almost 6 hours from Lyon. Our page about the French rail network has more information the French train network and booking tickets.
Road – If you are arriving from Lyon the journey to Briançon will take just over three hours via the D1091. From Marseille the travel time is very similar (around 3 hours) via the A51 and N94. We recommend reviewing the route planning tool on the ViaMichelin website which will also indicate any tolls along the route as well as fuel stations.
Bus – A regular bus service runs from Grenoble to Briançon offering an alternative to needing your own car. The trip takes approximately 2hrs and 40 mins Further information regarding bus services to the region can be accessed here.
Being a popular cycling destination there are a number of accommodation providers catering specifically for the cycling market. Typically these establishments provide secure bike lock up and maintenance areas, bike wash down area, special catering and of course plenty of local advice on conditions and where to ride. A number of these places also operate tour style businesses where you stay in the one place and ride set routes each day which are fully supported. To help plan you stay we have included a list of the cycling specific accommodation options below. Simply sort via location to find those located in the area you wish to base yourself.
There are plenty of other options available to you if cycling specific accommodation is not what you are after. To help you plan we have provided links to a number of booking sites so you can see what is available. Have a look at our page on French accommodation types if you are not sure what is available.
There are no shortage of places to eat and drink in the area and we generally turn to tripadvisor.com to look at options for restaurants and cafés or just take a punt on a place that looks nice and busy and is open and serving food. We have yet to be disappointed.
There are a number of weekly farmers markets in the region that are worth checking out if you have the time. Here you will find lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as local cheeses, small goods, seafood and meats.
Listed below are the five markets you can visit and when they run.
1 Briancon– Sunday morning year round, Wednesday mornings – seasonal only
2 Le Monetier les Bains – Friday mornings – seasonal only
3 Vallouise – Thursday mornings
4 L’Argentierre la Bessee – Friday Mornings
5 La Grave – Thursday morning
Every region in France has is culinary specialities and the Hautes Alpes is no different. Like many regions in the Alps expect to see lots of cheese and hearty potato dishes on the local restaurant menus.
With vast pasturelands all around it is no surprise that cheese dishes are a big feature in this region. Below are a list of dishes which you can seek out at many local eating establishments.
Tartiflette – a hearty meal of Reblechon cheese, potatoes, lardons and onions.
Raclette– a cheese traditionally made from cow’s milk. Traditionally Raclette is served at your table with a grill plate so you can choose how much you’d like your cheese warmed and melted. Scraping off the Raclette directly from the large cheese wheel onto potatos, pickles and onions is a must to try out!
Fondue – A dish which needs no introduction and is often normally associated with alpine skiing, Fondue is readily found in the region year round. Again a cheese lovers paradise!
Farcement – This traditional dish may be a bit trickier to find but seek if out if you can. It combines sweet and savoury ingredients which are formed in the shape of a large cake. The outside is lined with strips of cured meat such as bacon and inside is filled with raisins, prunes, potatoes and cream.
There are many options for cycle hire in this region of the French Alps. Largely this is owing to the popularity of cycle tourism. In the table below you will find an outline of cycling stores as well as places which offer rental bikes. Listed are options available throughout the French Alps so be sure to sort by location to see the best options for where you will be staying.
If you are looking to hire a bike for your cycling holiday we would recommend getting in touch directly with the hire shop and arranging this in advance of your holiday. This will avoid the disappointment of missing out on a rental due to popular demand.
Another tip is to make sure the bike you hire is equipped with gearing which will allow you to climb the mountains with a greater level of comfort. Most road bikes for hire will now come with compact gearing to allow for this, but it is best to be certain!
This region of the French Alps offers up a few options of villages to use as a cycling base. We have listed each village below. When compiling this list we have taken into account ease of access to each of the rides, accommodation available as well as other services such as bike hire and eating establishments.
If the fortified town of Briançon is familiar to you, it may be because it often features as a start / finish location for the Tour de France. In fact, it’s played host to the Tour over 40 times since 1947. In 2008 some of the buildings in the town were also given the prestigious honour of being awarded UNESCO World Heritage status. With history dating back to Roman times there is lots to discover in the town. There are also many restaurants, cafes and accommodation providers to cater for your needs.
With an altitude of 1350m / 4420ft, Briançon is also the highest town in Europe. Located at the base of five valleys and the confluence of two rivers it has a lot to offer for the outdoor lover. The town normally caters for a population which triples in size during the winter ski season, but in summer it switches its focus to cyclists, hikers and white water rafters. Discover more about Briançon here.
2. Monetier les Bains
Located a further 15km/ 9mi from Briançon is the village of Monetier les Bains. Well renowned for centuries due to its thermal hot springs, it has been used as a thermal spa since the Roman times. The Tour de France has passed through the village eight times due to its close proximity to the Col du Lautaret. Monetier Les Bains also borders the Ecrins National Park which offers up a host of non cycling related activities as well. The village has a number of cycling specific accommodation providers as well as boutique craft and artisan stores. For further information about Monetier Les Bains, click here.
Whether you want to spend some time off the bikes or have family members that are not keen cyclists there are plenty of things to do around this area. Whether it is hiking, water sports, paragliding or perhaps a more relaxing spa treatment, there is sure to be something for everyone. Check out some of our suggestions below.
One of ten national parks in France, the Ecrins National Park is a nature lovers paradise. Here you will find hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails in an area covering almost 92000 hectares. Indeed, the national park boasts over 150 mountain peaks over 3000m high! If you are staying in the area we would certainly recommend a rest day off the bike to explore more the National Park. Here you can discover glaciers, alpine lakes as well as spot local wildlife such as Chamois, Ibex and Marmottes which call this area home.
The town of Monetier Les Bains is home to one of Europe’s largest thermal baths. The Romans used to visit the waters due to their renowned healing properties. Why not take advantage of this and treat your cycling legs to a well earned spa treatment.
Fancy a day on the water? The Guisane River is popular for a host of water sports including white water rafting and canoeing. Why not organise a few hours of fun with a local operator.
We have included some useful web sites to help you see what is on offer and plan your trip.
Viator.com – book a range of tours and attractions before you leave home
Serre Chevalier Tourism Office – includes lots of information about the Serre Chevalier Valley and also links to the events calendar.
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