Planning your cycling holiday in the French Alps.
This guide is designed to help you work out the best place to base yourself for a cycling holiday in the French Alps. While the cycling information is centered around road cycling there is still plenty of practical information to help anyone thinking about a holiday here. Included in the guide is information on the towns we recommend, the location of the major climbs, public transport connections and travel times to the French Alps.
We have a similar guide to this one to help you plan your cycling holiday to the Pyrenees which you can access here. The planning section of our website has lots of practical information about a trip to France including visa requirements, accessing money, using your mobile phone, French accommodation types, and lots more. We have destination guides for the French Alps, Pyrenees, Alpes Maritimes, and Jura.
A perfect cycling holiday location
The roads, bike paths, and trails in the French Alps have been enjoyed by cyclists from around the world for decades. The Tour de France has made names such as Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, and Col d’Izoard iconic as we have watched the professional riders race up these steep mountain passes. As a holiday destination, you will find something for every style of rider whether that be road, mountain, leisure, or e-bike. As a destination you will be spoilt for choice in accommodation, eating and drinking and attractions, not to mention the natural beauty of the mountains.
The French Alps are well connected to public transport including air, rail and bus services. If you are planning to visit in July then you may have the opportunity to watch a stage of the Tour de France which passes through the area each year. There are a host of activities other than cycling if you want some days off the bike or have non-cycling members in your traveling group.
The best place to stay in the French Alps for a cycling holiday is determined primarily by what climbs you wish to ride. Towns that you can consider include Annecy, Le Bourg d’Oisans, Briançon, St Jean de Maurienne and Chamonix.
Once you have read through our recommendations on where to stay you can look at our destination guides where you will find more detailed information about each of the regions. We also have over 30 suggested riding routes for you to view which include GPX files that you can download to your devices.
Where are the French Alps located?
The French Alps mountain range is situated in the southeast of the country and borders both Switzerland and Italy. The range runs for over 250km from the Swiss border to the Mediterranean Sea near Nice. The French Alps are part of the much larger alps range stretching some 1,200km from Slovenia to the sea near Nice. Mont Blanc is the highest peak at 4,809m (15,778ft) and there are many other peaks over 4,000m (15,000ft). The largest cities in close proximity to the French Alps are Lyon, Grenoble, and Geneva.
Within the Alps the larger centres include Annecy, Chambery, Briancon, Albertville and St Jean de Maurienne. As you move into the mountains further you will find many small villages dotted up and down the valleys.
Our map of the French Alps will show you where everything is in relation to suggested places to stay, airports, and the rest of France and Europe.
The Tour de France in the French Alps
The Tour de France first visited the French Alps in 1911, a year after the first stages in the Pyrenees. The first year in the French Alps included the climbs of Col d’Aravais, Col du Telegraph, and Col du Galibier. Since then, the Tour de France has visited the French Alps on an annual basis, watched by millions of cycling fans lining the high alpine passes. The French Alps and Pyrenees traditionally take turns in being featured in the last week of the Tour de France where riders have their last opportunity in the high mountains to win the coveted yellow jersey.
The tour route is announced in October each year and accommodation in the towns that host the start and finish of stages sells out in a matter of days. Keep this in mind if you are planning to head to the Alps to watch a stage as you will need to book as soon as the Tour de France route is announced or stay a little distance away. The Tour de France comes and goes quickly in each town and usually only stays for a single night but it is still something you need to consider.
Cycling in the French Alps
Once the skiers have finished for the season and the mountains turn from white to green the cycling season begins in the French Alps. The season typically runs from May to October but is governed by the snowfalls, especially for the high mountain passes which are often closed beyond these dates. The French Alps is a popular destination for all types of summer activities with the peak season being July and August.
As a cycling holiday destination, the French Alps have everything you need including bike hire, bike sales and servicing, and many routes to choose from. While our focus has been primarily on the mountain passes made famous by the Tour de France there are plenty of other options to choose from as well.
Cycling events in the French Alps
For those that enjoy participating in organized events, there are options for you in the French Alps. One of the better-known events is La Marmotte which runs in June each year. The event takes you over Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Telegraph, and Col du Galibier before finishing at the top of Alpe d’Huez. The Tour de Mont Blanc traverses 338km and 8,500m of climbing across 3 countries and is considered one of the most challenging single-day events in France. Periodically the L’etape du Tour run by the Tour de France will hold its annual event in the French Alps.
We have mapped out over 30 different routes across the French Alps with files you can download to your device. Our routes cover the length of the French Alps and include all the iconic climbs as well as some of the lesser-known ones. You could spend many weeks in the French Alps and not come close to running out of options. We will add to our cycling routes continuously so check back periodically to see what is new.
The Pyrenees vs the French Alps
Both the French Alps and the Pyrenees are great cycling destinations, and you won’t be disappointed with either choice. At the end of the day, your selection really comes down to which of the many iconic climbs you want to tackle and tick off your bucket list. In visiting both locations the main difference we have observed is the amount of traffic and people.
The French Alps are much more developed than the Pyrenees due in large part to the quality and quantity of the skiing terrain. France’s premier ski resorts are all located in the Alps which attract visitors from all around the world each winter. While there is excellent skiing available in the Pyrenees it has not developed to the same degree as the Alps. If you are looking for a quieter destination where you can get away from it all easily, then the Pyrenees is the best choice.
From a cycling perspective, you will find that the roads in the Pyrenees tend to be narrower, less well made, and more likely to be tree-lined on the lower slopes. By comparison, roads in the French Alps are often more exposed, but well constructed. We also find that the roads in the Pyrenees are quieter and it is easier to get away from the traffic in the valleys. Being further south the temperature in the Pyrenees is slightly warmer than in the Alps.
Public transport in the French Alps
Getting to locations in the French Alps by public transport is easy to do if you don’t want to drive and there is an extensive rail and bus network connecting the valleys to the major towns. For those that wish to drive you will find fast, multi-laned roads that extend well into the valleys making driving straightforward. Once you arrive at your chosen destination you will be able to ride from your front door and not need to rely on any other forms of transport
Flying to the French Alps
There are two international airports to consider if you are planning on flying directly to the alps, Lyon and Geneva (Switzerland). Both are well connected to flights internationally and within Europe.
Lyon airport is connected to the city by tram which takes about 30mins. The airport also has a train station with TGV services connecting to cities across France and Italy. Bus services connect the airport to towns across the region. In winter shuttle services connect the airport with the ski resorts. The airport is located just outside the city making access by car relatively easy.
Geneva airport is connected to the city center by both bus and train. The journey time by train is 7 mins and by bus 13 mins. From the train station at the airport, you can connect to a range of destinations within both France and Switzerland. There are a range of regional buses and shuttles operating from the airport to locations within the alps. Access by car is straightforward should you choose to drive.
The airport in Geneva sits on the border between France and Switzerland. If you are planning to spend a night or two in Geneva consider staying in hotels on the French side of the border as they are considerably cheaper than on the Swiss side.
Grenoble also has an airport; however, it only operates regular flights in the winter months to service the many skiers who visit the Alps.
Flying with your bike
If you are considering flying to the French Alps from within Europe and have your bike with you be mindful that you will have to pay a fee for your bike regardless of the airline you fly with. The fee at present is €50 per leg per bike. If you are flying on an international flight originating outside Europe, you may not have to worry about this fee depending on the rules of your airline.
Train services in the French Alps
The French Alps are well serviced by trains including the high-speed TGV and Ouigo services. Direct services run from a range of destinations in France including Paris, Lyon, Geneva, and Nice. You will find train stations in Annecy, Aix les Bains, Chamberay, Albertville, St Jean de Maurienne, Briancon, Chamonix and Grenoble.
Both Lyon and Geneva airports have train stations located within the terminal buildings making for an easy transfer from plane to train. The main train station in Grenoble is located within walking distance of the city center.
Buses in the French Alps
Local and regional bus services operate throughout the French Alps region. Local bus services operate along the valleys connecting towns and villages while regional services connect further afield to Lyon and Geneva airports.
Driving to the French Alps
There is no single major road into the French Alps as it will depend on where you are coming from and where you are heading too.
If you are traveling through Lyon you will take the A43 before turning onto the A41 towards Annecy in the north or the A48 to Grenoble in the south. The A41 continues into the mountains and joins the A43 to Fourneaux and the A430 towards Albertville.
From Geneva, the A40 runs all the way through to Chamonix and the Mont Blanc tunnel through to Italy.
Travel times to the French Alps
Under each of the locations below, we have included travel times from Geneva Airport, Lyon Airport, and central Paris for both driving and catching a train. Times may vary depending on traffic conditions, especially in the busy summer months.
Useful travel planning websites
We found a number of useful websites to assist in working out how to get from A to B:
Rome2 Rio – allows you to enter your start and endpoints and it will give you a range of transport options with travel times, timetables, and links to booking.
SNCF – this is the official website for the French rail network and will allow you to book rail tickets online
Via Michelin – provides all the details you need if you are planning on driving to the Pyrenees including route options and estimated toll charges.
Google maps – provide routes and travel times for a range of transport options. It also includes options if you are cycling.
If you have never visited an area before, working out where you need to stay is one of the first steps you need to undertake. As many people choose a cycling holiday in France to tackle the climbs of the Tour de France, we have based where to stay on where the famous climbs are. For each of the regions, we have included a list of the more popular climbs so you work out where the best place for your stay is.
The places we have selected are all in the valleys as opposed to being up in the mountains themselves. From a riding perspective, this means you do not have a big climb to get home at the end of the day. We have selected places that have plenty of accommodation, café’s, bars and amenities available as well as plenty of activities to do other than cycling. The towns are all well served by public transport and easy to get to regardless of how you choose to get there.
Climbs in this region: Semnoz, Col de la Forclaz, Col de la Croix Fry, Mont du Chat
Other riding: Lake Annecy lake loop, rail trail to Albertville, mountain biking
We recommend staying in: Annecy or the surrounding villages
Travel times to Annecy:
From Lyon Airport – 1hr 20 mins by car or 2hrs 55min by train
From Geneva Airport – 45 mins by car or 2hrs 15min by train
From central Paris – 5hrs 30 mins by car or 3hrs 40 mins by train
With a population of over 50,000 Annecy is the largest city in the Haute-Savoie department and has a great range of accommodation options, cafes, bars, and attractions. The city sits on the shores of Lake Annecy and is overlooked by the mountains of the French Alps. It is often referred to as the “Venice of the Alps” for its network of canals running through the old town center. There are lots of things to do and see for days off the bike or for those in your group that choose not to cycle as much.
There are plenty of cycling options from Annecy regardless of what type of riding you enjoy. The Tour de France visits the city regularly and the 40km loop around the lake has been used as a time trial course in the past.
Annecy is well connected by public transport. There are daily TGV services connecting the city to Paris and other parts of France as well as regional train services to Lyon and Geneva. If you wish to fly to the region either Geneva or Lyon airports are not far away. Local bus services operate to the towns and villages around the lake and into the mountains.
By car, the A41 is the major autoroute to Annecy. It runs between Geneva and Grenoble and is also used if you are arriving from Lyon.
Lake Annecy Villages
There are numerous villages and small settlements surrounding Lake Annecy that offer an alternative to staying within the city itself. Buses run regularly between Annecy and the villages or it is an easy cycle on the bike path into town.
Check out our destination guide about Annecy for more information.
The Oisans region
Climbs in this region: Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier, Les Deux Alpes, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Glandon, Col de Sarenne and Col du Lauteret
Other riding: cycle path, mountain biking
We recommend staying in: Le Bourg d’Oisans
Travel times to Le Bourg d’Oisans:
From Lyon Airport – 1 hr 40 mins by car or 3 hrs 30 min by train to Grenoble then bus.
From Geneva Airport – 2 hrs 25 mins by car or 5 hrs 40 min by train to Grenoble then bus.
From central Paris – 6 hrs 10mins by car or 4 hrs 45 mins by train
Le Bourg d’Oisans
A small alpine village with a population of just over 3,000 and located at the start of one of the most iconic climbs in France, Alpe d’Huez. Bourg d’Oisans has long been a great base for cyclists from around the world. The village offers different types of accommodation and is well served with cafes and bars. The Tour de France is a regular visitor here with stages finishing at the top of Alpe d’Huez or starting from the village itself.
There is no train station in Borg d’Oisans with the nearest station located in Grenoble, 50km away. A bus service runs from Grenoble to Borg d’Oisans with multiple services each day. The closest airports are Lyon and Geneva. By car, Borg d’Oisans is reached via Grenoble or through the mountains.
Check out our destination guide about Le Bourg d’Oisans for more information.
Serre Chevalier Valley
Climbs in this region: Col d’Izoard, Col du Galibier, Col du Grannon, Col du Montgenevre pass
Other riding: mountain biking
We recommend staying in: Briançon
Travel times to Briançon:
From Lyon Airport – 2 hrs 50 mins by car or 4 hrs 30 min by train and bus
From Geneva Airport – 3 hrs 10 mins by car or 7 hrs by train and bus
From central Paris – 7 hrs 30 mins by car or 6 hrs 30 mins by train and bus
The town of Briançon is located close to the Italian border in the southern region of the French Alps. With a population of nearly 12,000, Briançon has everything you need as a cycling holiday base. The town appears regularly as a stage start or finish in the Tour de France and has long been a popular base for cyclists. There is a great range of accommodation for you to choose from as well as cafes and bars post-ride.
There is a train station located in Briançon connecting the city with larger centres such as Valence and Grenoble. Local and regional bus services also connect the city to other locations and in some instances provide a quicker option than the train. By car, the city is reached via Grenoble from the north or via Gap from the south.
Check out our destination guide for Briançon for more information.
Climbs in the region: Col du Telegraphe, Col du Galibier, Col de la Madeline, Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col de l’Iseran, Lacets de Montvernier and Col du Chaussy
Other riding: Mountain biking
We recommend staying in St Jean de Maurienne or valley villages
Travel times to St Jean de Maurienne:
From Lyon Airport – 1hr 40 mins by car or 2hrs 5 min by train
From Geneva Airport – 1 hr 45 mins by car or 3 hrs 30 min by train
From central Paris – 6 hrs 10 mins by car or 3hrs 55 mins by train
St-Jean de Maurienne
Sitting deep in the central French Alps, the town of St Jean de Maurienne has a population of nearly 8,000. The town is surrounded by climbs made famous by the Tour de France which visits the region regularly. You will find plenty of styles of accommodation to choose from as well as cafes and bars.
There is a train station in St Jean de Maurienne which is serviced by both TGV and local trains. Buses operated locally within the valley as well as further afield. The A43 autoroute runs past the town if you are planning to drive.
Check out our destination guide about St Jean de Maurienne for more information.
Valley towns and villages
There are numerous small towns and villages located a short distance from St Jean de Maurienne where you could also base yourself. Be mindful if you choose a location out of the valley floor as you may find yourself with a steep end to your ride. We learned this the hard way.
Climbs in the region: Col des Montets, Lac d’Emosson, Col de la Forclaz, Col des Aravis, Col de la Colimbière and Plaine Joux
Other riding: mountain biking
We recommend staying in: Chamonix or valley villages
Travel times to Chamonix:
From Lyon Airport – 2 hr 15 mins by car or 5 hrs 45min by train
From Geneva Airport – 1 hr 10 mins by car or 3 hrs 30 min by train
From central Paris – 5 hrs 30 mins by car or 3hrs 40 mins by train
The ski town of Chamonix is synonymous with the outdoors and the extreme. While many visitors head up into the mountains to hike, paraglide or climb there are some great road cycling options here as well. Being a ski resort town there are plenty of options when it comes to accommodation. The village has plenty of cafes, bars, and restaurants to choose from as well as supermarkets and other food outlets.
There is a train station in town and services run to Martigny (Switzerland) in one direction and to Saint Gervais in the other. From either location, you can connect to regional services. You can catch a bus to Chamonix from a range of locations and local buses run up and down the valley. If you are driving take the A40 Autoroute which turns into the N205. The Mont Blanc tunnel starts in Chamonix and travels 11.6km under the mountain range into Italy.
Check out our destination guide about Chamonix for more information.
Valley towns and villages
There are several other resort towns located in the Chamonix valley that you could consider as a cycling base also. Chamonix is the largest town in the valley and as such has the most services but villages such as Argentiere or Les Houches are also options.
Apart from lots of information about where to cycle in France we also have lots of information about traveling with a bike on planes to help you get to France.
- Bike box basics helping you select the best type – an article all about bike boxes designed to help make sure you source the right one for you.
- What you need to know about taking your bike on a plane – lots of helpful information about traveling with your bike on a plane based on our own experience. Make sure you are well prepared for your journey and know what to expect at the airport.
- Airline fees and charges for bikes – see our list of over 100 airlines and what each charge to bring your bike as luggage.
- Useful tips about using a cardboard bike box for air travel – lots of handy information about using a cardboard bike box for the first time including where to get one, how to prepare it, and how to pack your bike.
- Shipping a bike: learn how to get the best deal – you may decide that shipping your bike is a better option for you. Learn about how the whole process works and make sure you get the best deal in the process.
If you have any questions about where to base yourself in the French Alps please feel free to contact us at [email protected]