2022 France Italy

Maritime Alps & Vosges

This is the report of the mountain bike rides (and some hikes) Rudi and I are taking in France and Italy in the summer of 2022. Partly we do so on old military roads, high in the mountains. In seven cycling days we ride some 420 kilometers and ascend 12,300 meters.


The plan was to ride on our mountain bikes in the Maritime Alps for two to three weeks, staying overnight in hotels and mountain huts. But I’ve been recovering from a nasty hip and back injury for over a year now, have occasional wrist problems, and recently a painful bursitis in my elbow. In short, a challenging cycling vacation is unfortunately not feasible. Our plan now is to make day trips from some fixed locations. After a long drive, during which we even reach the Mediterranean coast, we arrive at the municipal campground in Tende.

Day 1: Hike Tende

On this first day we will go for a hike. Through the narrow streets, alleys and tunnels of Tende (815 m) we walk to the cemetery. After this, we will climb further on a steep path to the cliff west of the town. On top is the small Chapelle Saint-Sauveur. From here we have a nice view. We continue uphill until we reach the highest point at about 1,500 meters. This is followed by a rather boring descent through the forest.

Day 2: Tende > Col de Tende > Vallon de Casterino > Tende (61 km)

Today we cycle up the Col de Tende. We fill our backpacks with fresh bread from Boulangerie des Merveilles and set off. We saw it the day before yesterday in the car, and now again: everywhere in the Vallée de la Roya people are doing road construction work. The floods in October 2020 caused a lot of damage to the road infrastructure between Breil-sur-Roya and the Tunnel de Tende. The repair work is expected to take years.

The partly unpaved pass road is easy and, thanks to the many hairpin turns, quite varied. At the top of the Col de Tende (1,871 m) it is crowded with day tourists who have come up by car from the Italian side. We drive around the impressive fortifications. From the pass height, military roads continue east and west into the mountains. We save the eastern one, the Via del Sala, for later this week.

We cycle to the west on the Italian side to the Fort de Giaure: a nice climb with a great view of the Rocca dell’Abisso. We get stranded a few hundred vertical meters below the summit on a steep footpath with loose boulders. We turn around, descend again to the pass height and take a jeep track on the French side toward the Ancienne caserne de Peïrefique. The view of the many hairpin turns of the Col de Tende reminds me of the Portachuelo de Llanganuco in Peru (see report Peru 2017, day 8).

We continue to climb further to the Baisse de Peyrefique (2,040 m) and then descend on a scenic road to the rugged Vallon de Casterino. Meanwhile, we ride through an old tunnel and pass a bridge over a waterfall. Also in this beautiful tributary valley of the Roya, road repairs are underway in several locations. From Saint-Dalmas-de-Tende it is still a few kilometers false flat to Tende, after which we reach the campground.

Day 3: Hike Tende

The weather forecast is not looking good. Therefore, today we will go hiking. We do so from the campground. We first walk a few kilometers on a paved road along the mountain stream Réfréi to an old quarry, and then continue on a jeep track to the hamlet of Granges de la Pia (900 m). Traces of the landslides are still visible in this valley as well.

We climb to a strategically located, old bunker complex located at about 1,350 m in a distinctive mountain. It is accessible through two entrances and it is pitch black. After a short descent, we climb back up on the other side of the stream to a mountainside from where we have a beautiful view of the valley. It starts raining quite hard so we descend as quickly as possible to the campsite.

Day 4: Hike Tende

Due to my physical discomforts, I prefer a hiking day between biking days. Hopefully this will help with my recovery. I stroll a bit down the main valley and through the many alleys and stairways of Tende. Rudi cycles up and down to the Col de Tende.

Day 5: Tende > La Brigue > Via del Sale > Tende (88 km)

Today we are finally going to do what we rode all the way to the south of France for: the Via del Sale. The name refers to one of the salt routes along which, during the 14th and 15th centuries, salt was transported from Nice by mule over the mountain ridges to Turin. Later, military fortifications were built in some places, especially at the Col de Tende.

There are several ways to get to this ridge. We do so from the charming town of La Brigue (750 m), located a few kilometers southeast of Tende. At the Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Fontaines, we leave the paved road and continue on a jeep track. This approach is quite steep only between 1,300 and 1,500 m altitude, and otherwise perfectly doable. Also, the road is virtually traffic-free; only the occasional jeep or motorcyclist passes by.

After covering an elevation difference of almost a kilometer, we reach the ridge at the Baisse de Sanson (1,700 m). From here on, the road surface suddenly gets a lot worse: we bump over boulders and more boulders for kilometers. This is not funny. At first we cycle mostly on the French side of the ridge, and then whole stretches on the Italian side. After the toll station (Stazione Ingresso Via Del Sale), where motorists have to pay 20 euros and motorcyclists 15 euros, the road surface improves.

Turning around a ridge at the Passo di Framargal (2,200 m), we suddenly arrive in the beautiful Valle dei Maes. All the way to the Col de Tende, the stony landscape has wonderful shapes. Just before the Rifugio Don Barbera (2,070 m) we encounter a flock of sheep, and later we pause when a herd of cows blocks the road. From the famous Tornante della Boaria (2,100 m) we look far into Italy, and see Monviso (3,841 m) in the distance. After a well-deserved descent, we get pizza.

Day 6: Travel day

Since the Tunnel de Tende has been closed for several years, we travel by car on the narrow and partly unpaved pass road to Italy. Each driving direction has 15 minutes every two hours to begin the trip. So you drive up in a caravan. The turns are often steep, and twice I have to take an extra turn to avoid driving into the gutter or abyss. At the top of the Col de Tende, we descend on a narrow, paved road on which many cars with day tourists drive up.

Mid-afternoon we arrive at the Valle Maira campground. This campground is not too large, with flat, unnumbered spots and good grass, spots between trees or in the sun, situated by a mountain stream (nice to sleep by), and with relatively many people with a tent. They bake delicious fresh bread themselves. The toilet, shower and dishwashing facilities are neat. There is a climbing park and large lawn where you can play soccer and frisbee. A top campsite!

Day 7: Camping > San Damiano > Colle Sampeyre > Camping (64 km)

From the campground we first descend quite a while through the Valle Maira to the town of San Damiano. There we turn left into the side valley. After one kilometer there is a junction: on the right is the main road and on the left a narrow road. We go for the narrow road, which goes through the forest and along a stream, and at one point becomes quite steep: 15 to 20%. Fortunately, we cycle in the shade.

After a sharp right turn, the road becomes unpaved. A few kilometers later we reach the hamlet of Fracchie, and continue through a forest on a very bad dirt trail full of boulders. After a few kilometers, the jeep track turns into a trail that is surprisingly good to cycle on. In the village of Serre are houses with slate roofs and a little church. Here we have a nice view through the entire side valley. Because of the bad road surface, we are already quite tired, even though we still have a thousand meters of climbing ahead of us today.

After another two hundred meters of ascent, we finally reach the old military road that runs from the Po Valley all the way past Colle Sampeyre. On the map this track looks easy, but the many boulders make it tough to cycle. Occasionally people on mountain bikes, motorcycles or toy cars pass by. Once we are above the tree line on the ridge, we are rewarded with beautiful views to the south and southeast. Further on, we see beautiful rock formations to the southwest and threatening clouds over the mountains to the west.

On top of the Col de Sampeyre (2,274 m) Rudi takes a picture of a work of art made of steel. Then we descend. It is a narrow, winding road from which we descend a lot faster than the day tourists in their cars. Occasionally there is a very nice view of high, steep cliffs. After a nice descent, we chill out at the campsite.

Day 8: Hike Monte Bert

Today we will go hiking. We drive up towards Marmora and park the car a few kilometers after the village of Preit. We ascend six hundred meters and arrive just before Lago Nero on a kind of plateau. From there we climb another hundred meters to Monte Bert (2,394 m). From the summit we have a beautiful 360-degree view. We descend and reach the car after only eleven kilometers of walking.

Day 9: Villar > Colle di Bellino > Villar (33 km)

First we drive westward by car to Vilar (1,380 m), the first village after Acceglio. From the parking lot we cycle on asphalt for several kilometers steeply up (15%) to the north. At about 1,600 meters altitude the road surface deteriorates. After five kilometers we definitely continue on the unpaved, old military road, which by the way is nowhere steep or difficult until the summit.

From the col, called La Colletta (2,850 m), we cycle a little further to an old military barrack. This used to be a base of operations for the soldiers manning the bunkers in the area. You can walk inside the building, but there is nothing interesting to see. In the background, clouds rise on one side against the mountain ridge; a beautiful sight.

We move on again. The mountain bike trail actually leads from La Colletta to the top of Monte Bellino (2,937 m). However, that trail doesn’t look so rideable. Also, I don’t want to put unnecessary strain on my aching elbow. So we traverse a narrow path to the Colle di Bellino with the bikes on our arms. In the middle of a stony slope, we pass an old bunker whose four walls have fallen outward.

After a short climb, we reach the pass height (2,795 m). The view of the rugged mountains is phenomenal.

The technical descent that follows is doable for experienced mountain bikers, but quite challenging for us. We regularly walk with the bike in hand. It’s not until we reach the cattle gathering site at Grangia Nicolina that we rejoin a jeep track. The Rocca Croce Provenzale (2,402 m) literally and figuratively towers above the mountain pasture here. The descent to the starting point is easy from this point on.

Day 10: Day of rest

The weather is beautiful today, but I nevertheless take a rest day. Yesterday from carrying the bike I got a sore tendon near the right knee and also my right elbow continues to irritate. In that case a day of doing nothing is probably best. Rudi cycles up the Colle Sampeyre again to get some exercise.

Day 11: Camping > Rifugio Gardetta > Colle Valcavera > Camping (55 km)

From the campground we cycle a short distance to Ponte Marmora, and turn left to the south. With gradients of up to 15% it is quite challenging. A tendon in my right knee hurts me and I take it easy. At Marmora we turn right to the Colle del Preit. Now and then we have to push hard. Fortunately, the pain slowly subsides. The narrow road up to the col is open to cars, but it is not busy.

On top of the Colle del Preit (2,080 m) we reach a wide plateau where several jeep tracks run across. We cycle further west on a reasonably good road, on which front-wheel-driven cars sometimes plow. We order Apfelstrudel and coffee at Rifugio Gardetta (2,335 m). No motorized traffic is allowed here. Without the irritating roar of motorcycles, it is pleasant here in the sunshine.

From the rifugio we climb eastward again. We have continuous views of the imposing peak Rocca la Meja (2,832 m). It is very varied cycling here. We see an Italian father on a gravel bike pulling his son on a mountain bike on a steeper section with a rope. This is much cooler than the many cyclists on e-mtb’s being “pushed” uphill.

At one point we arrive at some old military buildings: the Caserma Della Bandia (2,405 m). At the Colle Valcavera (2,416 m) we reach the asphalt and enter yet another valley with patches of clouds. From here a road goes down to Demonte. We turn left to the Colle Fauniera (2,481 m), where a memorial to “pirate” Marco Pantani is located, and then the Colle d’Esischie (2,368 m). After this we descend on an irregular road to the campsite.

Day 12: Hike Celle Macra

Because of the expected bad weather, today we take a short hike in a side valley about a 20-minute drive from the campground. We walk among the tiny villages on the eastern slope of the valley, each with old houses, a church, a water tap and a bulletin board. Meanwhile, we watch a tiny cloud grow into a huge thundercloud. When we return to the campsite at 2 p.m. it begins to rain. We pass the day until we can get pizza at 7 p.m., enjoy the beautiful evening sky for a while and go to bed early.

Day 13-16: Vosges region

The next day we drive to the Vosges region. From the large Camping du Schlossberg (500 m) near Kruth, we will make several bike tours in the immediate area: one to the west (56 km) and one to the east (65 km). After the beautiful Maritime Alps, the Vosges region is quite boring. The highlights are cycling in thunderstorms, having lunch at Les Délices de Cornimont bakery and eating steamy pizza in the car.


– Day 2: Tende > Col de Tende > … > Tende (61 km; 1.700 meters elevation gain)
– Day 5: Tende > La Brigue > Via del Sale > Tende (88 km; 2.300 m)
– Day 7: Camping > San Damiano > … > Camping (64 km; 2.200 m)
– Day 9: Villar > Colle di Bellino > Villar (33 km; 1.460 m)
– Day 11: Camping > Rifugio Gardetta > … > Camping (55 km; 1.700 m)
– Day 14: Vosges trip to the west (56 km; 1.500 m)
– Day 16: Vosges trip to the east (65 km; 1.640 m)

2012 France

Climbing on Corsica

This is the report of our cycling trip on Corsica in April 2012. The trip takes us along the rugged west coast, over high roads and through deep gorges. Early in the season, the snowy peaks of the central mountain range are always in sight. In one week, Rudi and I cycle about 650 kilometers and climb 11,600 meters.

Day 1: Ajaccio > Porto (90 km)

From the campsite in Ajaccio we follow the wide and not too difficult D61 and later the D81 to the north. On top of the Bocca San Bastiano (400 m) we see for the first time the snowy peaks of the central mountain range that spans the island from northwest to southeast. We turn left and reach the coast at Pevani via a narrow road, where the waves are crashing against the rocks. At Ancone we have lunch on the sandy beach, where several people are sunbathing.

Between Sagone and Cargèse lies the beautiful Gulf of Sagone. We climb 500 meters through pristine hills to the Bocca di San Martino where we enjoy a beautiful view to the west. Piana is situated magnificently on top of a hill. The Golfe de Porto, snowy mountains and the steep rock formations rising from the sea called Calanches: all of this concentrated in one setting, illuminated by the evening sun. In Porto we find a nice spot on the almost deserted village campsite.

Day 2: Porto > Calvi (83 km)

We continue our route northwards on the D81. The road is well constructed: we climb at a constant gradient along the coast, with occasionally deep ravines on our left side. For a long time we have a beautiful view of the Golfe de Girolata with behind it Scandola, a peninsula that rises steeply from the sea. One can only get there on foot or by boat. At the Col de Parmarella we say goodbye to this exceptional area and descend 400 meters.

Just before Galéria we take the D81 bis, a road with a bad surface until the Bocca Bassa bar. The landscape has been a bit boring for some time now. That changes at the Baie Nichiareto: up to Calvi there are beautiful mountains and rugged coasts, nicely situated in the evening sun. In Calvi we first cycle to the citadel, from where we can look out on the snowy peaks in the southeast. After a snack we settle down on the municipal camping where we try to hide from the fierce wind.

Day 3: Calvi > St. Florent (108 km)

After a few kilometers on the busy N197 we continue on the D451. For a long time this road goes up at a mild gradient towards the hills, and once there suddenly via some steep (10-15%) hairpin bends to the strategically located Montemaggiore. The view from the D71 on Calvi, the villages on top of the hills and the clear blue sea in the background is great.

The road stays at approximately the same altitude from Cateri for a long time and leads through and past small villages that seem to be glued to the mountains. Via the narrow D663 we reach Speloncato. From this village the D63 leads steeply (8-13% with peaks towards the 20%) up to the Groce d’Olu (1,100 m). Here we enjoy the spectacular views, from the lighthouse behind Calvi all the way to the extreme end of Cap Corse.

On top of the pass road we order coke at a restaurant. I ask the host if the track to the northeast, which is marked with a dashed line on our map, is feasible, and he answers ‘Tout neuf!’. In reality it turns out to be a bad jeep track, but with its 360 degree view it is the icing on the cake. After having bounced down 400 meters, we take the D963 for a while and then descend further east on the N197.

After five kilometers on the N197 we turn left and reach Novella via a road along a railway line. What follows is a grandiose descent over a narrow, winding and recently asphalted chemin communal to the north, right through a green and completely deserted area. We cross the N1197 and at dusk we reach the port of St. Florent via the beautiful Désert des Agriates.

Day 4: St. Florent > Francardo (72 km)

In the middle of the night, the wind from the west becomes very strong. Not continuously, but with gusts. At first, we hear a rising sound, followed by strong gusts of wind that put the new tent to the test. In the morning, the wind has become even stronger while the mountains on the Cap Corse are shrouded in ominous air. That doesn’t bode well. We had in mind to do a tour du Cap Corse, but instead we decide to skip the Cap and head south.

Via the narrow D238 we go to Oletta. It is only a few kilometers out of the coast but the weather improves noticeably. We climb steadily over the D38 to the Col de Bigorno (885 m). Like most mountain roads on Corsica, this road has a moderate gradient of 4 to 5%. In front of us the picturesque village of Lento is bathing in sunlight, where we arrive after several sharp hairpins. It’s very beautiful here.

Next we take the D105, which runs via Canavaggia to Ponte Leccia. This is a wonderful, elevated road, with continuously offers views of the snow-topped mountains in Corsica’s central area. After about twelve kilometers we descend via a beautiful series of hairpin bends. After riding south on the wide N193 for a while, we stop at the Francardo natural campsite.

Day 5: Francardo > Corte (100 km)

Normally, cycling from Francardo to Corte would only take 45 minutes. However, today we want to make a detour. Now that we are here, we head for the Col de Vergio, the highest through pass on the island. After a few kilometers the Scala di Santa Regina starts, an increasingly narrow gorge with rugged mountains on both sides, and in the middle the mountain stream Le Gelo.

When we arrive at the reservoir, we sit on a bench in front of the supermarket and have lunch when suddenly three cows are walking on the street and in between the cars. On Corsica, straying cows and wild boars on the road are quite normal. About the pass that follows: Rudi is enthusiastic about it, but I don’t really like it. Not the twenty kilometers of false flat to the pass height, nor the wide road from the tiny ski resort.

From the Col de Vergio (1,477 m) we quickly go back along the reservoir and through the Regina gorge, and turn right at Ponte Costirla to Corte. After 300 meters of climbing, we have a magnificent view of the mountains that rise behind Corte. The evening sun illuminates the meadows and orchards in an astonishing way. Corte itself is a nice old university town with a castle on top of a rocky peak. After some searching and climbing, we find a nice campsite northwest of the city.

Day 6: Corte > Tattone (60 km)

This morning we will visit the ‘star attraction’ Valle de Restonica. This turns out to be a beautiful road: varied, with many bends, through forests, and with steep mountains around us and snowy peaks in the distance. The first part up to the bridge is at a moderate gradient (5 to 10%), while the second part is narrower and much steeper (9 to 15%).

From the end point (1,382 m) we return to Corte and then continue southwards. Where possible we avoid the wide and busy N193; we cut off at Botro and Santo-Pietro-di-Venaco (and gain considerably extra height). After a long descent to Pont du Vecchio there’s a climb to Vivario where motorists drive very fast. We’re not allowed to stand at Camping du Soleil near Tattone, because it doesn’t open until a few days later. We find refuge a bit further on, on a deserted campsite next to the railway line.

Day 7: Tattone > Capitoro (117 km)

From the abandoned campsite we immediately climb (15 to 20%) to the N193, and from there on to the Col de Sorba (1,250 m). This road is quite nicely constructed with hairpin bends in the upper part, but it’s a pity that track drills are making the entire pass road a few meters wider. While Rudi is performing an interval training today, I have my own troubles. Actually, I always have something to complain about: one day it’s saddle pain or cramps, and the other day itching in my eyes. And today it’s coping with the heat.

There is no shop in Ghisoni, so we have a sandwich at some bar. The owner asks where we come from. When he hears ‘The Netherlands’, he immediately shouts ‘Johnny Rep, captain of the FC Bastia!’ I don’t know Johnny Rep, and have no interest in football… After this, the Col de Verde (1,289 m) follows. This one is a lot more boring than the previous one and the views of the surrounding landscape are not inspiring as well. We descend quickly to Cozzaro, where we take the D757 to Grosseto. This is quite a nice road, except for the last, wide stretch to the Col de Granace (865 m).

In the intended finish town of Grossetto there appears to be no camping site, and it’s already 6.50 pm. We decide to cycle another 35 kilometers to a campsite at the coast. We go via Albitreccia to the Bosca d’Aja di Bastiano. Especially the last seven kilometers of the D55 are very beautiful. Then we turn right and continue on the D302 in the direction of Ajaccio. This is the ultimate descent: continuous 5% on a curved road. Near the campsite and just before sunset we enjoy a beautiful view of the Golfe d’Ajaccio.