Café du Cycliste’s guide to riding in Nice and the Côte d’Azur
Nice, the home of Café du Cycliste, is a great base for exploring the Côte d'Azur and the Alpes Maritimes region. The city has a beach, world-class art galleries and hundreds of bars and restaurants, and it's easy to get out onto quiet scenic roads that will keep you exploring for weeks.
Although it's the fifth-biggest city in France, it's easy to get in and out of Nice by bike, thanks to the seafront road and cycle path to the south and the hills to the north. If you want to climb out of town the quickest escape routes are via the Boulevard de la Madeleine or the Col de Bast.
Also on the map is a selection of bike shops, including places to hire good road bikes. The city traffic can be hectic, but once you're on country roads, drivers are generally considerate, and the Tarmac is good. There are cafés and boulangeries in most villages, and many also have water fountains – we've included some on the map.
Nice airport is well connected to Paris, London, Barcelona, Berlin and many other European airports by low-cost airlines.
There are also TGV trains to take you to Marseille, Paris and even one or two to Lille, making it easy to travel to Nice from London by train in a day.
Airport Information: http://www.nice.aeroport.fr
Train Information: http://www.voyages-sncf.com/
Nice benefits from around 300 days of sun each year, and though winters seem to be getting rainier, it means that temperatures stay mild for year-round riding. However, even if it is 15C and warm on the promenade it can be really cold in the hills in the winter. If you do head inland, wrap up warm.
The summers are, on the other hand, really very hot. If you are riding in July and August, think about starting early and finishing before the sun gets hot around 10am. And don’t forget to use good sweatproof sunblock!
The perfect riding seasons are Spring and Autumn. Mid September to late October is usually a particularly pleasant and settled time.
Routes along the coast are generally the flattest and easiest in the area. Take a relaxing spin along the Promenade des Anglais on the piste cyclable, the cycle path, past the airport towards Antibes and Cannes, or the dipping, diving Basse Corniche, the road towards Monaco, to have a coffee in Italy. You rarely lose sight of the sea, so take sunglasses, and there are plenty of cafés to stop at. In the winter most local riders stick to these roads, to stay out of the unpredictable weather up in the hills.
In the summer, the vast majority of tourists stay by seaside and the traffic can be bad, so most riders prefer to avoid these roads or only use them on short connecting sections.
The first ripple of hills north of the coast aren't as large as the Southern Alps behind them, but they're brilliant riding country. Behind Nice you'll find medieval villages perchés, on lofty crags high above the dramatic scenery, while further west, high above Cannes, there are river gorges, expensive movie-star villas and forested hills. The options are endless, the roads are well maintained and there aren't any really long descents, meaning that if you pick your weather carefully you can ride in the hills all year round. The hills are much quieter than the seaside and are what make the riding so special and diverse here – and don’t be misled by the name “hills”: they can reach 900 meters so it is all relative. Long rides can become epic as you will be climbing constantly.
The Côte d'Azur is where the Alps dip their toes into the Mediterranean Sea, and the remote, at times snow-covered passes of the Alpes Maritimes offer breathtaking scenery and amazing, deserted mountain roads that are accessible in a day’s ride from Nice. Ride straight from town and you can loop around over cols over 1,600m in height; take a short car trip north and you can ride the highest paved road in Europe (the 2,802m Cime de la Bonette) and be back on the promenade in time for cocktails. Even experienced riders must always take care in high mountains, as the climbs and descents can be challenging and the weather capricious. A rain jacket or gilet, food and water, money and a phone are essential items at all times of year. Most climbs can usually be ridden from April to November, and some can even be fun on a sunny winter’s day.