Riviera Gravel #7 – Mont Macaron
It was riding Mont Macaron that actually coined the name ‘Riviera Gravel’ because near the top of this ride, as you follow the contours of the mountain, you get treated to a balcony view of the Baie des Anges.
Seeing Nissa La Bella from the remote and isolated double-track gravel road is a privileged view and one that brought home the beauty and unique riding this network of unpaved roads provides.
It’s possible to climb Mont Macaron from either the east or the west side. The west side has more single carriageway paved sections, whereas the east side has more gravel. So we go east, on the Piste de Ciauric which is a mere 12km ride north from the Café. The trade-off is that the east side is much steeper. It starts in the Paillon valley near Pointe de Contes and the first 400m average 18%.
On the plus side, the steep gradient means you get elevation and therefore views relatively quickly. Look up and see if you can identify the peaks of Turini and, further west, the high ridgeline that forms the border with Italy. Closer up in the foreground, spot the perched villages of Contes and Berre-Les-Alpes.
Eventually, after its last set of steep hairpins, the Piste de Ciaurac joins the Route de Mont Macaron. This is the sweet spot of the ride. The gradient is easier, the views bigger, hell there's even a bit of downhill. The road points it's way south, towards that stunning view of Nice before it passes a farmstead and then hairpins right up towards the summit. Up ahead you can see the bigger brother, Mont Férion – another Riviera Gravel special that could be tackled after Macaron if you want to make yourself an epic day in the saddle.
At the top are the ancient ruins of the old medieval village of Châteauneuf. It's inhabitants had been pushed higher and higher to the safety of the top of the mountain when attacked. What is left of the buildings spark the imagination as the climb comes to an end.
Passing the main fortification the gravel turns to a broken tarmac descent at the bottom of which you arrive at the Col de Chateauneuf, a regular on the final stage of Paris-Nice. That's just what Riviera Gravel delivers - remote, mountainous gravel climbs and free-wheel descents back to town in the wheel tracks of pro-racers.