RIDE OF THE MONTH: An Escape to the Monts d’Azur

Without doubt, some of us have the time and necessary skill level to complete this route in its entirety, starting from the Port of Nice. Personally, I decided to take the train to reach Grasse, taking in the nice beachside journey, and getting away from the surge of cars still clogging up the coastal roads in early autumn.

Grasse station, in the perfume capital, is my starting point at precisely 212m in altitude. The road which takes me to Saint Vallier de Thiey goes through the old town before reaching the heights of the town. 300 metres of elevation gain separates the low parts and high parts. That’s to say that, leaving Grasse, I can already feel it in my legs.

Saint Vallier de Thiey can be reached in a little under one and a half hours. In the village square, the bust of Napoleon and the bench on which he sat is a reminder of his return journey from the Island of Elba on March 2nd, 1815. Fans of his will appreciate it. The road that climbs up to Ferrier is a cyclist’s dream. The big hairpin turns, which dominate the bottom of the Napoléon road where I just came from, offer stunning views out to sea and tempt me to take a quick break – a photo here is a must.

After climbing the col, I enter into the Préalpes d’Azur park, and, as I continue to climb, I eat up the miles to get to the col of Castellaras quickly. 35km and a little over 1300m of elevation gain are now between me and my starting point. Passing over the Thorenc plateau is like changing worlds, an amazing surprise is waiting for me.

The Monts d’Azur nature reserve stretches over 700 hectares, and its purpose is to reintroduce ancient and remarkable species of flora and fauna, dating from the Neolithic Era. All of these species (mammals, birds, insects, fish etc.) live alongside each other in total freedom. From the road which runs along the reserve you will certainly see bison, wild horses, stag, deer, elk and boar. The reserve is an exceptional model of a ‘rewilding’ experiment, an initiative which makes sense for lovers of unspoilt nature and protected areas. You would have to come back without your bike to really profit from a full day, or even night here, which would make for an unparalleled experience.

Along the plateau which leads to Gréolières, a little ski resort in the back country of Nice, I find myself going at a quick pace. Boosted by a current of hot air and the abundance of vegetation surrounding me, the feeling of freedom is crazy! And when I arrive on a magical road on the side of the mountain, strewn with tunnels carved into the rock, I tell myself that what I’m experiencing is absolutely extraordinary. The scenery changes every 10km and so I am plunged into new atmospheres, each one as unique and as thrilling as the next.

The end of my route follows the Loup river. From the gorge to larger riverbeds in the valley, the river eventually flows into the sea. I follow it until its end, and, like the river, I join up with the Mediterranean Sea at Cagnes sur Mer.

The river’s course stops here, but mine finishes another dozen kilometres further along, past the Promenade des Anglais, and, finally, into the Port of Nice.