It's about time we let the secret out of the bag. Where We Ride has a second playground, a second cycling paradise, a second option to explore. Yes, the roads of l'arrière pays are mostly car-free, but if you really want to get away from it all, gravel is your friend.
So we are opening up another world and inviting you to come and adventure the Alpes-Maritimes via our gravel guide extraordinaire, starting with a surprisingly quick and close option.
This is Riviera Gravel.
To be able to climb a classic like Col d'Eze by gravel in a desk-escaping lunchtime ride is special. From the Café it's a climb-fest right out of the box but the fun starts almost immediately.
Mont Boron is five minutes away but its quiet roads and views of Villefranche bay make it an instant escape from the city. Instead of following the road we take the paths to get into adventure mode early. There are many different pistes cut between the trees in Mont Boron but it's a rocky outcrop so choose yours wisely (or follow our route via the link at the bottom of this page). This is the most fun way to arrive at the Col de Villefranche on the moyenne corniche that takes the traffic towards Eze village itself.
The route traverses the moyenne corniche at Col de Villefranche which sits at 149m. Taking the left towards Parc de Vinaigrier, there is gravel to be found in between the villas. It's alley-cat riding but not as you know it. To arrive at the actual parc, you must porter up a flight of stairs where you'll find a water fountain which can be helpful in the hot summer days.
The famous niçois writer, Louis Nucéra, wrote of the Parc du Vinaigrier, 'la Beauté qui se voulait éternelle' - the eternal beauty that we search for.
The tracks start on the west side of the mountain before a sharp right and steep climb as they cut their way through the terraced olive grove, past the bee keepers and towards the Eze Observatory. Apparently the parc is an Italian - Provençal combination born a long time ago whose beauty was deserving of protection and maintenance by the local authorities. A great start, in other words, to a challenging bike ride.
After dropping out on to the tarmac of the Grande Corniche, it's a quick liaison to the Col des Quatre Chemins and a left turn to find the Route Stratégique. This is the golden section of this ride. As it's name suggests, it's a military road leading to the forts that lie above. It hangs on to the northern side of Mont Leuze and the Plateau de la Justice and stretches for nearly 2.5km at an average gradient of 6%. That begins to bite as there is a flat section in the middle and the road gets steeper and rougher towards the finish.
But the beauty of this road is the sense of engineering that the outside wall gives, combined with the double-track gravel below which is nearly always without other people on it when you ride. And, of course, the view to the left of the higher mountains of the Mercantour National Park can inspire you to bigger longer rides.
To emerge from behind the Hôtel Hermitage and arrive at the Col brings a certain smug satisfaction. From here there are options. You can turn right and climb further up to the Plateau de la Justice and find another two kilometres of gravel round to the top Mont Leuze before the descent to Nice, with stunning views over the Baie des Anges.
Alternatively you can turn left and ride the road to La Turbie to add our next gravel climb to Fort de la Revère.