There is a ranch near the top of the Col de Vence: this fact will tell you a lot.
Yes, it may only be a venue for horse-trekking, but there are cattle that roam across this mountain, and of all the cols we ride from Nice, Vence is the driest and dustiest and most open. It is the furthest west, and therefore the furthest of our favourite climbs from the great spine of the Alps, divider of peoples, trapper of clouds that lifts itself between France and Italy.
The Col de Vence lies at 962m, above the bustling town of Vence and if you can tear your eyes off your stem in the final kilometres, you’ll have a great view of the Mediterranean from Italy to Cannes and beyond.
Riders appreciate this openness in winter, since it allows you to climb (and, more importantly, descend) almost all the way in the sun. In the summer the heat can become blinding and oppressive; do not forget to fill up with water at the fountain that marks the proper start of the climb on the outskirts of Vence.
It is said that Alberto Contador rode this 9.6km stretch, which rises 630m and averages 6%, in less 24 minutes. Strava times for local pros including the Café’s friend, Ian Boswell, suggest this is highly possible. Mere mortals who do it in less than 35 should count themselves lucky.
It may be the baking heat, or the exhaustion of the climb, but strange things are reputed to go on at the top of the Col de Vence.
It is, according to devotees of the disputed science of ufology. Strange anomalies, objects flying at high speed, unexplained lights, all have been witnessed from the Col, or on the plateau, though one of the most recent – the so called ‘Jellyfish of the Colle de Pouis’ – was proven to be a fake.
Behind the Col de Vence is the Plateau de Saint Barnabé. For those on the Ironman Nice Triathlon this means the end is almost in sight. After one more short climb, a stunning road dips down towards the Esteron valley and back towards the Var and the Promenade finish line in Nice.
For cyclotourists of a more contemplative nature, it is the entrance to a high plateau of farms and perched villages basking in the sun, many offering cafés to tempt you to stop to enjoy the scenery. You may also tempted to stay on the lower slopes, which were a famous hotspot for artists during the 20th century.
La Colombe d’Or restaurant in nearby Saint Paul de Vence used to exchange its cuisine for artworks from those in the area.