Between the sparkling blue of the Cote d’Azur and the mountains of the Alpes Maritime lies glamourous Nice. Second only to Paris in terms of its desirability as a tourist destination it is also a haven for cyclists.
Just a few kilometres inland, away from the luxury of the coastline, you will find challenging climbs and deserted roads. The mountains may not be as high as the Alps but this makes them accessible virtually all year round, the warm Mediterranean keeping the area a temperate climate consistent.
There are myriads of mountain roads from the well-known such as Col de Madone to the lesser and arguably more dramatic such as the Col de Braus or Col de Turini. You don’t have to ride far from Nice to find yourself on sinuous mountain roads, with stunning views and just a pine-scented whisper in the air.
Nice is easily accessible with multiple daily flights from most UK airports. With the airport itself virtually in the town, you can collect your hire bike and be pedalling within an hour of touching down. Nice has some of the best road riding in the world but what makes it fun for a weekend is the contrast, you can cruise along the corniche road toward Monaco and check out the superyachts or head up into the hills to quaint perched villages. A short 50km ride will bag you some decent climbing and with a longer day out you can really challenge yourself, or even pop into Italy for gelato.
How to get there
Nice is accessible from every major UK airport. British Airways has direct, year-round flights out of Heathrow, Gatwick and London City. You can get a very early Monday morning flight into London airports so going straight to work is a possibility if you want to maximize time away!
EasyJet flies to Nice from London Gatwick, Stansted and Luton all year round and they also fly from regional airports Bristol, Newcastle, Liverpool and Edinburgh. Fight times are around 2 hours making it possible to leave from work and get into Nice in time for a Friday night drink.
The airport is six kilometres from the city centre and is stuck out in the sea, a dramatic steep approach across the Bay of Angels can make you feel you are going to land on water. A tram service from the airport is under construction but until then there are regular bus services. If you are really keen you can get a velobleu hire bike at the airport and follow the cycle path allow the beach side to the Promenade des Anglais and Nice old town.
Thanks to the warming Mediterranean Sea temperatures seldom reach below 10 degrees so near to the coastline so comfortable for cycling all year round. Head into the Alpes Maritime behind Nice and you will find the winter months cold with a possibility of snow and ice. In the summer months, you’ll enjoy all the hot weather and warm sea swim you’d expect from the glamorous Côte d’Azur.
Cafe du Cycliste offer premium bikes to hire from Officine Mattio and hand built steel bikes from Victoire from their café in the Old Port area of Nice.
France Bike Rentals have a fleet based in Nice, as well as other areas across Provence, with prices starting at €60 per day for an Ultegra equipped Trek Emonda.
FBR is a French company affiliated with La Route Du Ventoux, a full-service bike shop in Bedoin about 45 km east of Avignon on the south side of Mt Ventoux. The owners of La Route du Ventoux, Jean-Michel Hurter and Jean Bouchard are part owners of FBR. The third partner in FBR is Canadian Michelle Gaghagan who has lived in Provence for several years. All of the partners are keen road cyclists happy to offer technical assistance or suggest routes to help you make the most of your visit.
Hotels and guest houses in France are very accommodating to cyclists, though there are, of course, exceptions!
Look for hotels displaying the Accueil Velo sign to say cyclists are welcome. Nice is a huge city so there is plenty of accommodation to suit most budgets. Cycle paths lead you from the busy Old Town to the quieter surrounding regions so you can easily combine great day time riding with some lively culture, day and night. However, for a more peaceful vibe, stunning scenery and to be in the heart of the best cycling check out Vence, a 20-30minute cab ride from the airport.
Where to ride
From Nice, you can take your pick on climbs, but there are a couple of headline acts you shouldn’t miss out. Col de La Madone is a challenging climb in its own right, a well-known testing ground for pro-riders past and present, but also a gateway Col to a myriad of other climbs and routes in the Alpes Maritimes.
Whether doing it on the way to a full day in the saddle, as a performance test or just to sample a little of what the Cote d’Azur offers you want to make sure this is in your itinerary. For purists the full climbing experience starts at the beachfront in Menton, according to Cafe du Cycliste's Strava segment this gives you 7.35 miles/13.35km of climbing at an average gradient of 7%, giving you 920m of ascent from sea level.
"Some roads are so stunningly engineered they outshine the natural beauty around them"
Slightly further inland is Col de Braus, a quiet road that epitomizes this area with its occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean as it winds its way through olive groves, the warm air carrying the waft of sun-warmed pine trees. Hairpins are heaped one on top of another with a particularly stingy 15% section near to the top. Its summit tips you over the 1000m marker by a mere 2m.
Travel deeper inland and the roads become more deserted, the cols higher and the views more dramatic. Some roads are so stunningly engineered they outshine the natural beauty around them and Col de Turini is one of those climbs. Only an aerial shot can really capture its magnificence; a sinuous line of elegant curves, perfectly formed 180-degree hairpins and white stone walls rippling across the green forest. It’s beautiful to climb, 25km long at a mere 5% gradient, its seemingly endless curves draw you up to its summit at 1604m. From Nice, it is a long, but very rewarding, day on the bike.
Regardless of what else you do whilst in Nice make sure you have time for a visit to, Cafe du Cycliste in the Old Port area of town. Purveyors of high-quality cycle clothing, with a certain Je ne sais quois they have created a shop and café that embodies the cycling style of the Cote d’Azur. From the bike rack outside to the fantastic coffee and cake this whole space is dedicated to cyclists and their needs. You will be able to browse the collection of clothes, get ideas for routes, hire a bike or get expert mechanical help as needed.
Post-Ride hang out
Wayne’s Bar is one of those ‘so bad it's good’ kind of places. Normally filled with students and back-packers it has been known to welcome English speaking pro riders looking for a night-off from their clean living regime.
You can spot a few jerseys on the wall in amongst the rock memorabilia and retro décor. The burgers are big and dirty and if the mood is right sweaty dancing on the tables ensues to all the best euro-pop and guilty favourites. If you are looking for a more sophisticated evening then try Oliviera in the old town, focused on slow food made with care and attention. Be sure to try their tasting menu of olive oils.
So, what are you waiting for?
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