Words by Katherine Moore
Announce that you’re off to Morzine and images of snow-laden ski chalets and sparkling white pistes spring to mind, must be a winter break? If you think that snow is the only thing that this charming winter resort has to offer, you’d be very mistaken.
Nestled at the base of the mountain valley, basking in the sunshine through the summer months, Morzine is transformed into a paradise for cyclists of all denominations. Ski lifts double up as uplifts for mountain bikers who seek the incredible downhill and cross country trails that the mountains have to offer, whilst road cyclists search out the toughest cols to climb.
It’s no great surprise that the area is so well frequented by the Tour de France, as well as other races such as the Critérium du Dauphiné. Although typically shorter than the killer climbs further South in the Alps, this area boasts plenty of cols that are just as tough.
Conquering the cols
Here’s a taste of the best climbs from Morzine. You can opt for one or link up several for a day’s ride, depending on how far you’d like to go. Just remember that mountain miles are not like home miles - the terrain can make even a 20-mile spin into a big challenge!
Col de la Joux Verte
The Col de la Joux Verte is a 15km climb from Montriond, a village just next to Morzine, up to the ski resort of Avoriaz at 1800m. Although one of the longer climbs, it’s a great route for your first day to acclimatise, with the descent from Avoriaz over the other side of the climb into Morzine clocking up only 20 miles.
Highlights of this varied climb include passing the beautiful Montriond lake (more on this later) and the infamous Goat Village, Les Lindarets; no prizes for guessing why it’s so entertaining. The climb is relatively gentle at 6.5% average, although a 2km stint at 9% as you approach the Goat Village will test the legs. The official Col is at 1760m, not far from Avoriaz, but it’s worth continuing up to the ski resort to marvel at the unique architecture that the resort boasts.
Enjoy the hairpin-heavy descent down Route d’Avoriaz, and don’t be afraid to stop to take in the view of the chalet town of Morzine below as you look down the steep-sided mountain.
Col de la Joux Plane
The Tour famously climbs the Joux Plane from the South, rather than the ascent directly from Morzine. If you’d like to follow in the footsteps of the pros, head along the wide main road to Lets Gets, descend to Taninges and follow the flat valley bottom road to Samöens to start the climb.
It’s a 12km climb from Samöens with an average gradient of 8.5%; reaching the top is no mean feat. The hardest section is in the middle, with nearly two kilometres averaging over 10%, although you will be rewarded with spectacular views across to the mighty Mont Blanc on a clear day.
At the Col de la Joux Plane, take some time to admire the mountain-top lake and stop by the restaurant for a refuel. Be warned, there’s a little more climbing over the Col de Ranfolly before you enjoy the exhilarating descent back down into Morzine.
Col du Corbier
Heading out North of Morzine, there’s a 40-mile loop that takes in this 6km climb and also the smaller 4km Col de Grand Taillet. Col du Corbier starts with a kick off of the main road, and averages just over 8% as you twist up through the trees towards the top at 1237m.
To reach the Col du Grand Taillet, contour around the mountain on the slightly downhill lanes through Le Fion. In its short 4km, there are six hairpin bends to navigate, and although mostly a more gentle climb, up to 1035m. Descend through the picturesque La Forclaz and wind your way back up the valley to Morzine whilst taking in the cliffs of Les Gorges du Pont du Diable.
Col de la Ramaz
The Ramaz is another Alpine climb made famous by its inclusion in the Tour de France, most recently in 2016. At 1619m and after 14km of varying gradient, it’s a brilliantly brutal climb that’ll leave you feeling very accomplished but exhausted.
Starting from the village of Mieussy, the climb is a challenge from the off, leaving the chalets behind and heading for the wooded switchbacks. You’ll be surprised how quickly you gain height looking down into the valley below, with a climax at 9km as you pass through a short tunnel at a tough gradient of 10%.
With 4km left to climb, thankfully the finale to this infamous climb is much more forgiving, curving around the Sommand Plateau with impressive views of Mont Blanc before the final push to the summit.
Col de l’Encrenaz
Tucked away in a little village on the border of Morzine, this Col is an understated yet fantastic ride - just as challenging as the big cols yet brilliantly accessible for shorter rides closer to the base of Morzine.
Start the climb from the village of Essert-Romand, less than 4km from the centre of Morzine. The D328 immediately ramps up away from the village, as you tackle the seven hairpin bends. The 7km ascent varies from gentle plateaus to short 14% efforts, winding up through the forests and past beautiful wooden chalets.
The final km is at 9%, so you’ll be glad to find the little cafe at the top where you can have a refreshing drink, a revitalising espresso or one of their fantastic French omelettes!
Off the bike
There’s so much more to discover in Morzine aside from the awesome roads. The perfect conclusion to a hot and challenging ride is a trip to Montriond Lake. The wonderfully refreshing meltwater-fed lake and shallower bathing pool will also work wonders for your muscles, and is certainly more enjoyable than an ice bath!
If like the majority of cyclists, you neglect to stretch after your ride, now might be the ideal time to start a positive habit. Visit Lifecycol where yogi and personal trainer Amy Johnston will teach you a series of post-ride postures that are perfect for countering the unnatural positioning that we hold our bodies in for hours on the bike.
Do you usually start your cycle with a swim and end with a run? Morzine is a paradise for triathletes with options of open water or outdoor pool swimming, and plenty of trails to stride along. It’s no wonder that many top athletes choose to live and train out here in the summer months.
If you’re looking for something a little slower paced for your rest day, try a hike to the hidden Cascades de Nyon or the more challenging hike up to the Pointe de Ressachaux. There’s also paragliding and canyoning for the braver!
Where to refuel
Morzine has a diverse range of places to stop by for food and drink, from the larger French-style restaurants to tiny, niche coffee shops. Here are just a few to check out.
Satellite Coffee is a cute chalet-inspired modern outfit that serves wonderful speciality coffee. On hotter days you may opt for an iced tea or recovery milkshake instead, and there’s always great looking fresh and wholesome food on offer if you’re peckish.
For lounging in the sun, watching the paragliders or a quick round of crazy golf, head to Hotel le Beau-regard. With a huge bar and lounge area open all day along with ample outdoor seating on the edge of the town, it’s a great place to put your feet up.
If you’re looking to fill your jersey pockets before a long day in the saddle, there’s a humble little bakery at the bottom of the popular Rue du Bourg that goes by the name of Pomponnette. There’s a beautiful selection of pastries and gateaux on offer, as well as generously filled bagels and baguettes that are a great way to finish a ride.
Remember that the numerous water troughs both in the towns and alongside the mountain roads provide running water that is safe to drink, so take your opportunity when you see one and enjoy the ice-cold refreshment.
Time to plan your getaway?
The best time of year to visit Morzine with your pedals rather than skis is between June and September, to ensure that the passes will be open. Expect temperatures up to the low 30’s, with plenty of sunshine making the Factor 50 key on your packing list! The weather in the mountains can be highly changeable, so do pack a rain jacket just in case.
The Haute-Savoie region is perfect for your first taste of the Alps, with a huge range of cols to choose from, including shorter climbs as little as 4km to get into the swing of it. For more experienced riders, there are some very tough back roads to challenge even the strongest of legs!
Morzine provides the perfect base for exploring these incredible mountain roads in the Alps, with an array of great cafes, restaurants and bars to frequent after your hard day in the saddle. More than anything, it’s the people that make Morzine so fantastic - a community of adventure-seekers who have sought out the mountain lifestyle - and are eager to share it with you.
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