This is a big ride on some of the Côte d’Azur’s best roads.
Col de Braus is the best-known highlight: it regularly features as one of the most beautiful climbs in France, thanks largely to the much-photographed, neatly stacked lacets seen in the photograph above. You’ll be descending these on this route (if you fancy climbing them, check out our Col de Turini route which uses Braus as a warm-up).
On a quiet morning out of season, Basse Corniche has to be one of the most gorgeous roads you’ll ever ride. It takes you from Nice through the French Riveria’s famous seaside resorts: Villefranche-sur-Mer, Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, Beaulieu-sur-Mer and Menton. The road hugs the cliffs that stretch up to the sky. The views are out over an emerald sea, grand villas and glossy, sparkling yachts. You’ll want to keep stopping for photos, which can make progress slow!
A couple of things to note. This ride involves a border crossing between France and Italy. Read more about this (and passport requirements), below. Also, if you fancy Basse Corniche but aren’t so keen on too much climbing, consider an out and back to Ventimiglia; it’s a fantastic road!
* We suspect this figure is not reliable; our Garmin gave a reading of around 2,000 m.
Route map and profile
Distance: 111 km
Elevation Gain: 2,930 m*
All metrics in this guide are approximate
* We suspect this figure is not reliable; our Garmin gave a reading of around 2,000 m.
Our highlights are probably obvious from the above! Col de Braus’s hairpins and the winding Basse Corniche coast road are both stunning.
We also loved crossing the border from Italy to France high in the mountains on the tiny road to Sospel.
As you descend to l'Escarene, you get some fantastic views of switchbacks on the Col de Braus.
1. Nice to Ventimiglia (via Basse Corniche): 0-42 km
You roll out of town, past Nice’s impressive marina on the Basse Corniche, with awesome views of the bay of Villefranche and the peninsula of Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
After Eze-Bord-de-Mer, take the slip road to the right just before the tunnel to detour on a small residential road. Don’t worry, plenty of tunnels to come!
At Cap d’Ail turn left and climb a little to detour above Monaco, unless you want drop in to Monte Carlo and rejoin the route at Beausoleil (and if you do, beware the traffic in Monte Carlo during rush hour).
Following the route you climb high above the famous city and the port, looping round to ride the length of the stunning coastline at Menton.
Very quickly afterwards you roll across the border to Italy so quickly you might miss it - a masterpiece of the Schengen Agreement.
In Ventimiglia, it’s worth a quick detour along the seafront or to the old town. Every Friday a street market is held along the front, and several decades ago this was the starting point for our obsession with good pistachio ice-cream...
2. Ventimiglia to Sospel: 42 - 68 km
When you’re ready to move on, head north on the east side of the wide river Roya. Our route avoids the busy flyover to the E80 motorway, by taking the small parallel side-road off the roundabout at the end of the bridge.
After climbing up the valley, a lit tunnel of well over 2km long transports you from the wide industrial valley to a beautiful narrow road, through rocky crags. After 3km you turn off sharply left towards Olivetta and Sospel.
The short climb to and through Olivetta is steep and stunning - a beautiful winding road through the hills, with olive trees lining the road. We crossed paths with an Astana and Sky team rider on this stretch, both doing their own ride but choosing the same epic route.
Only a sign and a hut mark your return to France, with sweeping views on a gravel-strewn singletrack road. After a few hairpins, you crest the top of the Col de Vescavo before a short descent and a few kilometres back to the road to Sospel.
3. Sospel to Nice: 68-111 km
Sospel is a good spot to refuel, lunch or chill a little, with an attractive 13th-Century bridge, cathedral and a range of options for eating and drinking.
When you’re back in the saddle, follow the road to the end of the town and take a sharp left straight onto the climb of the Col de Braus. Straight on here takes you on an epic 24km climb of the Col de Turini, but we suggest saving it for another day (check our Turini loop, here)!
While not quite as steep, picturesque or well known as the western climb, this is still a punishing 11.2km of climbing at an average of 5.7%. Earlier in the year, you will see snow on the high peaks that loom in the north as you climb. You reach the nondescript summit with barely a sign to mark your achievement, though the small snack bar will provide welcome sustenance.
As you roll away from the Col de Braus heading west, you have a real treat in store. From the road high above you get a perfect preview of the tight, perfect hairpins in front of you, right down the green and rocky valley to the pretty village of Touet-de-L’Escarène. This stretch of road down to L’Escarène is a favourite of the Monte Carlo rally, and it’s a classic to ride.
After L’Escarène you climb briefly before resuming the long descent, and rejoin the main valley of Le Paillon de Contes that runs back to Nice. You follow the east bank of the river through the suburbs back to your start point.
In one decent day in the saddle, you’ve seen some of the best of coast and mountain riding that this area has to offer.
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You’ve got quite a few choices on this ride, but we’d suggest:
Menton (31km): Vanilla Bakery Menton at 3 Avenue Félix Faure. Excellent coffee and pastries.
Ventimiglia (42km): Italy is known for its food and coffee, so even if you’re too early for a pizza lunch, we recommend a double espresso and a pistachio ice-cream.
Sospel (68km): A charming historic town with an attractive square, it’s well-positioned for refuelling before the climb of Col de Braus.
Col de Braus (80km): The Buvette Col de Braus ''chez Toine'' is a great place to enjoy the view and refill your bottles, having broken the back of this ride and with a long downhill run back to the coast ahead of you. Food is basic but tasty; we enjoyed a baguette sandwich and slice of freshly-made apple tart here.
The boulangerie in l'Escarène after you cross the bridge is a popular stop for cyclists with good snack options.
If you're short of water, don't miss the fountain in Touët de l'Escarène - it'll be on your right as you descend into the village.
We did this ride from Nice, which is perfectly placed for attacking some of the Côte d’Azur’s best riding. We stayed in a beautiful Airbnb flat on Place Garibaldi, in the heart of Nice and close to the start of the Basse Corniche, featured in this ride.
Read more about our experience and accommodation options in Nice in our ultimate guide to Nice for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in Nice before you set out.
This ride involves a border crossing between France and Italy. As the time of writing, if you are an EU national, you do not need to show your national ID card or passport as you are travelling from one border-free Schengen EU country to another. However, we recommend that you do take a passport with you, so you can prove your identity if necessary. You can find more information, here.
This ride is best avoided during the height of the summer season as, unless you set out super early in the morning, the Basse Corniche gets clogged with traffic.
If you’re looking for a shorter ride, consider riding to Ventimiglia and back along Basse Corniche. It’s a decent spin and the scenery is out of this world.
Ventemiglia has a great market on a Friday.
The Col de Braus has been used by the Tour de France around 25 times, though its heyday was in the races before the Second World War. The Monte Carlo Rally also sometimes passes through.
At the top of Col de Braus don’t miss the monument to René Vietto. His ashes were scattered here, in accordance with his wishes. He was one of cycling’s greatest climbers, and the Col de Braus is where he broke away to win his first professional race. In 1931 he launched another attack on Braus and went on to win the 1931 Boucle de Sospel. In 1934 during the Tour de France, he sacrificed his chances of winning the Tour by handing his bike over to his team captain, who had crashed. He is one of the greatest French riders to never win the Tour de France.
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Don't miss our other ride guides on Nice: see the related rides section above.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Nice and other articles on cycling around Nice, below.
Banner photo credit: Claudio Giovanni Colombo/Shutterstock.com
Want help organising your trip?
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We love the flexibility VeloGuide offers, with no need to sign up for traditional multi-day rides or large group rides. They can also arrange your bike hire, hotel bookings and transfers if needed...
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(via the Basse Corniche, Ventimiglia and Sospel)
(via Moyenne Corniche, L’Escarène, Sospel and Col de Braus)