We love this ride; it’s one of our all-time favourites.
With 100 km and 2,500 m of climbing, it takes in legendary climbs, such as Col de la Madone and Col d’Èze, and unforgettable scenery.
Don’t leave the French Riviera without giving it a go.
The most famous parts of the ride (Grande Corniche, Col d’Èze, Col de la Madone) come at the start. So if you want to dial down the distance, you could always cut the ride short just before you get to Peille and head back to Nice along the D53 and then one of the Corniche roads.
Route map and profile
Distance: 101 km
Elevation Gain: 2,570 m
Max Grade: 18.2 %
All metrics in this guide are approximate
You ride out of Nice and straight up one of the world’s greatest roads, the Grande Corniche. The well-known Col d’Èze, famous as the site for the time-trial stage of Paris-Nice (more details below), forms a 10 km part of the Grand Corniche, but the whole road is bucket-list worthy.
It climbs swiftly to over 500m above sea level, and the views are brilliant: on one side the vivid blue of the Mediterranean, on the other it’s rocky, pine and cactus-covered slopes interspersed with rustic villas. The road clings to the rocks and is an audacious work of engineering. It’s also the least urban of the three corniche roads that head east from Nice and, on a cloudless day, has the best views.
The Grande Corniche drops you off in Menton (AKA La Perle de France), an old-fashioned attractive seaside town. It’s a dramatic start to the awesome Col de la Madone climb, famous for being where the pros test themselves to check their race fitness. We’ve got full details of the climb below, but our favourite part is once you turn off from Sainte-Agnès and enter a desolate world of craggy cliffs and few signs of life. It feels like you’re in another world.
Keep an ear out for a local who often escapes into the mountains along the Col de la Madone climb to play his drums.
I suppose his neighbours are very appreciative!
1. Nice to Menton (via Col d’Èze and Grande Corniche): 0-30 km
You’re quickly out of Nice and on to what is probably France’s most beautiful road. It’s also the site of the famous Col d’Èze climb. This starts at the Boulevard Bischoffsheim and is 10km long, averaging 4.7% but including long sections of 7-8%. It quickly rises above the railway, heading north before bending around the white, domed observatory on Mont Gros and heading south, crossing the Col des Quatres Chemins and then climbing north-east to the village of Col d’Èze. If you’re going for a time, under 30 minutes is considered good - the fastest pro times are under 20 minutes! If you’re not bothered by speed, sit up and enjoy the spectacular scenery; it doesn’t get much better than this.
You pass through La Turbie just after the Col d’Èze. La Turbie is a nice place, famous for its well preserved Roman ruins of the Trophe des Alpes - built in 6 BC by Emperor Augustus. Then it’s a twisty descent down to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin and Menton. Watch out for congestion around the turnings down to Monaco.
Our route includes a short 1km diversion along the picturesque waterfront at Menton (the coffee and pastries at Vanilla Bakery are worth a stop!).
Alternatively, stay on the D6007 and get ready to climb Col de la Madone. The stats for the Madone depend on exactly where you start (a topic of much discussion). However, if you take it from the seafront, it’s about 14.5km and just under 1,000m of climbing, an average of 6.3% (but the typical gradient is more like 7-8%).
2.Menton to Peille (via Col de la Madone): 30-51 km
Once out of Menton, you’re on a small lane that winds up around the giant stilts of the motorway that stretch into the sky. They are a stark concrete statement of modernisim that vividly contrast with the natural beauty you’re heading into.
Up and up you climb, pine fragrance in the air, passing sheer rock faces and far-reaching coastal panoramas. Eventually, you come to Saint-Agnès, clinging to the side of craggy mountain outcrop. It’s classified as one of the “most beautiful villages in France” and claims to be the highest coastal village on the Mediterranean.
You could consider a short diversion from this route and ride up to St Agnès village. At the top there is a fort and a spectacular view of the entire coastline. It's only a 1km detour but does add some extra climbing.
The last 5 kilometres above Saint-Agnès have a wild, desolate feel. There’s nothing but rock, scrubby grass and roughly hewn tunnels (unlit but short). When we did the climb, this stretch was shrouded in mist, giving it an even more eerie, mysterious feel. Watch out for goats and debris on the road.
At the top of the Col, there’s a modest wooden signpost and hanging on a tree, there’s a wooden plaque to Manu Ayral, a local cyclist and Strava fan.
I used to race with Manu Ayral. He was a local climbing legend who won many mountain top finishes. He was suffering from depression and was going through a divorce with young kids. He took his own life near Col de la Madone, his favourite climb. I participated in a group ride up to Col de la Madone to mourn his loss. I always think of him when I'm at the top.
It’s a 12 km descent around the cliffs to Peille and then on down the tremendous switchbacks to La Grave de Peille at the bottom of the valley. If you’ve done our Braus and Turini route, you’ll recognise some of this stretch - but it bears repeating!
3. Peille to Nice (via the Col de Châteuneauf): 51-101 km
From La Grave de Peille you head north on a rural road, to Blausasc and the top of the Col de Nice. You turn off onto the D215 and continue climbing up beautiful hairpin turns. At the summit, the road turns into the D615, and you descend to Contes on a road that skirts the hillside.
After crossing the river in Contes, you climb up the D815 for seven kilometres up to the Col de Châteuneauf. You can’t miss the big cross and ruined castle at the top, with spectacular views to the north.
From here it’s a 20km descent back to Nice on a good valley road that takes you a long way into town before you get back into the thick of Nice’s traffic, about four kilometres from the end of the ride, around the hospital Sainte-Marie near the river.
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The region’s network of well-populated little villages means that even though you often feel a million miles from civilisation, you’re never too far from somewhere that should be able to refill your water bottles or sell you some food. Just bear in mind that they’re unlikely to be open particularly early, late or on public holidays.
La Turbie (17 km), Menton (30 km), Sainte-Agnès (40 km), Peille (51 km), Blausac (61 km), Contes (74 km), Les Fournes (79 km) and Tourette-Levens (89 km) could all be potential stopping points. There’s also a water fountain on the road near Sainte-Agnès, just before the turning up to the last 5 km stretch.
We enjoyed a particularly fine coffee and croissant at Vanilla Bakery at 3 Avenue Félix Faure in Menton. It’s not quite on the seafront, but there’s plenty of outside seating.
We stayed in a great Airbnb apartment in the Place Garibaldi in Nice. Being so central worked well for us as the riding to the east and west of Nice was all accessible, yet off the bike, we had loads of restaurants and things to do on our doorstep.
We’ve got full details of where we stayed and more information in our ultimate guide to Nice for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in Nice before you set out.
The Côte d’Azur is one of the warmest parts of France, but it can still be cold in winter, especially away from the coast. Cloud and mist are also common, so pack accordingly.
Here's a tip for a water stop in Peille: once the descent starts out of Peille, the road takes a switchback to the left, then a second switchback to the right. Instead of taking the second switchback, continue straight for a few meters and the water fountain is on the right.
Grand Corniche and Col d’Èze
Cloud/mist is a common occurrence on the Grande Corniche, due to its height. If you get unlucky, consider dropping down to the Moyenne Corniche to try and escape it.
The Grande Corniche was built by Napoleon and follows an ancient Roman road. It’s seen a lot of history, including the death of Princess Grace of Monaco: she died in a car accident here. You may also recognise it from the Hitchcock thriller, “To catch a thief”.
For cyclists, the Grande Corniche is most famous for taking in the Col d’Èze, which is often the time trial stage of the Paris-Nice race. During the seven years between 1982 and 1988 Sean Kelly won the Paris-Nice race, and in each of those years it finished with a time trial from Nice up to the Col. In five of those seven years, Kelly won the time trial.
As you cycle past Èze, you won’t be surprised to know that this jaw-dropping location continues to attract the rich and famous. According to Daniel Friebe in his book Mountain Higher, U2 frontman Bono bought a house here in 1993, and his well-known neighbours have included Johnny Depp, Tina Turner and Lance Armstrong (who lived in a villa on the Avenue Dillies just off the Col d’Èze road).
Col de la Madone
Watch out for significant debris on the road, especially after Saint-Agnès. Goats are apparently common too, though we didn’t see any on our ride!
The Col de la Madone is unusual. Its fame comes not from its race history (it’s never featured in the Tour de France), nor its scenery, altitude, pitch or hairpins. It’s famous because it was the climb Lance Armstrong chose to test his form ahead of the Tour de France. This history gives it some sort of dark attraction. In Froome’s autobiography, David Walsh his ghostwriter, writes that the Madone “is a fallen woman. Her name is tainted by the sins of her former lover.”
Trek named their top bike after the climb.
Col de la Madone's full name is the Col de la Madone de Gorbio. It’s useful to know this, so you don’t confuse it with another Col de la Madone about 60km to the west – nor the Col de la Madone d’Utelle, just down the road (see our guide to Col de la Madone d’Utelle!)
Found this route guide useful?
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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 the Côte d’Azur plus other articles on the region, below.
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(via Moyenne Corniche, L’Escarène, Sospel and Col de Braus)
(aka Corniche d’Or) loop
(via the Basse Corniche, Ventimiglia and Sospel)