It’s a tough day out at nearly 130 km with 2,710 m of climbing, but it’s a ride you won’t forget.
Once you’re away from Nice and the busy towns close to the coast, you find yourself in a quiet world of twisting roads and unspoiled scenery.
Col de Vence is the most famous section of the ride, known for being part of the Nice Ironman Triathlon course and often featured in Paris-Nice. Its exposed, dry, barren landscapes are memorable; almost like a mini Ventoux.
However what stands out for us more than anything, are the peaceful valleys beyond, where you feel as if you’ve been transported back in time and everything seems to stand still.
Route map and profile
Distance: 128 km
Elevation Gain: 2,710 m
All metrics in this guide are approximate
This is an awesome ride. We’d pick three major highlights.
Col de Vence is unforgettable due to its barren, rockiness and deep sense of isolation. The gradients aren’t overly aggressive and you can find your rhythm and enjoy the climb.
Our other two favourite sections are Coursegules to Le Broc and Saint-Jean-La-Rivière to Aspremont. Both sections give you the sense of venturing into the heart of the Alpes-Maritimes.
Coursegules to Le Broc gives huge views northwards, to the snow-capped peaks of the high mountains.
Meanwhile, the road from Saint-Jean-La-Rivière to Aspremont is a tiny, vertiginous ledge, high up the side of this deep rocky channel in the rock. You pass ancient villages and rocky, empty hillsides dotted with the odd farmhouse and lonely stack of firewood. It’s brilliant riding that makes you fall in love with the region.
1. Nice to Coursegules (via Col de Vence): 0-42 km
You roll out of Nice on the flat bike path you might be familiar with if you’ve done the Nice to Cannes ride. Once you’ve passed the Riviera’s famous hotels, you’re alongside the busy main road until you turn inland at Cagnes Sur Mer. The traffic reduces as you head inland and pass the impressive fortifications of Saint Paul de Vence. However it isn’t until you’re through busy Vence and you turn off for the Col de Vence, that the fun really begins.
You quickly leave the urban areas behind and find yourself in a rocky, barren landscape as you head ever upwards. The boulder fields head as far as the eye can see; it’s an unusual and memorable landscape. The gradients never get too steep (6.5-7% average for most of the climb) and you can get into a nice rhythm.
Just before the summit there are a couple of viewpoints that look back down to the coast, with Nice to the left and Cannes to the right. They’re definitely worth a stop (or coming back to!).
The summit sits at 963m but it’s not an exciting one: you pass the impressive views a few hundred metres before.
You descend from the summit via a stunning, quiet road that curves around the valley side with views far below. Turn right at the junction over a stone bridge and past the pretty hillside village of Coursegoules.
2. Coursegules to Saint-Jean-La-Rivière: 42-75 km
From Coursegoules you enter what feels like a secret world. You’re on a narrow road that winds through old, traditional villages that cling to the valley side. Bend follows bend and hairpin. We found it super quiet and a joy to ride.
Just before Le Broc you suddenly get views down to the wide Var river valley, far beneath you. It’s down there that you’re heading next, on a narrow single-track road that’s often barely one car wide.
You cross the river and soon turn inland along a surprisingly busy road with a lane in each direction. The scenery is spectacular: the road is sandwiched between a sheer rock face on one side and a deep river gorge on the other. It twists under craggy overhangs and through tunnels blown through the rock.
You cross a bridge and then it’s decision time. Either:
- be bold and turn this into a 160 km, 3,500m elevation gain ride by continuing on to Saint Jean la Rivière and climb beautiful out-and-back Col la Madone d’Utelle (for the GPX route that includes the Col, take a look at this); or
- turn right and head for home.
3. Saint-Jean-La-Rivière to Nice: 75-128 km
We were running out of light so headed for home.
You climb up again on a narrow singletrack road that’s out of this world. It teeters along the side of the cliff; not one for anyone afraid of heights as the drop offs are often huge with nothing between you and the abyss but a low wall.
As you roll along, you weave in and out of the cliff face. If you take your eyes off the road for a moment, you’ll spot the road along the river that you were on before. It looks a long way down!
You pass through little village after little village perched high over the gorge below, over bridges that span deep gorges, through forest and past craggy rock faces. There’s some up and down but nothing too intense. The views are mesmerising and you feel far away from the real world. This road is awesome.
At Aspremont the cycling paradise starts to end as the road gets busier and you have the feeling you’re heading back to the real world. The good news is that it’s all downhill from here - 15-16 km of downhill all the way to the centre of Nice.
Between Nice and Vence, you’re spoiled for choice, with supermarkets, shops and restaurants all easily accessible.
After Vence and before Aspremont, refuelling options are much more patchy.
There’s a rustic restaurant after Col de Vence, the Ranch El Bronco. It’s a small horse trekking centre that has a little drinks bar and a shady terrace, but when we passed through in early April it was closed.
You’ll find boulangeries in the bigger villages like Le Broc, Saint Jean la Rivière and Levens, but in the smaller ones you’ll be limited to the odd sit-down restaurant (if you’re lucky). Pack accordingly!
We did this, and all our Nice rides, from our Airbnb apartment on the Place Garibaldi in the centre of Nice. It was a light, airy, historic apartment and we enjoyed the central location.
Find out more about it and other accommodation suggestions in our ultimate guide to Nice for cyclists.
Read our tips for cycling in Nice before you set out.
It’s a good idea to check the Meteo Col de Vence before setting out. In winter, the Col de Vence is a great choice as its openness means you can climb almost all of the way in the sun. However we’re told it can get very hot in summer since the openness means there’s little shade, so head out early.
Cows roam free in this area - keep your eyes out in case they venture onto the road! While on the subject of unusual sightings, unexplained lights and objects flying at high speed have apparently been witnessed from the Col...
There’s a bike shop in Vence should you need anything last minute. There’s also a water fountain at the start of the climb, on the outskirts of Vence.
Water fountain tip from Rich at VeloGuide: "Don't miss the water fountain at Le Bouyon. As you descend into Bouyon, you'll see a parking lot on your left. The water fountain is just after the parking lot entrance."
Col de Vence has boards every kilometre that tell you how many kilometres there are to the summit and how many metres there are still to climb.
Col de Vence is often used as the final cimb on the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice.
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- Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Nice and the French Riviera and other articles on the area, below.
(via Moyenne Corniche, L’Escarène, Sospel and Col de Braus)
(aka Corniche d’Or) loop
(via the Basse Corniche, Ventimiglia and Sospel)