Col de la Bonette, one of the highest roads in Europe

Col de la Bonette
Col de la Bonette

Col de la Bonette (or Bonette Pass in English) is a mountain pass in the French Alps. It allows us to join the Cime de la Bonette road. This road is one of the highest asphalted roads in France.

It is a superb touristic route evolving in splendid landscapes. Indeed, it is difficult to remain impassive in front of the snow-capped peaks, the veiled panoramas, or the plunging valleys.

Where is Col de la Bonette located?

The Col de la Bonette is located in the Mercantour National Park between the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and the Alpes-Maritimes in the southern French Alps.

The pass dominates the Ubaye valley to the north and the Tinée valley to the south. It is one of the most famous passes in France.

When we talk about the Bonette, we have to differentiate two things:

  • The Col de la Bonette culminates at 2715 meters (8910 ft) above sea level.
  • The summit of Bonette, a little higher, rises to 2802 meters (9182 ft).

It is, in fact, the Cime de la Bonette which is known around the world as the highest point in the history of the Tour de France. It passed here for example in 1962, 1964, 1993, and 2008.

You can situate the Bonette summit road on the map below:

Enlarge the map

Facts about the Col de la Bonette

Road description:

The pass is roughly 27 kilometers (16 miles) long. The road is not only the highest in Europe but also one of the most difficult due to its numerous narrow hairpin turns, steep inclines, and switchbacks. Although the road is paved and well-maintained, some sections can be narrow, necessitating cautious driving.

The summit is surrounded by the Route de la Bonette, which reaches an altitude of 2,802 meters. It is the highest tarmac road in France. This loop starts from the Col de la Bonette.

In addition, you can climb even more but on foot: from the top of this road, a small footpath leads to the top of the mountain at 2,860 meters.
The peak allows the appreciation of a wide panorama. The top of the Bonette offers in particular an exceptional point of view on the Viso mount.

Viso peak from col de la Bonette
Viso peak from Col de la Bonette

You can also include that road while you are on a road trip on the Route des Grandes Alpes and drive the Lacets de Montvernier. It will be definitely an unforgettable experience even if you are on a bike, car, or road cycle.

If you choose to drive the road from Jausiers to Saint Etienne de Tinée it will take you about 1 hour. And that without any stops for the 50 kilometers (31 miles).

Another scenic road is the Col de Turini.

What is the history of the Cime de la Bonette road?

The route de la Bonette, which links the valleys of the Ubaye and the Tinée and links Barcelonnette and Nice, was originally a mule track run by the army.

It was transformed into a road in 1832 after the passage of Spanish troops during the War of the Austrian Succession. The road was classified as an imperial road in 1860 by Emperor Napoleon III.

Today, the Pass serves the towns and villages of Jausiers and Lens via the north slope and Sainte Étienne de Tinée, Saint Dalmas le Selvage, a ski resort in winter, the hamlet of Pra, and the village of Boussiéyas on the southern slope.

The road winds in switchbacks around the mountain. At the former military camp of Les Fourches, you can also reach, for a hike, the Tête de l’Enchastraye.

In addition to the Tour de France, the mountain pass is also known for another event. In 1963, the oratory of Notre Dame du Très Haut was installed at the Col de la Bonette.

Every year, since its installation, a pilgrimage has been organized and brings together the inhabitants of the two valleys: the Ubaye and the Tinée.

A mass and a procession take place between Notre Dame de Très Haut and the Plateau des Sources de la Tinée every last Saturday of July.

How to get to the Col de la Bonette?

In order to access the Col de la Bonette and then to Cime de la Bonette, you have two roads.

If you are coming from the north the climb will start from Jausiers near Barcelonnette.

On the other side, if you drive from the south, the climb will begin in Saint Etienne de Tinée (near the ski resorts of Auron and Isola). You will drive about 27 kilometers (16 miles) before access to the Pass.

You visualize how to get there on this map of the drive:

A preview of this scenic road:

Today, technologies allow us to have a preview of the scenic climb of that mountain pass. You can watch this Youtube video to discover this road:

Is the Col de la Bonette road open?

The mountain pass is generally open from June to October. However, you have to be careful because the section leading to the summit can be snowed. And that even after the pass has been opened in summer.

We advise you to avoid the high season or the weekend if you want to enjoy your ride and not be in a traffic jam! If you can’t come here in the low season come early in the morning. The road is very busy with cyclists, so be careful when driving on it.

Also, you can find many different accommodations such as hotels or campings in the valley to take a break during your road trip.

By motorbike, car, or bicycle if you are in the region or you are driving the Route des Grandes Alpes, you will definitely enjoy the highest asphalted road in France. Although the Col de la Bonette has a well-deserved reputation for being hazardous because of the weather which can change very quickly. So, driving in these conditions can be extremely challenging.

Pictures sources: By Santiago Puig Vilado…, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Discover other roads in France: click here or see our road map!