Are you ready for a great road trip in the French Alps? Discover the beauty of the French Alps by following the legendary Route des Grandes Alpes.
You will cross four national parks, climb 17 mountain passes among the highest in Europe. Combining lakes, remote valleys and impressive views, this legendary route is the most sensational of the French Alps.
This itinerary is particularly appreciated by bikers and cyclists.
Where is located the Route des Grandes Alpes?
This route starts on the shores of Lake Geneva, in Thonon-les-Bains, and ends in Menton on the French Riviera.
Fully open from June to October, the Route des Grandes Alpes is passable as soon as the snow melts which blocks the highest passes during winter.
The best times to enjoy it are spring or September when the road is yours and the alpine nature reveals all its richness. Indeed, during the high season, this tourist route is saturated.
From Haute-Savoie to the Alpes-Maritimes, you will successively cross the Chablais, Beaufortain, Vanoise, Cerces, Queyras, Ubaye and Mercantour massifs. It will also be an opportunity to see the high glacial peaks of the Mont Blanc range and the Ecrins massif, emblems of the French Alps.
You can take a look at the itinerary of the Route des Grandes Alpes on the map bellow:
How to get to Route des Grandes Alpes?
The best way to discover this mythic itinerary is to start from the north and then drive to the south.
You will need to go to Thonon-les-Bains which is situated on the shores of Lake Geneva. Thonon-les-Bains is a French town located in the Haute-Savoie department, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region near Geneva.
Facts about this scenic road trip in the Alps:
Crossing the French Alps from north to south for more than 700 km (435 miles), the Route des Grandes-Alpes is a prestigious route that will make you discover majestic panoramas by taking you through 17 passes among the highest in the French Alps.
This route has over 17,000 meters of vertical drop in total (55770 ft). The lowest altitude pass on the route is the Èze pass with an altitude of 507 meters 1660 ft), the highest being the Iseran at 2770 meters (9090 ft).
At the origin of this route, the Touring Club (an association of cyclists promoting tourism) created a route unique in Europe, which would be the most beautiful mountain route in the world. This is how the idea of the Route des Alpes was born in 1909.
However, it was only in 1937 that the construction of this exceptional road was officially completed.
It was then renamed “Route des Grandes Alpes” in 1950. Today it is mainly appreciated for its tourist dimension: every year, nature lovers and road trip enthusiasts as bikers or cyclists meet on this legendary circuit.
An example of an itinerary of Route des Grandes Alpes:
In order to take full advantage of that road trip, we suggest you to to take a whole week to do it. Here is an example of a 6-day itinerary:
- Day 1: For this first day, from Thonon-les-Bains, we advise you to discover Lake Geneva. It is the highest lake in Europe, at an altitude of 372 meters (1220 ft). You can also choose to visit Geneva.
- Day 2: For this second day you will travel 150 kilometers (93 miles). From Thonon-les-Bains, take the Route des Grandes Alpes towards the Col des Gets (1170 meters / 3840 ft). Then continue to Col de la Colombière (1613 meters / 5290 ft). Then, we pass through La Clusaz to arrive at the Col des Aravis (1486 meters / 4875 ft). This pass provides a magnificent view of the entire chain of the Mont Blanc massif. Finally, the last stage of the day will be the Col des Saisies (1650 meters / 4875 ft). For your evening stage, you can eat and find accommodation in Beaufort.
- Day 3: 240 km of road await you for this 3rd day. The first stage will be the Col du Cormet de Roselend (1968 meters / 3800 ft). Once past, you will be able to discover the Tarentaise valley. After that, you will cross Bourg-Saint-Maurice before arriving at the famous Col de l’Iseran (2764 meters (1970 ft). If it is one of the most beautiful passes in the Alps, it is also the highest. Then, you will cross the villages of Modane and Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne. You will also pass through the Ecrins National Park. After this long day, we let you join Briançon for the night.
- Day 4: We take the road for 100 km (62 miles). Leave Briançon, head for the Izoard pass (2360 meters / 7740 ft). This pass is famous for the place called Casse Déserte. Because this place has been crossed many times by the Tour de France. But also, because the landscape around this pass is extremely rocky and some even say it looks like a lunar landscape. At the end of the day, we suggest you stop at Barcelonnette for the night.
- Day 5: There will be 135 km (84 miles) of the road to cover today. Start with the Col de la Cayolle (2326 meters / 7627 ft) which is located on the edge of the Mercantour National Park, one of the ten national parks in France, and probably the wildest. Then take the direction of the Cians gorges. After this day, stop at Puget-Théniers.
- Day 6: For this last day you will travel 150 km (135 miles). Pass the Saint-Martin pass. Then cross Saint-Martin-Vésubie before heading to the Col du Turini. This pass is famous thanks to the Monte-Carlo rally because each year a test takes place there. In addition, it will be the last pass of our road trip. Then continue to Menton and the Mediterranean Sea!
This is just an idea of an itinerary, you can obviously take less time if you want but don’t forget to enjoy the drive!
A video of the journey:
You can have an idea of the landscapes you will cross while driving this scenic road by watching this Youtube video:
By motorbike, car, or bicycle, this unique road trip lets you admire some scenic landscapes that are unique in the world. You can drive the whole journey from June to October after the snow has melted. The Route des Grandes Alpes is an open space where everyone chooses their pace and route according to their mode of travel and their curiosity.
Picture credit: By Marc Mongenet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=93179462 / By Björn S… – Col de l’Iseran, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50194095
Discover other roads in France and around the world: click here to see our road trip ideas map.