Route des Grandes Alpes, a scenic road trip in France

Route des Grandes Alpes
Route des Grandes Alpes

Embark on a journey through the stunning French Alps with the iconic Route des Grandes Alpes.

This iconic road trip takes you through four national parks and over 17 mountain passes, including some of Europe’s highest. 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, cyclists, and car enthusiasts looking for an adventure in the French Alps.

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 very busy.

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 below:

Route des Grandes Alpes map

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.

The starting point of the itinerary is Thonon-les-Bains, a French town located in the Haute-Savoie department, in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region near Geneva in Switzerland.

On the other hand, if you prefer to begin your journey from the southern end, the itinerary starts in the town of Menton.

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).

What is Route des Grandes Alpes history?

The Route des Grandes Alpes, also known as the Great Alpine Road, was proposed in 1909 by the Touring Club of France as a way to connect the northern and southern Alpine valleys and promote tourism in the area.

The road was finally completed in 1937 with the inauguration of the Col de l’Iseran and officially got its name in 1950.

The route’s itinerary was later modified in 1995 to extend from Thonon-les-Bains to Menton, with a more “alpine” route in the Alpes-Maritimes department.

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 take a whole week to do it. Here is an example of a 6-day itinerary:

  • Day 1: For the 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 (1,220 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 (1,170 meters / 3,840 ft). Then continue to Col de la Colombière (1,613 meters / 5,290 ft). Then, pass through La Clusaz to arrive at the Col des Aravis (1,486 meters / 4,875 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 (1,650 meters / 4,875 ft). For your evening stage, you can eat and find accommodation in Beaufort.
  • Day 3: you will 240 km on the 3rd day. The first stage will be the Col du Cormet de Roselend (1,968 meters / 3,800 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 (2,764 meters (1,970 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, join Briançon for the night.
Col de l’Iseran
  • Day 4: Take the road for a 100 km (62 miles). Leave Briançon, head for the Izoard pass (2,360 meters / 7,740 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 for the 5th day. Start with the Col de la Cayolle (2,326 meters / 7,627 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!

If you want to drive on a very winding road, you can take a detour and go through the Lacets de Montvernier. Also, you can drive the highest asphalted road in France.

This is just an idea of an itinerary, you can obviously take less time if you want. However, don’t forget to enjoy the drive!

A video of the journey:

If you want to have an idea of the landscapes you will cross while driving this scenic road, watch this YouTube video:

Whether by motorbike, car, or bicycle, this unique road trip offers the chance to witness some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. The best time to embark on this journey is between June and October, after the snow has melted. The Route des Grandes Alpes is a vast area where every person can set their own pace and choose their own path based on their mode of transportation and their interests.

Picture credit: By Marc Mongenet – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, / By Björn S… – Col de l’Iseran, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Discover other roads in France and around the world: click here to see our road trip ideas map.