“Out of all the Trek Travel Trips that I have guided, the French Alps have a special place in my heart. Climbing throughout the Alps is a surreal experience where cycling in this mountainous region is as mind-blowing as the scenery.” -Thomas English, Trek Travel Guide
Having lived in the French Alps for the past four years, I fell in love with the area and guiding trips here. One of my favorites is the Trek Travel Classic Climbs of the Alps trip because of not only the incredible riding but also the cultural experience.
While riding in one of the most cycling-friendly areas in the world, with unforgettable views, it’s hard to miss the strong French alpine culture and cuisine. With herds of cows or sheep crossing the road, the smell of freshly baked baguettes as we cruise by the local boulangerie, the blueberries growing on the side of the road, to the amazing cheese and charcuterie platters with local wines awaiting that day, you will grasp how generous and friendly this French region is. Entering the home of all cheeses and you will quickly learn the various ways in which cheese can be prepared. According to the French, there are as many cheeses as there are days in the year. Even though local cheese is a crowd favorite, one of my simple pleasures on a warm summer day is reaching the freshwater fountain in the village square to top off my water bottle. Simply pure and refreshing, straight out of the spring. In the town square, the locals might invite you for a long talk or, even better, to try some fresh produce. With all of our snacking, we are fueled for the epic climbs we will encounter!
The trip starts in Annecy, also known as the “Venice of the Alps,” the heart of the Haute-Savoie region, on the banks of the emerald lake so blue you can’t stop drinking it in with your eyes. We start our bike fit the proper way—with a French coffee and croissant in hand. Before you know it, we’re cycling right on the waterfront for about 12 kilometers before going deeper into the mountains on the smoothest cycling path. It’s breathtaking!
We then head to La Clusaz, staying in the most amazing chalet-style hotel. This is not a bad place to be after tackling two climbs featured in the 2018 Tour de France. Even though the roads are absolute silk, tiredness in the legs starts to sink in. The next two days, we explore my favorite mountain village, traversing picturesque passes along the Aravis mountain range, overlooking Mont Blanc. Upon departing this village, a feeling of humbleness settles in as you reflect on the grand scale of nature that our world presents. I like to refer to a climb as a journey, a challenging conspiracy between perception, imagination, and physical constraint. Life becomes simple; no directions, no thinking, only trending up or down as you enjoy the scenery. The alpine climate keeps the air cooler on the summits, where the colors of the rock and vegetation contrast the blue sky.
Halfway through the week, we head further south towards the Isère region, a mecca for cycling and mountaineering pursuits. We start from La Chambre to climb Col du Glandon, my favorite ride on the trip. Amidst this 21-kilometer climb, the raw essence of the French Alps is truly felt. As we ride as a group, it’s fascinating to witness the commitment of everyone as the grades get harder. Remoteness and breathtaking views from the top of the pass are rewarding as we all have different motivations bringing us up to this peak. On the way back down, we reach the heart of the Romanche valley that links Alpe d’Huez with Les Deux Alpes using a secret junction balcony road, where the steep views leave me gobsmacked every single time. The following day, we tackle the one, the only: Alpe d’Huez. From one switchback to the next, picture yourself in a shoulder wide path surrounded by fans during the Tour de France. The battles that have been experienced on this climb before push you to hang on too. You inhale a large breath, soaking up the views and, all of the sudden, you forget about struggle, every pedal stroke becomes effortless, because whatever it takes, you know you’re nearly at the top.
Looking to discover the beauty of the Alps for yourself?