With its famous architecture and picture-perfect Alpine surroundings, Briançon has been chosen a total of forty-two times as either the starting or finishing town of the Tour de France. The town’s cycling pedigree attracts plenty of fans of the sport, as well as avid participants, and any keen cyclists visiting Briançon will find no shortage of excellent routes to traverse.
Here, we introduce some of the best climbs for cyclists basing themselves in Briançon. While beautiful, many of these climbs are long and difficult, so we’d recommend them to intermediate and advanced cyclists who are confident in their abilities.
Col du Granon
Certainly one of Briançon’s finest climbs, Col du Granon runs north of Briançon, turning East for the final part of the journey. It’s tough going, with an average incline of 7.2% and maxing out at 11%, but those in search of a challenge will love it.
The Col du Granon made up the seventeenth stage of the 1986 Tour de France. Its 10.3 miles’ (16.5 kilometres’) length takes you through 1,120 metres of elevation, and it finishes at a respectable 2,413 metre summit. The scenery is gorgeous throughout, with unforgettable views of the Barre des Ecrins, the Pelvoux, the Meije and the Guisane valley.
Another of the region’s iconic climbs, Col d’Izoard, takes you through 13.5 miles (21.8 kilometres) of breathtaking scenery. Izoard runs due south-east, beginning at the edge of Briançon.
Col d’Izoard makes for a difficult, satisfying climb, recommended for intermediate to advanced cyclists. The beginning of the route, however, is gentle, with the trickiest parts coming after Le Laus. This makes Izoard a good choice for those unsure as to whether they can comfortably tackle a difficult route, as novice cyclists or those coming back to the sport after a while can be sure of a lovely, fairly gentle ride before the climb gets difficult, at which point they can assess whether they feel up to continuing. Much of Izoard’s 1,105 metre ascent takes you through verdant forests, with the summit reaching a height of 2,344 metres.
Col du Galibier
Galibier has frequently held the accolade of the highest mountain pass in the Tour de France. We suggest climbing it from nearby Valloire, from where it’s a 11.3 miles’ (18.1 kilometres’) cycle to the summit. While it’s not as long as some climbs, it’s punishing, reaching a 12% incline in places.
After 1,245 metres of ascent, you’ll reach the summit at a respectable 2,646 metres. Expect rugged majesty and bracing mountain air. It’s also possible to climb the Col du Galibier from other sides, but it’s a much longer route and many of the other routes are less interesting.
While we’ve focused on some of the region’s most famous and hardest climbs, less experienced cyclists shouldn’t be put off: it’s still rewarding and challenging to attempt any of the above in part, and there are plenty of easier routes to be found as well.
How to Get to Briançon
In order to avoid having to navigate public transport with bicycle in tow, we’d recommend looking into a Turin airport bus or taxi. Whether you take one of those options or drive yourself, it’s around a 90 minutes’ drive over the A32 and the E70. Remember that you’ll need to pay tolls along the way, in addition to crossing the Franco-Italian border.
Briançon is, unfortunately, inaccessible by public transport form Turin Airport.
Where to Stay
Apartment Les Voutes – Well-priced, self-catering accommodation is available in the form of Apartment Les Voutes. The apartment’s central location and charming atmosphere make it one of the region’s best low-cost options.
Le Paradis Apartments – For a little more comfort, consider Le Paradis Apartments. There is a fully kitted kitchen in each apartment, but breakfast delivery can be arranged to help you get a start on the day.
Apartment Près des Forts – Higher end accommodation can be found with Près des Forts. The location alone (in the heart of the old town) is enough to be tempting, and the wonderfully decorated, contemporary feeling interior seals the deal.