19 January 2012 by Alan Grant
Cycling in Annecy, France
For the tourist looking to combine a family holiday with the great sport of cycling, there can really be only one destination – France. Sure there’s great cycling in Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and other European countries, but faire du velo is part of the fabric of France. Which means when motorists beep their horns it’s usually to say salut, not to tell you to get out of the way.
And if France is the obvious choice for a cycling holiday then in my opinion the best destination within the Big Hexagon is the lakeside town of Annecy in the Haute-Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes region.
I first discovered Annecy while covering the Tour de France in 2009, when a time trial stage took the race round the lake. On that occasion I had a bike with me but when I decided, smitten with the place, to return with my family a year later, my wife and I didn’t bring our bikes as we had a multiple-connection itinerary that summer. This decision to leave our precious rides at home wasn’t that difficult because there are quite a few affordable bike rental operations in Annecy. We opted for Roul’ Ma Poule, who have two outlets (check out their website for details of their wide selection of bikes) – we hired two Scott hybrid bikes fully fitted with Shimano 105 groupsets and we had no complaints.
A Guide to Cycling in Annecy
The charming old town of Annecy stands at an elevation of 418m but it’s patently obvious just by looking out of the window that the roads go much higher as mountains surround the town and the beguiling Lac Annecy.
The pick of the local climbs are:
- Le Semnoz
- Col de la Forclaz
- Col du Bluffy
- Col de la Croix Fry
- Col des Aravis
But Annecy is not just for the mountain goats. The trip around the lake is basically flat (there is one short but admittedly steep section of uphill on the eastern side) and one side of the roughly 40km route can be done entirely on a bike path. Ride the whole circuit in one go or take your time by stopping at one or more of the beautiful villages that are dotted around the lake – Servier, Duingt, Doussard, Tailloires, Menthon-Saint-Bernard or Veryier-du-Lac.
If you don’t fancy sharing the road with motorists (even the cyclist-friendly ones that predominate here), then the bike path, or greenway, is pretty special and the perfect solution. It’s wide, properly paved, runs a full 45km to the city of Albertville (host of the 1992 Winter Olympics) and is solely for cyclists and bladers so you won’t have to worry about joggers or walkers ambling into your path. Of course you don’t need to go all the way to the end of line. The greenway is perfect for all ages so why not take the whole family for a short spin.
The Best Cycling in France
But don’t just take my word for it. Take your bike to Annecy– or rent one – and get up every day and just ride in a different direction and you’ll discover the routes I’ve mentioned and many more. But back to those climbs…
On the eastern side of the lake lies Le Semnoz, a 1,699m high mountain, the road to which is my favourite route in the greater Annecy region.
The first half of the climb to the summit from Annecy is forested but when eventually the road emerges from the dark above the tree line into alpine meadows, the sights and smells are fantastic. Stop at the top for a cafe, a snack or lunch and take in the views of Mont Blanc in the distance. Then prepare for a glorious descent.
Unlike many alpine descents, the trip down the other side of Le Semnoz isn’t peppered with a succession of blind and dangerous hairpin bends; instead it features long, open and fast stretches of road and even as you approach the corners, most provide a full view of what’s coming up the other side. But these are quiet mountain roads and you’re more likely to encounter other cyclists than cars.
Useful Resources for Cycling in France
For the competitive cyclists out there, Annecy is the base for the Alpine Challenge, a four-day stage race, held this year from September 5-9. This is as close as amateurs can get to feeling like they’re riding the Tour de France: www.thealpinechallenge.com
And for those who like to add the odd swim and run to their ride, don’t forget the annual Annecy Triathlon, which will be held on July 1 this year: www.annecy-triathlon.com
For your accommodation needs, Holiday France Direct offer a range of holiday homes in perfect locations for cycling trips around France. Plus a 20% discount on Brittany Ferries makes it even easier to travel with your bikes: www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk
We’re going back to Annecy this summer, but last year we spent the first 10 days of our French holiday in Biarritz. That experience of cycling in Biarritz and the surrounding Basque Country will be the basis for my next article.
Alan Grant is an avid cyclist who travels to France annually for cycling holidays.