11 Minute Read
11 Minute Read
Let’s just get that out of the way, shall we?
The general appeal of Nice, and more generally the Côte d’Azur, are its beaches and the ocean. There’s a lot of French style there that has a somewhat Parisian feel to it, while itself being quite unique to the coastal vibes and blue colors that the Mediterranean ocean constantly provides.
However, as cyclists, we often look up to the mountains. This, in my experience, is what makes Nice and the surrounding regions so unique.
I first visited the infamous Côte d’Azur in 2018 after my trip to Girona, Spain. I left my bike in the Barcelona airport and then jetted off to Nice, France, where I spent a day or two while also visiting Monaco.
Despite the weather being cold and rainy (not typical of the south of France!), I still was fascinated by the overall appeal there. The shopping, the blue Mediterranean coastline, and above all, the imposing mountain range that the entire region seemed to be hugged by.
When presented the option to go back a few days before my Italian Job trip, I researched all that I could and jumped on the opportunity!
Speaking of planning, this trip was a solo one and required a lot of it! Basically I had to employ all the tricks in my arsenal to inform myself as much as possible before heading off alone into the mountains. This included Google Maps, random internet searches, local bike shop word-of-mouth, and Strava.
I wrote about all of these in a separate ride planning post, which you should absolutely check out if you’re interested in how I planned this one out.
Since I had several days to ride while I was out there, my first task was to sort out which climbs and areas I wanted to see. Then, I had to find ways to connect them so that I was being efficient in terms of mileage. No use in doubling back too much over roads when you only have so much time in a region!
Some of this required a lot of clever usage of Google Maps as well as looking at other Strava rides and routes to see what is considered a “common” route to do. It also meant being ready for some potentially big mile days!
Perhaps my most valuable resource I used to group these rides together was the incredibly helpful Nice Riding Guide hosted on Cafe du Cycliste’s website. It helped me narrow in on what climbs I should prioritize, and generally what kinds of combinations the locals use for their typical riding routes. It also gave me an added level of confidence for where I could veer off path to find my own way around the region.
I chose this time to stay at an AirBnB in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, which is a small area near the fancy town of Cap-Martin and along the border of Menton, an area famous for its lemons. A lot of this area can be quite expensive, and since I was planning to ride through it all, I opted to find a place somewhat central but not necessarily central to the areas most people visit the Côte d’Azur for.
I determined this a bit more seriously once I started to narrow down the various climbs and rides I wanted to do. And then I had to find somewhere relatively close to the train station, as I wasn’t planning to rent a car while I was there. Luckily, this region is very well connected by the train system, so it’s easy to get around with a bike box.
What is a ride camp without a schedule, right?
Writing this blog is time consuming for me, but I love doing it. So that means each day is going to get its own post for you, my lovely reader, to consume, enjoy, and refer back to later!
After a slight mix up on my end, I actually had an additional day in the area before my next adventure. This meant that I was able to ride a more introductory ride to both familiarize myself with the area and to do some basic shopping. So, musette in pocket, I headed out up and over Monaco into Nice, with the intention of coming back through Monaco on my way back.
The biggest single day of the trip and my most ambitious! This one also required some of the most pre-planning, as some of the roads through here are not always open due to construction and business hours in L'Escarene. However, the hidden gem of Peille is absolutely worth the extra effort, and was one of the highlights of my entire trip.
Knowing there were big climbs ahead of me, I opted to take the musette again with me and headed up the same road from the day before.
After an incredible 35 degree celsius day of riding the day before, I felt it was time to do a first for me - riding across an international border on my bike! This day I found myself in a loving arms of Italy, along a fairly flat route following a former train route that’s now one of the most spectacular bike paths I’ve been on.
And on the way back? The Cipressa and Poggio climbs, both featured in the Milano-Sanremo race each year. Both of which have played host to battles over the final kilometers of the longest classics race in the professional calendar.
No rest for the weary bike rider! Because of the extra day I had, I was able to both do the coastal Nice ride of the first day as well as the Col de la Madone, the featured and hallowed training grounds for many professionals, including Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie.
I also visited the Col d’Eze, another smaller but also famous climb of the region, coming up from Nice. This meant not only revisiting Nice itself, but also the amazing medieval town of Peille, one of my (now) favorite places to ride in this region. Oh lest I forget, the Monte Carlo Golf Course near the top of Mont Agel.
After each day, I chose to take some extra time to document what I was feeling and how things went for me during the ride. With no major issues with the bike or with the roads, I was luckily able to focus more on the overall experience and how I felt, which I think was great to capture as part of my ride description on each Strava upload.
It’s kind of like writing a journal, and I highly recommend doing something similar if at all possible!
My advice here would be to do more of this than you think you need to!
When initially scouring the internet for details about doing Col de Braus and Col de Turini, I found a small reference to a section of road that was closed during certain hours of certain days. Knowing this actually altered which day I did that route to make sure that I wouldn’t have problems getting through. I even asked about this road specifically of one of the employees at the Service Course and was able to confirm my research, and therefore had no issues getting through.
See this sign in Google Maps for what I’m talking about - it’s near L’Escarene which is on the way to Col de Braus coming from the coast.
There was one time on this trip, however, that I had not planned things out like I should have. Upon leaving the Monte Carlo golf club on my final day of riding, I utilized my normal mapping tactics to find a route more directly back to my AirBnB. I didn’t check it quite as closely as I should have though!
While beautiful, and initially paved, I found myself scooting my bike down soft, steep gravel with my 28mm road bike tires, contemplating over and over the sunk cost fallacy when it came to finding a paved option back. Luckily, after a lot of colorful language, I made it down the mountain safely.
I learned that day that no matter how much planning you do ahead of time, there will invariably be things that come up that you cannot account for. And you’ll have to think on your feet and be smart about your decisions, even if that means scooting your bike one-footed down a steep, gravelly path.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely be a bit nervous about heading out for your first ride in a new country on unfamiliar roads, even if you’ve done your research on them. I remember this being especially the case on the first ride, as getting out of town was hectic, fast, and on small roads without a lot of space.
You know, things you’ve done before, but not necessarily here.
But then you get up and out of it. And then you’re looking down at Monaco. And then you keep going higher, and it somehow becomes more beautiful. You then start realizing that, yes, you can do this, and more importantly, you can do it well.
It really is an amazing experience. And after a day or two of doing this, you may even start to recognize the roads and towns you’re in! You start to find that you’re more able to focus on the riding rather than the mechanics of where to go and how to do it.
With multiple days to ride, the emphasis becomes more on doing it all rather than doing it all quickly. I know, we all like to push ourselves and go fast, but this was more of a long game for me. Especially so, since I had plans to ride in the Dolomites just a week later.
Besides, you’re on vacation!
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely pushed myself. A lot, in fact. And I likely overtrained myself in the zone 2 region, but hey, I wanted to see as much as I could!
But yeah, definitely keep this in mind. Know your FTP, understand that it will reduce over consecutive days of riding, and keep the week in mind beyond simply just the ride you’re currently on.
Despite being fairly far away from Nice and Monaco, I was shocked at the amount of traffic in the little town of Roquebrune-Cap-Martin that I was staying in! The traffic has a certain frenetic pace to it, as people seem generally aware of you being a cyclist on the road, but also have the assumption that you know how to navigate the road’s craziness.
Apparently there’s a lot of commuter traffic on the coastal east side of Monaco, and with the local traffic not having a lot of options to get home, everyone seemed quite antsy. A lot of this traffic includes the smaller, loud motorcycle / mopeds, who are expert at dodging in and out of traffic to get to where they need to be quickly. However, this also means that they’re going around cars while dipping into the opposing lane, narrowly coming back in to their lane at the last minute.
It’s crazy, and you’ll be tempted to do it as well, since there isn’t always a lane for you on the right side of the road and the cars are going too slow. But then you also have to watch your back for motorcycles trying to pass you while you’re already in an opposing traffic lane!
So if that’s not what you want to deal with, make sure to travel the coastal roads during off-peak hours or take one of the higher corniche roads back.
Oh yeah, 100%.
Much like Girona, I’m always having fleeting thoughts of quitting my job and just moving here to ride my bike and enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle. With the local and long distance train access, and an international airport nearby, it’s a well connected place in the world.
But do yourself a favor, and plan a trip out this way with your bike! I promise that it’ll be worth it.