Cycling in the French Alps TIPS & ARTICLES

With narrow medieval alleys, 16th-century castles and the shimmering reflection of pastel-painted shopfronts in its canals, Annecy glows in its own splendour. But the true allure of the ‘Venice of the Alps’ is its diamond-cut lake and crown of snow-sieved alpine peaks. Rising above the lightly lapping shore are steep mountains with rugged roads to test the legs, though flatter alternatives cater for cyclists who prefer to admire their massifs from below.

Route one: Beside Lake Annecy
Route: Easy. Bike: road or hybrid. Distance: 20/30km. Hills: none.

This relaxed ride is ideal for beginners or families. Heading away from the lullabying sways of the boats moored at Annecy’s Quai de la Tournett, a piste cyclable (cycle track) winds along the lake’s west shore, past yacht clubs and people-peppered beaches, and onto a landscape of quiet parks, sleepy villages and fields of idly grazing cattle.

The route follows a former railway, so gradients are minor, but there are plenty of opportunities to divert from the path. Take the tunnel near the village of Duingt to discover the fairy-tale wisps of Château Ruphy. Some of the former train stations are now cafes, so refuel and turnaround at Coup de Pompe (10km out) or Loisirs du Bout du Lac (15km) for an easy tootle back to Annecy.

Make it easier
For a more moderate route, complete a low-level circuit of the lake. Follow the piste cyclable along the west shore from Annecy, before indulging in a mixture of main roads, cycle track and quiet streets along the east shore (with one hill at Talloires) until you’re back to where you started, a total of 40km.

Route two: Semnoz and Forclaz
Route: hard. Bike: road. Distance: 80km. Hills: two major climbs.

Grappling mountains that have defeated Tour de France riders, this circuit of Lake Annecy is for serious cyclists only. From Quai de la Tournett, take the D41 road to Semnoz, where the gradient immediately rears up, setting the thigh-burning tone for the next 17km.

It’s not the severity of the climb that gets you but its utter relentlessness: continuous bends weave through thick pine forest before breaking out into alpine meadows at the summit of Semnoz. Efforts are rewarded with spectacular views across neighbouring peaks and down to the distant glistening waters of Lake Annecy.

Descend around sweeping switchbacks to St Jorioz, before following the piste cyclable along the west shore of Lake Annecy to reach the D42 near Vesonne. Here you’ll meet the Col de la Forclaz, a demanding ascent with tight hairpin bends and some very steep sections that will have you straining on the pedals. Pause for a breather at the col and admire the paragliders launching from the sheer cliffs above. Then it’s a technical descent to the main road and onto Annecy for well-deserved celebratory ice cream.

Make it easier
Peak-bagging roadies can reduce their sweat by choosing either Semnoz or Forclaz and combining it with the easy lakeshore roads to make a bespoke Tour du Lac.

Bike rental
In Annecy, Roul’ ma Poul (annecy-location-velo.com) has a massive fleet of hybrids. For road bikes, visit nearby Sévrier where Cycles Toinet (cycles-annick-toinet.fr) and Sévrier Sports (location-velo-annecy.com) each have a small selection.