Grande Traversee L’Alpes-Provence
186 Mi.(299 KM)
% Rideable (time)
Tales On Tyres
Franzi and Jona
Picture Provence, in the South of France, and what comes to your mind? Fields of lavender, butter croissants, and the glamorous beaches of the ‘Côte d’Azur’? Although you’ll be able to find all of these, Provence is much more than this simple vision; you might be taken by surprise of what it hides under the facade of its all too obvious pleasures: rocky, sinewy singletrack crossing high alpine meadows, rustic pine forests and small traditional villages where the people still greet strangers with a kind smile.
The Grande Traversée L’Alpes-Provence is the perfect way to explore all the colors of France’s most diverse region. The route starts right on the French-Italian border, in the so-called Hautes-Alpes, displaying snow-capped mountain peaks, high altitude lakes, and small farming villages. It then drops down into the Blanche valley, where it follows the banks of the wild and mythical Ubaye river. Although you’re leaving the high mountains behind, this doesn’t mean the route becomes any less spectacular. Flowy single-track paths lead through crooked oak- and dusty pine forests, crossing one of Europe’s largest geological reserve, including the absolute breathtaking and unique landscapes of the Terres Noires before it spills you out among stony, lavender-scented plateaus in the southern part of the region. The picturesque town of Forcalquier with the beautiful Rochers des Mourres nearby, is the perfect place to hang out for a day or two and soak up the history-laden atmosphere before you get ready for your final push to Manosque, where the 300 km long route finishes.
Along the way, expect a diverse range of highlights. Les Terres Noires is a geological area that belongs to the must-ride destination amongst many avid mountain bikers. And there is a good reason why: the surreal landscape paired with smooth single trails and spectacular views is the ground for pure riding pleasure. Similarly, the Rochers des Mourres is a curious rock formation home to numerous mystical legends, one of which claims it was an infamous meeting place for witches…
The ‘Le Département des Alpes de Haute-Provence’ created this route across the Provence and kindly let us share it.
Aside from these, you can look forward to picturesque villages and small towns; Provence brims with historic towns featuring narrow cobblestone streets and exuberant flower arrangements hanging from nearly every window ledge. What’s more, the proportion of flowy singletrack along the route is enormous and, scenery aside, makes this route a real treat for rig and rider. And there’s the sheer variety of terrain to be found; the Provence is a region with many facets and the route takes you across all its contrasting landscapes.
And last but not least, expect a generous assortment of traditional patisseries and boulangeries. The display cabinets of the local artisan bakeries are filled with buttery chocolate croissants, juicy almond tartlets and rustic baguettes and make every cyclist’s heart beat faster.
Difficulty: The Grande Traversée L’Alpes-Provence has been awarded a 7.5. It’s targeted at mountain bikers, so expect steps, steep to very steep sections, hairpins and stony tracks. This is not your leisurely dirt-road ride and requires the mastering of at least some basic mountain bike skills.
- The intriguing Terres Noires geological formation
- The mystical Rochers des Mourres
- Numerous picturesque villages and small towns
- Food! No shortage of traditional patisseries and boulangeries
- Kilometres of flowy singletrack
- The best time to ride the Grande Traversée L’Alpes-Provence is in the spring season, from March to May and during autumn from September to October. During the summer, temperatures can become oppressively hot. In early spring, consider the risk of late snow remaining in the mountains, depending on the year.
- Electric storms are common in the Hautes-Alpes during the hot summer month. It’s highly advised to leave exposed areas and head immediately below the treeline as soon as you can sense a storm approaching.
- Taking in consideration that it is officially a mountain bike routea hardtail featuring a front suspension and 2.4in tires or a rigid plus bike would be ideal.
- Make sure to check out the tourist board’s information, which is provided on their official website (Link in Resources). As they are not only offering basic facts about the routes but also have it broken down into segments with individual difficulty ratings, which you then can mix and match according to your comfort level.
- Stay on trails and respect your surroundings; a great portion of the route passes through numerous protected areas which aren’t sealed off behind protective barriers. A level of respect is necessary if you want them to remain open and accessible by bike in the future for others to enjoy.
- The entire route is really well marked and you would have a hard time trying to get lost.
- If you come across a herd of sheep on the high plains, don’t walk right through it even if the trail leads you that way but instead navigate around the herd without disturbing the animals. Makes one happy shepherd.
- Getting to Col de Larche, the start point, is relatively complicated. There’s a bus from Barcelonette to Col de Larche, but it doesn’t officially have space to transport bicycles – so you’re dependent on the good-will of the bus driver as to whether place can be found on board (we removed the wheels and saddles of our two bikes and fit them in the trunk). Although it is possible to start the route from Barcelonnette, it’s well worth making it to the official starting point, as you otherwise would miss out on a really beautiful mountain pass. At the end of the route, Manosque is well served by trains. There are many permutations that are possible depending on where you’re coming from, and these are discussed further in the accompanying Ride Gallery.
- Wild camping isn’t officially allowed in France but people are generally friendly and open towards bikepackers, as long as you #leavenotrace and stay clear of protected and delicate areas. There is a digital pamphlet for the Grande Traversée l’Alpes-Provence, published by the official tourist agency, under Resources. There, you’ll be able find a list of eco-friendly accommodation. Other options, best tracked down via the local tourist offices, includes hotels, bed & breakfasts, traditional gites, and paid campsites.
- There is no need to carry food for several days at a time as you’ll be able to pass at least one supermarket or small store each day.
- Most small and medium-sized supermarkets close during lunchtime. Hours can vary but usually tend to run from 12.00 – 3.00pm. Bear in mind that some smaller village stores may well not open until the owner has finished his/hers well-deserved afternoon-nap… Shops are generally closed on Sundays too.
- Water isn’t an issue, as you regularly come across small towns and villages which all have public drinking fountains. Unless it’s clearly marked with a sign stating ‘Non-Potable’, all water coming out of a tab is safe to drink. Due to the relatively hot climate, we recommend a capacity of carrying at least 2L on your bike.
- The region’s official tourist agency provides very helpful information at the following links:
- Click here for an excellent digital pamphlet of the complete route
- Also, find a very brief overview in English here. And click here for a detailed overview of the ride in French, as well as the complete route broken down in smaller gpx segments. Note that under ‘Les Tronçons (descriptifs & traces GPS)’ at the bottom of the page you can find detailed descriptions in French for each section.
- See Cass Gilbert’s Ride Gallery for more information on the route – particularly the logistics of getting there.