General notes on our trip: August 28September 14 2014
We had unfinished business here. In May-June 2006 we had come to the Maritime Alps with the intention of riding the Marguareis route only to be faced with late spring snow; its unlikely wed have managed the ride anyway as we didnt really know the route and had allocated only a single day to what needed twice as long. This time we came at the end of August with less luggage and greatly improved mountainbiking skills.
We flew Easyjet Bristol to Nice. The airline and flight were absolutely fine, though we might have preferred a later flight than 7am. We went out on Thursday 28th August and spent 9 days touring, culminating with the Marguareis ridge route, then picked up a car in Menton and spent a week in Pigna in a rental house with a good pool. Hotels seem a little thin on the ground in the area and some places we stayed 8 years ago have closed. Nevertheless we found some good places to stay.
Maps and information: We took French IGN maps at 1:100K and 1:25K. These were good for the French side; they have some information about the Italian side but it is sketchy. For Italy we only had the maps wed procured in our 2006 stay in Pigna a walking map of Imperia and a small map of Pigna district from the tourist office, with some walks and mtb rides marked.
In France the FFC supports several VTT centres where good routes have been signposted. There are also some long-distance traverses which we found ourselves following in the course of our rides, but we cant find information online about these. In Italy it is less organised. Some routes have been worked out but others which are very good ones and clearly well used by MTBers are not documented.
Thurs 28th. Bristol to Nice to Peillon (43km cycling, 720m ascent)
We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn, flew to Nice, reassembled our bikes, and rode into town to leave some belongings at our last-night hotel, Les Cygnes. We found we had neglected to pack a water bottle for Colin; scoured Nice to buy one, and had lunch: an easier find than water bottles.
We rode out of town from the Port area on the Observatory road, to the Col de 4 Chemins and descended to Drap on a very steep road which for a road almost counted as technical. We continued up valley towards Peillon and saw the village teetering on a pinnacle above us. There were many hairpins. We stayed at the Auberge de la Madone, which is comfortable and serves excellent food on a terrace with stunning views; highly recommended.
Fri 29th. Peillon to Sospel (36km, 1100m)
From above the village it is possible to pick up a path which is also a VTT route taking you down to the valley. I believe this is a Roman road. The entire route starts above Peille. It involves a push at first, then it is a nice singletrack with a few technical sections. We werent used to mountain biking laden so we found the obstacles a bit hard. Then up the gorge to lEscarene and further to the Col de Braus. There is a cafe building here but it wasnt open the day we were there.
We stayed at Les Iris, a lovely B&B with a pool and two adorable dachshunds.
Sat 30th. So-called rest day at Sospel (22km, 940m)
In which we did VTT route no 9, designated black, up to Mont Razet. An excellent scenic and interesting
route if not 100% rideable.
We ate in Le Relais du Sel, probably the best place in town, good food and lovely ambience in a little garden by the river
slightly marred by a motorcycle rally in the town and
its pop concert.
Sun 31st. Col de Turini (27+8km, 1230+200m)
We spent most of the morning riding up the road pass. This goes up a fantastic big gorge, where swallows
sweep huge circles in a vast rocky space. Right above the gorge is the little chapel of Notre Dame de Menour,
linked across the road by a handsome viaduct which formed part of the defences of the local chateau.
We had lunch at our hotel, Les Chamois, then did a short ride in the afternoon, to the Baisse de Petronel and
back along the GR52, which was ok but not exceptional, except for
one memorable tree root. The hotel is simple, the food is good and the owners rather characterful.
We rode up to LAuthion fort, naughtily going the wrong way round the one-way, descended the amazing beautiful ridge of the Tête de Secca. This was mostly rough gravel road, and mostly downhill, so we were at La Brigue for lunch. We did the Tende VTT route number 7 some of which was quite fun, some too hard, taking us to St Dalmas from where we rode to Tende in search of ice cream. Failed. NB, the Tende tunnel closed a few days later for a stretch but I dont think we can blame the lack of ice cream on that as it hadnt happened. The French dont understand ice cream just as the Italians dont understand soupe de poissons.
This was no distance at all and took no time. This is a Lie. We bummed around until lunchtime, when we found the Chamois dOr which is run by Italians and serves pizzocheri (our favourite) and also ice cream (our other favourite).
Weds 3rd September. So-called rest day at Castérino (12km, 560m)
In which we did the VTT ride number 16, only taking the jeep road straight from Castérino to the Baisse de Peyrefique which wasnt a wise choice as a lot of it was a push. The descent we expected to be pretty tough, and the start of the route was fenced off (perhaps temporarily) which was a bit troublesome, but we found the route. It was as we predicted somewhat tough with some of it unrideable, but what we could manage was good.
Note: the background image is based some trompe l’oeil stonework seen in the Maritime Alps in 2011.