Route des Grandes Alpes

700 kilometers of driving nirvana from the French Riviera to Lake Geneva

Itinerary

From south to north, the road starts from the French Riviera and climbs via the Col de Turini. It heads through the Mercantour Park and over the Col de la Bonette until it reaches the city of Barcelonnette. The road then heads to Briançon via the Col d'Izoard and continues to Modane via the Col du Galibier. After crossing the extraordinary landscapes of the Col de l'Iseran in the Vanoise Park, the route crosses Bourg-Saint-Maurice, over the Col des Saisies and descends to le Léman.

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Menton to Barcelonnette

via D 2566 → M 2565 → M 2205 → D 29A → D 64 → M64 → D 4 → D 900

Col de Turini (1,604 m)

The well known pass was featured in the first episode of Top Gear series 10 when the presenters went in search of the greatest driving road in the world. It is also one of the most dangerous and challenging stages of the Monte Carlo Rally because of its many hairpin turns.

Cime de la Bonette (2,802 m)

From the south, the climb is 26 km long and starts at Saint-Etienne-de-Tinée. As the road ascends through a series of sweeping bends, the scenery turns from lush green to volcanic like barren landscape at the top. La Bonette is a fabulous drive that brings its rewards.

Barcelonnette (1,140 m)

This little city is a vision of Mexico, born back on the dreams and travels of a Frenchman who once called Mexico home. The Fêtes Latino-Mexicaines, the most lively event of the annual calendar, is held each August to celebrate Mexican food, music and regional dances.

Barcelonnette to Briançon

via D 900 → D 902

Col de Vars (2,018 m)

The pass has been included in the Tour de France more than 30 times. Sure, it is not the most impressive pass, but it is a good place to have a break. Get some fresh air, order a tarte aux myrtilles at the Refuge Napoléon and try to spot the marmots. They are everywhere!

Col d'Izoard (2,360 m)

It links Briançon, in the north-west, with the Guil valley in the Queyras regional park - one of the oldest parts of the Alps. One your way to the top, you will cross the unique Casse Déserte, a moon-like boulder strewn mountainside with stange rock structures.

Briançon (1,326 m)

Sitting at the crossroads of five alpine valleys at the gates of Italy, Briançon is a spectacular medieval town that has been strongly fortified through the ages. The old town and fortifications of Vauban both have a UNESCO World Heritage status.

Briançon to Val d'Isère

via D 1091 → D 902 → D 1006 → D 902

Col du Galibier (2,645 m)

Built from 1879, the pass was completed by a tunnel in 1891. It is often the highest point of the Tour de France. The Galibier is connected to Valloire in the north, a nice little town with a 17th century baroque church among the best preserved in the area..

Col de l'Iseran (2,770 m)

This breath-traking scenic drive provides a superb link between the Tarentaise Valley and the Maurienne. The Iseran road is currently the highest paved mountain pass in Europe (Cime de la Bonette is not a pass) and took about 35 years to build. Simply majestic!

Val d'Isère (1,850 m)

It's essentially a ski resort that hosted the men's downhill race during the 1992 Winter Olympics, and regularly hosts World Cup alpine events. It is a convenient stop over if you are looking for food or drinks, there are plenty of cafés and restaurants downtown.

Val d'Isère to Lake Geneva

via D 902 → D 925 → D 218B → D 218C → D 909 → D 4 → D 902

Cormet de Roselend (1,968 m)

With green pastures, milk cans on the roadside and cow bells ringing in the background, this place is like a postcard. But the beautiful Lac de Roselend is what makes this pass stand out. Beaufort cheese lovers, don't forget to stop at the Beaufortain Cooperative Dairy!

Col des Aravis (1,426 m)

This second category mountain pass marks the border between the départements of Savoie and Haute-Savoie. It is a very popular spot for tourists as it offers a splendid panorama over the snow-capped Mont Blanc distant of 30 km. Beware of wild animals crossing the road.

Thonon-les-Bains (431 m)

Northern terminus of the Route des Grandes Alpes, Thonon is renowned for its climate and mineral waters. Overlooking Lake Geneva, the parc du belvédère offers a stunning panorama. Tourists have been enjoying pleasure cruises on the lake since the Belle Epoque.

Extra

Places that are worth the detour

Monaco

A road trip in the Alps requires energy and concentration, so why don't you take a rest before starting. Monte-Carlo is just 20 minutes from Menton, where the route starts. You car will be safe there, so enjoy your life! Book a five-star suite, have a massage and drink cocktails at the swimming pool.


Fort de Tournoux

Resembling a huge Tibetan monastery on the mountainside, this fortress is actually an ensemble of fortifications and batteries built from 1839 to defend France against invasion from Italy. The gates to the fort are locked and protected, but excellent guided tours are a regular occurence in summer.

Montgenèvre

Just 15 minutes from Briançon, Montgenèvre is France's oldest ski resort and marks the border with Italy. An obelisk was erected there in 1804 to Napoleon's glory and marked the border until 1947. The Col de Montgenèvre is one of the six possible routes of Hannibal's crossing of the Alps, in 218 BC.


Évian-les-Bains

Famous for its spring water, Évian is a lovely holiday resort and spa town on the edge of Lake Geneva. It has luxurious hotels, golf courses, a beautiful marina and the largest themed casino in Europe. Remarkable monuments include the Palais Lumière and the city hall, the former summer residence of the Lumière family.


Chalet Matsuzaka

This extraordinary hotel is run by a couple of friendly British expatriates who have lived in Japan. Chalet Matsuzaka has large bedrooms with balconies facing the mountains, a parking garage, Japanese-style meals and a true Japanese spa! Perfect for a zen evening after a long drive in your sports car.

Yvoire

Yvoire is a gorgeous village located 15 kilometers west of Thonon. Its position marks the boundary between the "small lake" and "large lake". The town is well known for its medieval architecture and beautiful flower decorations. The jardin des cinq sens is a wonderful plant maze.