Excuse our presumption, but we’re betting that the numero uno reason you invested in your dream supercar wheels (apart from the kudos, naturally) is the thrill of pushing your driving skills and the ability of your vehicle to the limit. Well, there’s no better place to do this than in the wilderness paradise that is the French Alps.
So join us as we share some of our favourite locations that combine roads boasting inclines so steep that they scream for you to floor the gas, breath-taking vantage points and hairpins so numerous that they’ll set your heart a-flutter (and no, it’s not just because of the altitude…).
Welcome to the best French mountain passes that you have to experience at least once in your lifetime…
The Best French Mountain Passes for Supercars
Whatever you drive, we promise that the following mountain passes are perfectly equipped to bring on the buzz every supercar owner craves. The following are uber-drives that present multiple cols, passes, steep inclines and declines, switchbacks galore and the continual adrenaline rushes as you harness your inner Colin McRae. Just remember, they drive on the right in mainland Europe…
The 7 Cols of the Ubaye Valley
Named after the Ubaye River that runs through it, this is an amazing location to spend a lazy few days discovering the 7 amazing cols of this Alpes de Haute Provence department. These are:
- Col de Larche: Reaching 1991 metres in height, the Col de Larche is known as the Gateway to Italy as it heads into the Stura di Demonte valley in the neighbouring country. You’ll be delighted to know that at the present you won’t have to navigate cyclists, pedestrians or tractors as they’re currently banned. The perfect scenario for uninterrupted supercar driving.
- Col Saint Jean: You head down from Barcelonnette to Le Lauzet (a drive of around 20km). From here you begin the climb to the 1333 metres, with gentle gradients of around 5-6%. Col Saint Jean is a relatively relaxing traverse, getting you revved up for the white knuckle drives further down the line.
- Col de Pontis: Nature at its best, the short winding road up to the Col de Pontis is a gritty drive, but well worth it for the views out over the dam and the resulting reservoir that flooded the original ancient village of Ubaye.
- Col de la Bonette: The highest paved road in Europe, the Col de la Bonette saves the best for the final kilometre of its 2715 metre climb, where the incline increases to around 10%. The view when you get there is, quite simply, jaw-dropping. Take a backpack, park up, and wander a little. The air is among the cleanest on the planet, and the delicious silence is the perfect antidote the 21st century life. And – breathe…
- Col d’Allos: This Tour de France classic offers plenty of places to stop for a refreshing dip at one of the natural beaches of Bachelard along the way. Top Tip: In July and August the road to the Col d’Allos is closed to all cars between 08:00 and 11:00 (it’s cyclists only at this time).
- Col de la Cayolle: Breathtaking from start to finish, Col de la Cayolle delights with an incredible 9kms of zigzags and hairpins. Stop off in the hamlet restaurant of Madame Arnaud in Fours for a hearty plate of local ravioli.
- Col de Vars: At 2109 metres, the Col de Vars is a serious climb that gets more stunning with every curve and bend. There’s some incredible natural rock formations on the way up, knowns as Demoiselles coiffees, and you can take a detour to a tiny lakeside inn where Napoleon once stayed.
The Route Napoleon
What could be better than driving the high altitude road that takes you from Grenoble to gorgeous Grasse on the Côte d’Azur? Spring or autumn are great times to take on this glorious route, perhaps stopping along the way to kayak or bathe in the bright blue-green waters of the Gorges du Verdon.
Take some time out to enjoy the towns of Corps, Sisteron, and Castellane, and you can indulge your love of perfumes in the epicentre of the industry – Grasse – at the end of this classic route.
Top Tip. Avoid Route Napoleon in the height of summer as this is when you’ll encounter the most traffic. Plus the temperature in spring and autumn is pleasant, averaging 20 – 25°C, instead of the blistering 30 degrees plus in July and August.
The Daddy of them All: The Routes des Grandes Alpes
At 684 km in length (425 miles), this adventure starts at the shores of Lake Leman and finishes at the Mediterranean. Along the way there’s an incredible 16 mountain passes, with the highest hitting an oxygen-thinning 2,802 metres.
The Route des Grande Alpes was opened in 1913 and was fully paved by 1937 – this truly is a legendary route, but only one you should attempt from mid-June onwards. Only then will the highest passes be guaranteed snow free. They’ll close again when the snows arrive in the autumn.
Journey’s end, in Menton, is a French Riviera delight, and well worth a few days R&R. And, of course, you shouldn’t fail to drive your wheels in Cannes or St. Tropez. As the video shows, you’ll be in good company.
So apart from the obvious (scenery, incredible driving experience, the food, wine etc.) there are many additional reasons to book a Eurotunnel ticket and set your satnav for our nearest major mountain range. These include:
- The solitude: While there’ll be others enjoying the same adventure playground, the sheer scale of this mountainous region means that in general the roads are quiet.
- The nature: OK… So the roar of your engine might not be conducive to spotting shy creatures, but packing a picnic and stopping along the way for a peaceful alfresco lunch might mean you’re lucky enough to spot beasties as diverse as Golden Eagles and even wolves! However, you’ll be lucky with the latter (there’s only an estimated couple of hundred covering an enormous area). But keep your eyes peeled and marmots, chamois, ptarmigan, mouflon and even Ibex might make an appearance.
- The language: It goes without saying that if you learn a little lingo you’ll enamour yourself with the locals. Pick up a phrase book, don’t worry too much about your accent, and give it a go. Your supercar will have undoubtedly piqued interest from others, and the odd word or two en français will do wonders for English-French relations.
Check out our Radical Rally Sandbanks to Monaco Grand Tour where we’ll include some of the above. We also hope to include the D23 near Boulogne as well. Although do check local information as rocks slides and other issues often cause it to be closed.