Supercar Paradise: France’s best mountain passes

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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…
  5. 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).
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Why France?

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.

Image by Frank Derrier from Pixabay

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The Highs and Lows of Supercar Driving: Head to Europe’s mountains

Supercars are, quite simply, made for the mountains. Hairpin bends, steep inclines and, of course, when heading to mainland Europe, those wonderful German autobahns to traverse on your way to the hills where you really can let rip. What’s not to love?

However, Therein lies a quandary. With so many European mountain ranges in easy reach, where on earth do you head to? To help with inspiration we’ve put together some of the most tempting elevations throughout the continent. 

But the choice of which to select? Well, that’s completely up to you…

The Peaks and Troughs of Mainland Europe

The first major topography of altitude that probably springs to mind is The Alps. Stretching across 750 miles of France, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria and Slovenia, enjoying their delights could well take up the rest of your driving days.

But Europe’s behemoths certainly aren’t your only option. In fact, for supercar drivers, the welcoming arms of the lesser known uplands are perhaps even more appealing. The following are some awesome natural ranges that are well worth the effort it takes to reach them.

The Pyrenees: Forming a natural barrier on the border of Spain and France, the Pyrenees stretch from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. 

Three reasons to visit:

  1. A petrol head’s paradise playground stretching from coast to coast. Blast up your way up steep inclines, share the landscape with cows and goats as you cross high altitude passes, and head back down multiple death defying descents into verdant valleys. But your biggest challenge will be working out whether to speak French or Spanish… 
  2. Stock up on duty free goods in the tiny principality of Andorra.
  3.  Soothe away the stresses of everyday life at incredible natural spa towns, such as Baños de Benasque in Spain and Bagnères-de-Bigorre in France.

Feast upon:

  • Locally produced duck and goose dishes.
  • Chilindrones – a deceptively delicious side dish of sautéed peppers, tomatoes and onions.
  • An incredible array of local cheeses.

The Carpathians: Central Europe’s third largest mountain range stretches over 900 miles through Serbia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine and Romania.

Three reasons to drive there:

  1. Relatively undiscovered by those outside Eastern Europe, you can be guaranteed your supercar will attract plenty of admiring glances.
  2. Visit the real legend of Dracula – Bran Castle.
  3. Drive the 90-odd miles of Romania’s most famous road, the Transfagarasan Highway. Made famous by Jeremy Clarkson (something that’s either good or bad, depending on your perspective) who proclaimed it to be, ‘the best road in the world’. 

Feast upon:

  • Traditional shepherd food, such as the classic Bohrach – a mouth-watering combination of different meats, spices, potatoes, tomatoes, carrot and sweet peppers. Beware, a touch of chilli pepper gives it a bite…!
  • Rokot Krumpli, hearty fare that combines potato, sour cream, eggs, sausage and cheese.
  • Smooth, wild mushroom broth. Sounds simple – tastes incredible…

Sierra Nevada: Andalucía’s best kept mountain secret, the Sierra Nevada is a mere 20 hour blast through France and Spain if you drive straight through, or a mere 9 hours from Santander (take the 24 hour ferry from Portsmouth).

Three reasons it should be on your radar:

  1.  See the famous white villages of Las Alpujarras – tiny congregations of centuries old houses that gleam against the rocks and vegetation.
  2. Virtually deserted mountain roads to drive, and all in surprisingly great condition.
  3. Star gaze to your heart’s content in a true dark sky location – perhaps one of the best in Western Europe.

Feast upon: 

  • Migas: Salted bread crumbs fried with green peppers, olive oil and garlic, garnished with satisfying chunks of chorizo and morcilla.
  • Honey and jam – all locally produced and on sale in restaurants and roadside stalls
  • Cured ham, or jamon, served alongside your beer in local bars (gratis). The region is famous for it.

We could go on (and on) about great European mountain locations to enjoy your supercar. Others to discover include:

  •  The Balkans: Stretching from the Bulgarian-Siberian border to the Black Sea, the perfect driving location if a few days by the sea is a satisfactory conclusion to your supercar mountain adventure.
  • The Urals: A natural boundary between Asia and Europe, this Western Russian range is a place where you’ll see little evidence of outside visitors…
  • The Caucasus: If you fancy heading to the wilds of Georgia then you’ll love the Caucasus mountains. Home to friendly locals and travellers with an adventurous streak.
  • Owl Mountains: This Polish mountain range hides 90,000 cubic metres of concrete tunnels created and used by the Nazis during WWII.
  • Highlands: Yes, Scotland’s rugged, often harsh, landscape is still on the continent of Europe and offers an incredible driving experience close to home.

Mountain Driving Skills

No-one’s disputing that you know how to drive your car. But when heading to a terrain different to that which you normally enjoy it’s always worth re-visiting a few key driving skills. And you will, undoubtedly, have to adapt a little to account for steep mountain conditions.

  •  Be prepared: Mountains equal altitude equals snow and ice – even when it’s balmy and warm at sea level. We all know that winter brings such conditions (check out our blog on driving your supercar in the winter), but the real danger times are spring and autumn. At this time the high mountain passes might sport unexpected amounts of the white stuff or dangerous black ice. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and adjust your driving accordingly.
  • Visibility is key: The reason for taking your supercar to the mountains is to enjoy the testing driving conditions. But, exactly the same as on flat roads, don’t attempt any manoeuvres where your line of sight is impaired. In the mountains, rock walls and other natural geographic features can prevent you from seeing ahead. So be sure to keep to your side of the road (and that’s on the right, once you cross The Channel).
  • Adapt to the terrain: When descending steeply you’ll need to use lower gears and ensure the revs don’t red line. The general rule of thumb is the steeper the gradient, the lower the gear (and that applies to going uphill as well). The brakes and clutch are likely to take a bit of a hammering, so be aware of any smell that could indicate overheating.
  • A word about fuel: Petrol stations are often few and far between, so carry out due diligence as to where your next fill up point is if you’re planning a long drive.

But above all, enjoy. Mountain roads and supercars are a match made in heaven, so get out there and drive… 

Image by xuuxuu from Pixabay

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