Posts Tagged ‘Lac Cenis’

Route description and places to stay along Stage 3 of this great Alpine tour.

Map of Stage 3

Stage 3 – Bourg St Maurice to Lanslebourg
Distance – 76km (120km inc trip to Lac Cenis – 6/8hrs) (200km+ Bourg St Maurice to Briancon 6/8hrs)
Cols – Val d’Isere, Col d’Iseran

Entering Val d'Isere

This stage runs through Bourg-Saint-Maurice, Val d’Isere, Bessans, Val Cenis, Lanslebourg. This pass, only for tourism, is undoubtedly one of the finest in the Alps at 2,770 m (9,088 ft) and especially the highest Alpine pass. The legendary Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved mountain pass in France, riding this stage is breath-taking, stunning, the ride of a lifetime. Riding up to its highest point the mountains seem to weigh down on you like sleeping titans and at certain points the road, which is like a rollercoaster ride with a throttle, seems to cut through a surreal lunar landscape. Doing it once is simply not enough!

BEWARE – This road will bitch slap you into a state of bikers ecstasy.

Magical road to Val d'Isere

Starting at Bourg St Maurice and passing Lac du Chevril it’s just 20km up to Val d’Isere at about 1800m, a large ski resort and a gateway to the seriously high riding road through Col de l’Iseran.

Rush hour in Val d'Isere

From the St Charles bridge on this part of the D902 becomes utterly awe-inspiring, a stunning run never to be forgotten!

Mental Landscapes of Col d'Isere

The Col de l’Iseran doesn’t go through the Alps, it’s damn well slapped right on top of them! At the sumit are jaw dropping views and a little restaurant / shop where you can buy your highest Col in France t-shirts, or a defibrillator if altitude sickness has kicked in! After stopping for obligatory photos of the sign at the top, it’s a superb descent down the savagely rugged south side.

Lunar landscape's of Col de l'Iseran

From Bourg St Maurice to the highest point you will climb about 2000m within 50km, so older bikes without fuel injection may well start acting sluggish and burn more fuel than normal due to lack of oxygen, old farts may get heart attacks for the same reason, make sure you have a clean air filter and a full petrol tank 🙂

Get your t-shirts here!

Refuge at Col de l'Iseran

There are also 6 or 7 tunnels along the route, can’t remember how many but some of them are long, wet, dark and very slippery, belting through them at 100kmph is definitely not recommended if you wish to see your family again.

Col de l'Iseran heading south

From the summit it’s a good twisty 40km road down to Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis and a drop of 1500 meters.

South side col de l'Iseran towards Lanslebourg

From Lanslebourg you have two routes to Briancon the half way point of Route Grand Alp. The most enjoyable and longest is via Col du Galibier, but there is also the route via Lac du Mont Cenis into Italy then on to Briancon via Montgenevre.

Smooth Alpine road to Col du Cenis

Given the time I’d recommend to check in to a hotel in Lanslebourg around 3ish, dump your gear to lighten your bike and take a run up to Lac Cenis, believed to have been Hannibal’s final pass before dropping into Italy and kicking three shades of s*it out of the romans.

Road along Lac du Cenis is well worth a run!

The north side road up is a real little belter, smooth surface and twisty’s up to and arround the lake with utterly stunning views and a couple of restaurants and bars whose car parks are packed with bikers.

Summit of Col Mont Cenis!

The south side into Italy is a classic break melting stepped zig-zag eventually leading to the Torino motorway (left) or Briancon (right), the route to Briancon from here is not bad and enjoyable enough, but far better to double back, take a night around Lanslebourg and head up Col du Galibier with a fresh head.

Zig-Zag road on Italian side of Lac Cenis

This will allow you to pull into Briancon around lunch time, dump your gear and run up the now famous “Cime de la Bonette”.


Col de l’Iseran is the highest mountain pass in France, but the Cime de la Bonette became the highest road when the local authorities extended Col de la Bonette in a loop around a mountain peak – for no other reason than to be higher than Iseran – bloody brilliant 🙂

Riding the high alps you may occasionally hear a sharp screeching sound like a Japanese school girl being accosted by your grandfather. This is probably a marmot – basically a cross between a beaver and a giant guinea pig on speed. They will stand on their hind legs, give you the finger and screech to warn other marmots of danger. Best to leave them alone – even after marinating them for 24hrs they still taste like rat 😉

Route Instructions

* Start: Bourg Saint Maurice
* Exit town to the East
* At McDonald’s follow D1090 towards Val d’Isere
* At Seez, take D902 towards Val d’Isere
* Climb and descend Col de l’Iseran
* Leave the marmots & Japanese alone
* Stay on D902 until Lanslebourg

Biker friendly hotels along Stage 3 of the route;

Mont Iseran Hôtel – Bessans
Hotels in Lanslebourg

Downloadable GPS Routes for this post are as follows;

Road conditions; check the status of the Cols/Passes:
InfoTrafic: Alpes Du Nord
Bison Fute

Next Stage 4 – Val Cenis to Briancon, why not sign up to the Email Subscription to stay posted, email address’s will not be given to any other party.


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Jour & Nuit Restaurant/Bar/RoomsI really did not want to leave, I loved the little town of Torgnon in the Aosta Valley and for me the little place I had stayed in was perfect, rustic, full of character and charm. If your ever up there it’s worth staying with them, I’ll insert the GPS location soon, but for now you can check the place out at: http://www.jouretnuit.it/en/index.htm.

As the pass from Italy to Bourg St Maurice in France via the D1090 and Col de Petite St Bernard was closed I had to take the A5/A32 motorway via Turin then through the pass at Montgenevre, back into France and Briancon, my destination for the next 2 nights. A rather boring trip except for the pass from the French border down to Briancon which has some fantastic views and as with all good mountain roads in France there were plenty of motorbikes blasting their way up and down the pass utterly disregarding the speed limit which seems to only apply to car drivers.

It was still only lunch time when I got to Briancon, so I dumped my gear off at the hotel and went for a quick burn out of town on the iconic D902 to Col d’Izoard which is a high mountain pass (2361 metres) in the Hautes-Alpes. It is most definitely closed for the winter months and right up to the summer, but luckily for me it had been opened up a few days before. Both the road and the scenery is absolutely mind blowing. About half way up the road to the pass I hit the snow line, and it’s a very surreal experience riding a motorbike along a road where in places either side is bordered with 3 metres of snow which seems to threaten to collapse in on top of you. Upon reaching the summit the road plunges into another valley where again the scenery shocks the senses, the view of the Alps ahead, the deep valley far below is truly breath taking which is not hard as the air here at this height is getting a little thin.

Riding down the D902 from Col d’Izoard towards Guillestre there are forbidding and barren scree slopes with strange protruding pinnacles of weathered rock on the upper south side. This place is known as the Casse Desert and has formed a dramatic backdrop to some key moments in the Tour de France. I had been through this pass a number of years ago, but that had been in early Autumn and there had been no snow, now in early summer the snow transforms the road into a very different riding experience and not to be forgotten.

Tomorrow I’ll head back into Italy and up to Lac Cenis.


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