The TOUR Route
Alps Divide is a mixed-terrain bikepacking route, weaving along the Western Alps, from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Geneva, crossing back and forth along the national borders of France, Italy and Switzerland.
We spent three years piecing together a 1000km journey, that showcases many of the amazing diverse landscapes the Alps has to offer, whilst taking you on paths less travelled. Spectacular and remote scenery filled with high mountain passes, alpine pastures, turquoise lakes, and historic military gravel roads. To show you beautiful parts of the Alps that you might have not been to before.
The route goes South to North, starting in the picturesque town of Menton on the Côte d’Azure and finishing on the shores of Lake Geneva in the small town of Thonon les Bains. Of course, the route can be ridden in reverse, but please note that there are some places where the ascent and descent of climbs will not be as optimal in reverse.
The route crosses serious, mountainous terrain. The Alpine environment should not be taken lightly, it is a significant undertaking that will require a high level of fitness, extensive preparation and carefully selected equipment.
As much as we have tried to create as “ridable” route as possible, the going will be tough. The terrain will vary from smooth tarmac to unrideable footpaths. If you are looking for a route where you will ride your bike 100% of the time, then the Alps Divide route might not be for you. We have however, included an number of variants, so that you can avoid a couple of the hike-a-bike sections.
The few hike-a-bike sections you will encounter on the main route, are however, all well worth the effort for the views and to take you to quiet hidden valleys away from the crowds. Nothing has been included just for the sake of it, or to make the route harder.
The majority of the route is on gravel tracks, quiet paved lanes with just a little single-track. However, in order to link up some of the remote sections, you will occasionally be on busier roads. Whether it’s day or night, you will be sharing these roads with vehicles, please take the upmost of care and make sure you can be seen.
There are small sections of the route where you will be on narrow trails/footpaths with consequential terrain around you. You need to stay vigilant and focused.
The question we get asked the most! There is no clear-cut answer here, as the perfect bike does not exist. Whatever bike you choose to ride there will be times during the route you might wish you chose something different.
We have ridden the route a good number of times, on both gravel bikes and mountain bikes.
There are plenty of paved mountain roads and fast-rolling gravel, where you want a fast and light setup. However, there is also plenty of rough terrain, with many long rocky descents, where you will be very grateful for the extra comfort of a mountain bike and suspension, but it is not essential. There are also a few sections of the route where you will be hiking, regardless of your bike choice.
Whether you choose to ride a hardtail mountain bike or a gravel bike, have front suspension or no suspension, is completely down to how much comfort you need, your bike handling skills and what bike you have available to you.
One thing is for sure, we would recommend very low gearing, definitely less than 1:1, as the climbing is very steep in places and the climbs are long! We also recommend tyres that are at least 50mm / 2.0” wide.
GETTING TO THE START
Whether you arrive by car, rail, air or by bike, you will find Menton relatively straightforward to get to.
By train through France, you can take the high-speed TGV train to Marseille, before swapping to regional trains that will take you to Menton. Or you could arrive via Ventimiglia in Italy.
If you are arriving by air, then you will fly into Nice Airport. From there the regional TER trains depart from Nice-St Augustin Station frequently throughout the day. You can either walk to the station or catch one of the trams from either terminal for free. The train is a cheap and easy option but will take approx 1 – 1.5 hours as it is not direct.
You can also cycle from Nice Airport to Menton! A stunning 55km road route along the Côte d’Azur. We will add a Komoot route file here in due course.
GETTING HOME FROM THE FINISH
If you are looking to fly home, then Geneva airport will be the closest airport.
As soon as the exact location for the finish line has been confirmed, we will update this page to provide travel logistics of how best to travel to the airport via train, taxi or bike, or to travel to other destinations by train etc.
TRAIN TRAVEL WITH A BIKE IN FRANCE
All SNCF trains allow you to travel with your bike. However, the acceptance rules vary depending on the type of train.
YOUR BIKE ON THE TGV (HIGH SPEED LINE)
On board TGV INOUI and INTERCITÉS trains, you have two solutions:
Option A: If your bike is NOT dismantled, you will need to reserve a place for your bike, for a fee of 10€, when purchasing your ticket. There are a limited number of these places available.
Option B: If your bike IS dismantled and placed in a bag/cover/bike box, with dimensions under 120X90cm, then your bike can travel for free (counted as luggage), does not need reserving and there is no limitation on spaces available. Please note, that from our experience if you arrive with your bike in a cardboard bike box, then you are likely to be turned away, as they are usually larger than the maximum dimensions.
If you are trying to opt for option A, and your search does not show any results, then either an unassembled bicycle cannot be taken on that particular train or there are no more spaces available. You will then need to resort to option B and modify your search criteria by adding “+ a bike” and choosing the “dismantled bike under cover” solution.
YOUR BIKE ON BOARD TER TRAINS (REGIONAL)
On board TER trains: your bike travels free of charge, suspended or placed in a space provided for this purpose. These locations are accessible subject to availability and cannot be reserved. You also have the option of travelling with your dismantled bike in a bag/cover/bike box no bigger than 120X90cm.
YOUR BIKE ON OUIGO TRAINS
On board OUIGO trains: your bike must be folded or dismantled and stored in a bag/cover/bike box no bigger than 120X90cm. It is compulsory to book an “Additional baggage” option, at the price of 5€, when purchasing your ticket.
There is no scarcity of resources along this route. You will find water fountains in nearly every village. There are bakeries and small supermarkets in most larger villages, and plenty of bike shops and hotels in larger towns along the way.
Despite resupply being abundant along the route, it is worth noting that you may find opening hours of shops and restaurants to be quite limited, so please plan accordingly. You will also pass a number of mountain refuges on some of the more remote trails (check season closing dates if you are riding in the autumn so you’re not left disappointed).
Mid-July to Mid-September is the best time to ride the Alps Divide. During these months the average temperatures will range between 8°C at night and 26°C in the day. However, weather in the Alps can be serious and you need to be prepared for anything. Ranging from: Soaring heat and avoiding the risk of dehydration. Thunderstorms, resulting in lighting strikes, hail, flash floods and landslides. Through to cold fronts bringing snow, below freezing overnight temperatures at altitude and the risk of hypothermia.
The route spends a lot of time going up to altitudes between 2000m – 3000m. Bad weather at these heights can be very serious! You really don’t want to be stuck on a ridge line or mountain pass in a big storm, so please monitor the weather carefully and make sensible decisions, knowing that the weather in the valley floor can have no correlation to isolated weather that might be happening on a 3000m mountain pass.
If you are lucky, you may encounter some of the spectacular wildlife the Alps has to offer. Bearded vultures, Golden Eagles, Ibex, Chamoix, Deer and Marmots will all be watching you from afar, even if you haven’t spotted them yet. Several packs of Wolves and wild Boar also call parts of the route home, but your chances of encountering them is very unlikely. However, it’s worth being vigilant for wild boar or deer crossing your path when your descending, so they don’t become obstacles.
Patou, the Pyrenees mountain dog, probably represent the most intimidating animals you may encounter along the route. They are large dogs, with a thick white coat, and are bred to guard and protect sheep. Many of them are behind fences these days, and they generally sound more daunting than they actually are, but it is important to know how to deal with them just in case.
- If there is a flock of sheep up ahead, then you might find the Patou will come towards you barking furiously.
- They may come quite close (5 to 10 metres), they are just working out if you are a potential threat to the flock.
- Stop, get off your bike and stay calm, and speak calmly to the dog.
- Avoid making direct eye contact with the dog.
- Don’t do anything that could seem like a threat.
- Don’t shout, don’t wave your arms or throw stones.
- If the terrain allows, try and give the flock a wide berth.
- Move slowly away from the dog and the flock. If the dog starts barking again, stop again!
- The dog may take a several minutes to decide that you are not a threat, but It will gradually calm down and may then wander back towards the flock.