10 Reasons to Choose the French Alps for your next Cycling Holiday

10 Reasons to Choose the French Alps for your next Cycling Holiday

I don’t know a fat from a thin (tyre, that is) and I wouldn’t attempt to extol the virtues of a Bianchi over a Cervelo. I haven’t fought hard up a col, don’t own a pair of fash cycling shorts and still ride in a laughably (and some have) upright position similar to the genteel days of old. But, this article is about those who do and those who don’t. My husband cycles. I don’t. Let me explain how Annecy works well for us both.

Reason 1: International Airport

If you choose to fly into Geneva (the most sensible thing to do), you will be at your destination forty minutes after having cleared customs, grabbed your bike and luggage and loaded them onto your rental car.

Reason 2: Lake Annecy

This beautiful area doesn’t just boast stunning, high mountains. I’m trying not to get carried away here, but the Annecy Lake is the sparkling jewel amongst these soaring heights and it is not necessary to stay anywhere isolated in order to be able to get up in the morning and hop straight onto your bike for a challengingly uphill day.

photo © Catherine Berry

Reason 3: Perfect Match

Whilst the cycling members of your party are out pedalling up and down cols, the non-cycling members can be swimming in the Annecy Lake, taking a sight-seeing hop-on, hop-off ferry to visit the little villages on its banks, checking out the markets, visiting castles or sun-baking on the grassy beaches. Some groups have been known to describe this as a perfect match.

Reason 4: Après-cycling

When you return from a day’s cycling, you too, can get in on the action and take a Lycra-clad pike into the refreshing coolness of one of the cleanest mountain-fed lakes in France.

Reason 5: The Tour

France is the country of the Tour de France. Who amongst us, cyclist or not, does not secretly look forward to a bit of SBS perspective from Mike Tomalaris and Phil Liggett throughout the month of July. And, if these recognisable voices are not enough, add Robbie McEwen to the mix. In 2016, he declared that Annecy would be his pick of places to live in France. Hard call that one, but he made it and I’d not disagree.

photo © Catherine Berry

Reason 6: Choice

Do you really want to spend each and every day in the saddle? If yes, the daily choices will not disappoint. If no, why not head into Switzerland or through the Mont Blanc Tunnel to enjoy a day of international sightseeing?

Reason 7: Beginners Ride

The best warm-up or get-a-taste-for-cycling ride for debutants is on your doorstep and goes right around the 38 kms of the Annecy Lake. Go in a clockwise direction and you will have a virtually flat ride, partly on an old rail path, separated nicely in sections from the road.

Reason 8: Bon Appétit

All of you, cyclist or not, can enjoy the best of French food after cycling hours. Here are just a few ideas: If you are there to celebrate, try Talloires and the Michelin-starred restaurant Auberge du Père Bise, Le Palace in Menthon-Saint-Bernard with glorious views back along the water towards Annecy, Le Café de la Place in Talloires at lunch or dinner for great ambiance, excellent food and reasonable prices.

photo © Catherine Berry

Reason 8: Savoyard Lunches

Reward yourself after a hard morning climb by stopping for lunch in one of the little mountain villages or chalets. Sit yourself up at one of the roughly hewn outdoor tables with views over the sinuous passages that you’ve just conquered and partake in the fixed menus with the locals who have been frequenting these out-of-the-way joints for years. It’s up to you whether you include the wine or not.

Reason 9: No need for Carbon Fibre

You, too, can be Monsieur (or Madame) vélo. You do not need an expensive bike to make it to the top. Pack your picnic in your wicker basket attached to the handlebars. If this is not you, you may be passed by someone resembling this description. How do I know? I’ve been there and seen exactly that.

photo © Catherine Berry

Reason 10: Romance, charm, history…

You would choose France even if you couldn’t cycle. Wouldn’t you ?

Useful Information

How to get there

Geneva is the nearest international airport at only 40 min by car. There is also a TGV to Annecy from Paris.


Mid May to early October should avoid closed roads due to snow. My personal favourites are June and September to avoid the July/ August summer holiday crowds.

What to bring

Cycling gear, bathers and towel. If you don’t want to bring your bike, carbon fibre machines can be rented at a number of outlets (see below).


(From Talloires): Lake Annecy: Distance: 38 km. Max Elevation: 554 m. Gain: 373 m.

Col de la Forclaz: Distance: 20 km. Max Elevation: 1420 m. Gain: 1211 m.

Semnoz: Distance: 72 km. Max Elevation: 1666 m. Gain: 1690 m.

Col De L’Arpettaz: Distance: 78 km. Max Elevation: 1582 m. Gain: 1591m.

Cols Des Aravis circuit: Distance: 86 km. Max Elevation: 1485 m. Gain: 1947 m.

Cycling Shops

For repairs or rentals. Note that many cycling shops are closed on Monday.

Annecy – Cyclable: 6 Rue de Bonlieu 74000 Annecy.

Annick Toinet Cycles: 3621 Route d’Albertville 74320 Sévrier.

Bcyclet: Will deliver rental bikes to you. +41 (0) 225 190031.

The author, Catherine Berry, lived for several years on the Annecy Lake with her family before buying a house in the lakeside village of Talloires. It is available for rental and is perfect for families and small cycling groups (sleeps 8). Take a look at www.ourfrenchvillagehouse.com for details. Her family’s story, ‘But you are in France, Madame’ can be purchased as an ebook on Amazon or in print by contacting her directly on [email protected]

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Over a decade ago, Australian-born Catherine embarked on the ambitious project to only speak French to her son despite this not being her first language. In the wonderful way that one challenge often inspires another, Catherine and her husband then decided that living in France would bring some authenticity to this social experiment. Either that or it was a thinly veiled excuse to up stumps and shelve adult responsibilities. The initial one-year adventure with their three children turned into 3 ½ and the purchase of a house on the Annecy Lake. ‘But you are in France, Madame’ is Catherine’s published memoir of this period and their house is available for holiday rental (http://www.ourfrenchvillagehouse.com). Catherine loves to engage in dialogue about bilingual education, moving across the world, her French buying experience and her writing.

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  • WL Wiesser
    2017-09-28 07:51:20
    WL Wiesser
    Beautiful house in Talloires as a base for best cycling holidays. www.talloiresbreathe.com The house is just below the fantastic climb to the Col de la Forclaz, 5 minutes down to the Lakeside villages, amazing routes all around. And for the non cyclists in the group. the house is perfectly placed for hiking, lakeside, or just lazing around. Lake Annecy in the Haute Savoie is like a secret treasure, a hidden gem. Not many people know about it but once they come across it, they never want to leave.


  • Paul Turnbull
    2017-06-15 11:15:05
    Paul Turnbull
    Great articles... and sums it up very nicely. Its such a great area for cycling and so easily accesible...which is why we run most of our https://www.bikeweekender.com trips from our base in St Jean de Sixt. Every trip must take in the stunning Lake Annecy as well as all the classic Tour de France Cols. Ps - dont tell too many people about the Col d'Arpettaz - we like to keep that special one to ourselves!


  • Catherine Berry
    2017-02-11 21:12:30
    Catherine Berry
    France is a diverse and beautiful country but we feel very lucky to have stumbled across the Annecy area. The first time that I was 'wowed' by the lake and mountains, I wondered if the feeling would last. It has! I'm still in love with it all.


  • Ellen A.
    2017-02-11 16:26:45
    Ellen A.
    Lots of good ideas here, for the cyclist and the cycling averse! Even as a member of the latter category, I find myself inexorably drawn to Annecy by Catherine's delicious descriptions.


  • Cheryl
    2017-02-11 15:52:41
    Sounds just wonderful and dreamy in every way. Love Catherine's blog and tips on Annecy.


    • Catherine Berry
      2017-02-12 02:16:00
      Catherine Berry
      France is such a diverse and beautiful country but we still count ourselves lucky to have stumbled across Annecy.