Ken Roberts - - Bicycling
earlier in this year
sampling eastern Sicily island of Italy
Sharon and I both felt like we'd be glad to go back to Sicily again in November for bicycling -- even though it's not such a convenient place for us to fly to and back from. We felt comfortable there and it's got lots of nice farm-country riding.
late November season:
comparing November visits to other places:
our favorites on this visit to Sicily
We normally ride in Europe pretty much like we do around home in the northeast USA. We have a "base" to stay in, then each day we drive our car with the bike on it to some place that looks interesting for bicycling. We ride a loop and finish back at our car, then drive back to our base. We also like to do non-bicycling things like walking and skating. On this trip the Hotel Borgo Verde on the west side of the city of Catania made a secure and helpful base for us.
hills + sea southeast bike loop around Ragusa
rough map of our route: see Modica - Ragusa - Donnalucata loop map
We parked our car at the southern end of Modica Bassa near the station, and rode a loop counter-clockwise thru Modica, Ragusa, explored some farm roads south of Ragusa not on the map, then to the sea (with a side trip to Playa Grande beach) at Donnalucata, then Scicli, Modica.
see approx location on map
We parked our car on the south side of Leonforte, and rode a loop counter-clockwise thru Leonforte and north, then a side trip to the hill city of Nicosia, then west toward Villadoro (but not into it), then east and southeast back to Leonforte.
Dittaino valley bike loop near Sferro
see approx location on map
A fun mostly-non-strenuous adventure thru farm country
The Dittaino river runs thru the midst of eastern Sicily west to east in a broad valley from Enna to Catania, roughly following the A19 autostrada. There's also a branch extending southwest toward Caltagirone (which some organized bike tours like to visit). The TCI and Michelin maps did not mark many scenic roads in this valley, but from driving thru it on the autostrada we thought that even if it lacked the obvious spectacular scenes which car drivers might seek out, it might have many smaller discoveries better experienced at the pace of a bicycle.
We parked our car by Sferro (which is pretty near to an exit on the A19 autostrada), first a little ways south, then a loop clockwise, first east on dirt road, then south to reach the S288 and go west on it. Next south on the road back toward Sferro, but turned off west and southwest to Borgo Franchetto, then north over the ridge, then east on dirty and sometimes dirt road back to start of loop, then south a little ways back to Sferro.
next time might try the Borgo Franchetto loop in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise intstead of clockwise). Looked like the climb might be steeper, but it gets the dirty and dirt road sections over with first, and saves the nice moderate descent thru Borgo Franchetto as a reward.
see approx location on map
We parked in the city of Cefalu in a parking garage a block or two south from the main street west to east. We rode a loop clockwise thru Gibilmanna and Lascari. Going south thru Cefalu to Gibilmanna starts steeply with lots of car traffic, then right turn (sign for "Gibilmanna", not Isnello), then a jughandle left and after that a long moderate climb with less traffic. Then the final climb up to Gibilmanna is a side-trip. The road west and northwest past Grammeti to Lascari was delightful, first some ups and downs thru crags, then a long moderate descent to the sea. Finally rolling on the coast road east back to Cefalu (vehicle traffic didn't seem too bad, perhaps because there is a parallel autostrada thru this section).
Lipari island loop (and Vulcano island)
see approx location on map
We got up very early and drove out car to arrive in Milazzo before 7:00, then took the hydrofoil ferry from Milazzo to Lipari. Ken skated (on inline skates) the 25km (15 mile) hilly loop road around the island in the counter-clockwise direction while Sharon explored Lipari town by walking. Then we took another ferry boat ride to the island of Vulcano, and hiked up to the crater (following instructions in the Lonely Planet Walking Italy guidebook).
It did not seem likely that we would have been permitted to bring our bicycle on the hydrofoil ferry, but we saw signs for bicycle rentals on Lipari island -- and there are also slower ferries which carry cars.
The Michelin maps we had were helpful for planning and identifying scenic roads, but we did not find them detailed enough to rely on for navigating out on our bicycle tours in Italy. (On the other hand the Michelin maps for France are more detailed, and we do rely on them for navigation when touring in France).
tags: isola Sicilia isle Sicile Sizilien
completed the Route des Grandes Alpes of France
I finished all the climbs over the high road passes from the Mediterranean Sea to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) -- rode every kilometer from the sea to the lake. I did not do it in one continuous ride -- instead I rode different sections on different months in different years.
Also I did most of the sections as part of single-day loop rides, each of which usually included crossing one or two other passes in addition to the pass on my main Route des Grandes Alpes.
I've also finished doing every climb and every kilometer from the Mediterranean Sea to Martigny, Switzerland, following what I think is a more proper "grand" northern section for the Route than the official one -- see discussion + report.
(but as of October 2007 I have not yet finished my "grander" northern section all the way to Lac Leman.)
list of passes
This is my primary sequence South to North:
official route between Col St Martin + Col du Vars:
official northern section between Colombiere + Lake Geneva:
cyclists might consider two possible alternatives to les Gets: (a) TdF 2006 took Verchaix - Samoens - La Combe d'Emeru - Col de Joux-Plane; (b) Col de la Ramaz (1559m) - Col de Jambaz (1027m) (or easier to bypass Chatillon-sur-Cluses and Ramaz and take D26 from Scionzier to Jambaz) - (might also consider Col de Terramont (1096m) + Col de Cou (1117m) or Col des Moises (1123m)).
I think the mountains are prettier with snow on them, and the earlier in the summer you ride, the more snow. But there's also the risk of a pass being closed because of snow. And perhaps our legs are in better condition for lots of days of climbing later in the season.
I like South-to-North better, mainly because
passes and sections which are better going North-bound
passes and sections which are better going South-bound
Route choices (south to north)
One-way versus Loops
I was glad I road it as separate loop routes: (a) I got to see roughly twice as much distance of roads thru the French Alps and ride across twice as many passes; (b) I got to ride each section in good weather; (c) It gave me an excuse to come back for multiple trips.
These are loop routes that correspond to the different passes of the primary south-to-north route passes above:
Col de Castillon + Col de Turini
I rode over these passes as part of this loop counter-clockwise: Nice -> Menton -> Col de Castillon -> Sospel -> Col de Turini -> Levens -> Nice. See report.
I kind of doubt I'd ride this again. Instead just enjoy riding lower roads in the mountains north of Nice.
Col St Martin
I rode a loop counter-clockwise thru La Tour sur Tinee -> Utelle -> St Martin Vesubie -> Col St Martin.
Interesting adventure to ride once, but I doubt I'll try riding it again.
Col de la Bonette
I rode this loop clockwise: Jausiers (1213m) - Col de Larche / Colle della Maddelana (1991m) - Vanadio(IT) (900m) - Col de la Lombarde / Colle della Lombarda (2350m) - Isola 2000 - Isola (875m) - St Etienne de Tinee (1150m) - Col de la Bonette (2715m) - Cime de Bonette (2802m) - Jausiers (1213m). See report.
My rough estimate is that it was +4350m of climbing over 161km of distance.
A big challenge to take on, and it was satisfying to complete it once -- but I didn't feel that the scenery and riding quality were sufficient to make me want to put in the large time and effort needed to do it again. What I liked: (a) descent east from Col de Larche; (b) upper section of Col de la Lombarde climb on east side; (c) descent of north side of Col de la Bonette. The peaks were not all that dramatic, so better to do it in early season with lots of snow.
Col de Vars
I combined the Col with lots of riding above and along the Lac du Serre-Ponçon. I rode a loop counter-clockwise thru Barcelonnette - Jausiers - Col de Vars (2109m) - Guillestre - Embrun - D9 west up to Les Truchets above Lac du Serre-Ponçon, descended D841 + D641, then D954 along the lake. See report.
My rough estimate is that it was +2400m of climbing over 135km of distance.
I'd like to find a loop that would give the nice views of the Lac du Serre-Ponçon but without going over Col de Vars. I've heard there's another higher col west of Vars which is not fully paved (? Col du Parpaillon - 2637m - with a tunnel ?) -- that might be interesting to try once. Or perhaps some loop with lots of views of the lake without doing any big climb.
Since the view of the high Ecrins peaks from Vars is of their south faces, they're more likely to still have snow on them if cross Vars in early season. When I did in September I did not notice any snow visible, which disappointed me.
I combined the Col with riding along the other side of the river Durance valley, and a little ways up into the Pelvoux mountains.
I rode a loop counter-clockwise thru Briancon - St.Blaise - N94 - D4 - l’Argentiere - D38 - Pallon - Champcella - Guillestre - D902 gorge of Combe du Queyras - Arvieux - Col d’Izoard (2360m) - Briancon. See report.
Great variety and views: I'd be glad to do it again.
Col de Montgenevre
I included Col du Montgenevre in a loop with the city of Briancon and with Col de l'Echelle.
I rode a loop counter-clockwise thru Briancon - Col de Montgenevre - Cesana Torinese (Italy) - Oulx - Bardonecchia - Col de l'Echelle (? Italian = "Scala" ?) - Nevache in Vallee de la Claree - Briancon. See report.
Interesting enough to ride again (especially descent of east side of Montgenevre), but not the top of my list.
(I also rode a counter-clockwise loop over (unpaved) Colle della Finestre, between Sestriere and Susa. See report. But I'm not doing that again, or including it in my sequence of passes.
Col du Mont Cenis
I did not ride this as a loop, instead up and back from Susa (including over down to Lanslebourg and back). See report.
I liked the views of the lake and the descent of the south side, but I wish the climbing were shorter.
It would be interesting to try the loop thru Modane and Bardonecchia using the bus thru the Tunnel de Frejus. See report. Not sure which direction I'd want to ride it -- I'm leaning toward clockwise, to take the south side going downhill.
Col de l'Iseran
The loop for this pass seemed me to be too long to be worth it. So I just rode both sides of Col de l'Iseran as up-and-back routes -- the south side from Lanslebourg and the north side from Lac de Chevril. Another time Sharon and I rode the north side up-and-back on our tandem starting from Val d'Isere (see report) -- (we both though we'd to that again). I'd guess more riders prefer the quieter south side, and I would ride that again starting from Bessans.
Cormet de Roselend
I combined this with the (unpaved) Cormet d'Areches.
I rode this loop counter-clockwise: Areches (1050m) - Cormet d'Areches (2008m) - Aime (700m) - high D86 (Versant du Soleil route) (1000m) - Bourg St Maurice (810m) - Cormet de Roselend (1967m) - Beaufort - [ Col des Saisies loop ] - Areches (1050m)
short side trip up and down east side of Col du Pré (1700m) is recommended.
My very rough estimate (excluding Col des Saisies loop) is +2600m of climbing over 100km of distance.
Lots of fine scenery on this loop, but too much distance on too much gravel on the crossing of Cormet d'Areches (especially its south side). Since I now know that the Versant du Soleil route can be done as a rather nice loop with the Isere river bike path -- and without the Cormet d'Areches gravel, I doubt I would do that loop again. Instead I'd try this alternate way to do Cormet de Roselend and Col du Pré.
Col des Saisies
I rode this loop counter-clockwise: road junction near Beaufort -> Col des Saisies (1650m) -> Flumet (925m) -> balcon road on west side of Gorges d'Arly - north side of Ugine (? 400m ?) -> Col de la Forclaz (871m) -> Quiege -> road junction near Beaufort
My very rough estimate for this loop is +2100m of climbing over 75km distance.
I doubt I'll ride this loop again. I was forced to ride the balcon on the west side of Gorges d'Arly because the main road was closed for construction. There are views across the gorge from the "balcon" road, but those views were mostly of distant trees. An alternate might have been something thru Crest-Voland.
Col des Aravis + Col de la Colombière
I rode this loop clockwise: Flumet (925m) - Col des Aravis (1486m) - D12 junction (865m) near St Jean de Sixt (950m) - Col de la Colombière (1613m) - [ Romme (1297m) ] - Cluses (485m) - Sallanches - old road to Combloux - Megeve (1113m) - Flumet.
My rough estimate for this loop (omitting Romme) is +2400m over 107km distance.
Not convinced I'd ride this again, unless it were early season with snow on the Chaine d'Aravis mountains. View of Mont Blanc from the old road between Sallanches + Combloux was nice. Next time I might try the southeast side of Aravis as out-and-back. Romme had decent views, but the north side was too steep for me to have an enjoyable descent.
Col des Montets
The loop for this pass seemed me to be too long to be worth it. So I rode the south side up-and-back from Sallanches (thru Passy + Servoz + les Houches + Chamonix) -- and I would do that again. I rode the north up-and-back from the Switzerland border and the Gorges du Trient - Col de la Forclaz loop -- and I would do that again. See photos + report.
Col de la Forclaz and/or Gorges du Trient
I rode both of these as part of a loop clockwise: Martigny (Switzerland) - Col de la Forclaz - Switzerland/France border - [ side trip in France to Col des Montets ] - Finhaut - Gorges du Trient - Salvan - Martigny. See photos + report.
I'd ride this loop again, but next time I might try riding this loop counter-clockwise, and I might add another side trip to the Lac d'Emosson.
Looks like from the France-Switzerland border climbing the southwest side of Col de la Forclaz is about +450 vertical meters of climbing. Climbing from the main road north and west to Emosson might something like +900 vertical meters of climbing.
The lower section of the Gorges du Trient road goes thru a tunnel roughly 500 meters long -- see more details in report.
Pas de Morgins
I have not ridden this pass yet. I'm considering a loop with Evian-les-Bains, Monthey, St Gingolph.
My rough estimate for this loop is +1500m of climbing over 100km distance.
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