Text by Martin Stenmark
Why the French Riviera?
Erik Leonsson, 33, Patrik Berggren, 36, and Claes Huber, 47, are keen amateur cyclists from Stockholm who love hitting the roads around the French Riviera. Leonsson, a freelance art director, gives us the lowdown on their most recent, 10-day trip, in spring this year.
We’re rather ambitious recreational cyclists who compete in a couple of races in Sweden. We’ve been down to the south of France for a few cycling trips simply because it’s a beautiful place to gain strength before the season begins.
The roads are perfect, the scenery’s breathtaking and there’s a lot of respect for cyclists in a country where cycling’s pretty much the national sport – a lot of professionals live around here, and the Tour de France passed through in July.
We usually set ourselves a target of riding 1,000km in 10 days, with about 10,000m of elevation, but you definitely don’t need to do that much. There are a lot of great roads for beginners, like the flat seaside stretch from Cannes to Saint-Tropez, and you can just build cycling into any kind of holiday in the area. But if you do want to do a serious trip, you’ll have to prepare...
Preparation is key if you don’t want to hurt yourself. We took our latest trip in the spring this year and had to do our training for it in the Swedish winter, which isn’t ideal – we put in about 500km on winter roads and spent a lot of time in the gym.
I’m not just saying this, but we always fly Norwegian when we go on a bike trip because it’s really convenient and cheap with a bike bag. We all have the same bag, an insulated soft shell Evoc bike bag – you basically take off the wheels, handlebars and the saddle, and pack it carefully. It’s really portable, with wheels, and we’ve never had any accidents or anything broken.
We put a lot of money and time into our bikes. We ride carbon fibre bikes that weigh around 6.5kg, with a gear cassette that allows for lighter gearing in the steep mountains. We always use clincher wheels (with an inner tyre tube) down here, since a flat tyre can be quite a hassle in the mountains with a tubular wheel.
Then it’s about figuring out where you want to stay based on the kind of trip you want...
The base camp
We stayed in a beautiful house near Grasse, 35km from Nice, and it was just a coincidence that we found this paradise for cyclists. It’s a beautiful place anyway, with a gorgeous old town and its famous perfume heritage, but for cycling it’s quite special – you’re already 300m above sea level, and there are so many classic routes and good climbs around. We cycled up to 150km on a single day on our trip, but if you want something easier you can head downhill to the coast. Really, you can stay just about anywhere on the French Riviera and it’ll be a good base for a cycling trip – the area seems designed for it.
Many of our days were spent heading off into the mountains around Grasse, but for two of the most memorable routes we drove to other places.
One great day we started in Menton, near the Italian border, and cycled to the Italian village of Bajardo in Liguria, which is known as the gateway to the Alps. It’s an epic climb along these narrow roads, through some of the most beautiful villages we’ve ever seen – and you can see snowy mountains in the distance along certain stretches. On the way back it goes really fast and you can see the Mediterranean glittering in the distance long before you get to it. We passed San Remo, a picturesque town on the Ligurian coast, around sunset, and got back to the car along stunning coastal roads.
Another beautiful ride was along the coast road from Mandelieu, near Cannes, to Sainte-Maxime near Saint-Tropez. It’s pretty much flat, which is a bit hard to find on the French Riviera. You’re by the sea almost the whole way, and the sea views and little villages along the way are gorgeous. Our route was 70 miles, but you can do less and take it at a much more leisurely pace.
We usually bring energy bars and gels, and aren’t really headed for any particular restaurants – it’s more about re-fuelling. But the food’s almost always good. Any upscale restaurant would have issues allowing sweaty, salty cyclists in lycra tights to the table, so don’t go with fine dining ideas.
You can get a great relaxed meal at the Auberge du Vieux Château restaurant in Cabris, near Grasse, and mountaintop village Gourdon is also worth a stop for the view. If you pass Carros, north of Nice, you should definitely stop at the Crêperie du Moment – they serve amazing crêpes.