France has always been famous around the world for fine art, culture, and cuisine. As millions of tourists visit every year seeking the Louvre, wine and cheese, and the Eiffel Tower (and a really famous road bike race), those in the knobby know bail on Paris and head for France’s more rustic areas, which harbor some of the world’s finest singletrack trails and most massive bike parks. Here are five must-ride trails for your next trip to the land of Claude Monet, Victor Hugo, brie, and Bordeaux.
Champery Via the Col Du Cou (Morzine)
If you’re looking for a classic mountain bike loop in the Alps, you can do no better than this gorgeous and challenging route above Champery, just south of Geneva Lake and the Swiss Border. Every turn along this epic-length ride will fill your eyes with quintessential visions of alpine glamour. Bring an extra set of quads and lungs (or some cash,) as the full route will require over 2,150 meters (7,000ft) of climbing.
“The scenery is stunning–be sure to go on a fine, clear day. There are a number of ski lifts you can use to reduce the uphill grunting. You will need a good map or a guide to find the way.” -Jim Cummings
Les Balcons du Tet (Olette)
The Alps aren’t the only big mountains in France. The Pyrenees straddling France’s southern border with Spain also offer epic mountain biking routes, chief among them Les Balcons du Tet. It’s not the gnarliest route in the Pyrenees, but the easy access and incredible variety make for one of the best overall rides in France.
“An excellent shuttle ride with a bit of everything you could want: high speed descending, gnarly rock gardens, gorgeous views, interesting topography (the balcons that the trail gets its name from are so cool!), and ancient European culture. Highly recommended!” -Greg Heil
Haute Route (Chamonix)
The Haute Route–running over 150 miles from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland–has been a classic mountaineering route for over a century and a half. Mountain bikers are best served by a lower route with a few variations, which avoids the highest altitude glaciers but is no less epic or spectacular.
“You need time, good weather, perfect fitness, fantastic skills, and strong partners–but if you have these things, you can do this trip, the true definition of epic.” -Ben Moeling
Les Gets Bike Park (Les Gets)
Les Gets is one France’s first bike parks, and it’s still extremely popular to this day. Les Gets puts an emphasis on flow, with over 90 kilometers of lift-served slopes. It also offers skills parks, pumptracks, 4-cross, North Shore zones, and even plays host to a Crankworx stop. But the area isn’t limited to artificial features, as there are also stunning alpine singletrack trails to be had for the scenery-seeking cross country rider.
“Crowded and a bit of a brake-bump farm at the end of the summer, it is still a must-go destination. Lots of different trail levels and plenty of different features (flowy trails, hardcore [World Cup] descents, North Shore trails, pumptrack, [and] jump lines).” -gasherbrum4
When the Alps and Pyrenees are snowed in, the Francophile cyclist can simply hop to the French Mediterranean island of Corsica, which is rapidly becoming a mountain biking destination of choice. The entire island is covered with yet-to-be-mapped and promoted singletrack, and the French Commune of Zonza on the southeast side of the Island has what will likely become classic Corsican routes, including a collection of great enduro runs.
“Corsica is exploding onto the European mountain biking scene as [a] must-visit destination. It is not, however, for the faint hearted. The very steep and rocky mountains exceed 2700m, the weather can be fickle, and there are few–if any–marked trails. Yet for the intrepid biker it is close to paradise.” -Freewheeling France