The underdog to the Alps – rolling countryside with a few punchy climbs – a cyclists dream
Described as the underdog to the Alps the Jura mountains are often over looked by cyclists. Less altitude, rolling farmland, meadows full of wild flowers, unspoilt quiet rural villages, dreamy views of endless rolling mountains; the Jura has a magical charm connected whole-heartedly to nature.
The first two days cycling here gave me the impression that the Jura would be a wonderful place to come bike touring or if you are new to road biking. It inspired me to suggest a holiday to my parents for their new Ebikes; but, it would be foolish to underestimate the challenging rides that can also be found, as Lizzy and I, rather painfully, found out!
Lizzy very kindly saved me some pennies on travel and picked me up in her baby blue and so effortlessly cool van from Geneva airport to start our three-day, cram everything in adventure! We spent the first night next to the lake in a car park, not so glam but very convenient. The joys of van life adventures means you can simply just pitch up, albeit slightly illegally perhaps.
Day 1 – 75km 1800m elevation
We had a rough plan of where to go after Lizzy did a quick Google search. But we were generally quite clueless and happy to go with the flow and maybe get a little bit lost, something I am well mastered at! A gentle ride of 74k and a few baby cols amounting to 1800m climbing is what we ended up with – Col de Cuvery, Col du Colliard, Col de Belleroche, and Col de Richemond. Bearing in mind I have not cycled all summer it was perfect. Starting in Vouvray, following the D101 we began on a gentle climb on shaded roads, ascending chatting and catching up to be greeted with open rolling roads and sunshine. The cols were all fairly gentle and nothing too strenuous. We filled our bottles from the basins, basked in sunshine, and took in the fabulous scenery!
so many trees!
The Jura is so so green. We were told there were a lot of trees. Well, that would be right. There really are so so many trees. On day one alone, we passed through Foret de Mmoment, Foret du Combie, Foret des Moussieres and Bois d’injoux filling our lungs with pure goodness!
an abundance of lakes to wash in
As well as rolling countryside the Jura area is well known for its lakes, and they really are dotted around everywhere. And of course, what better way to cool off and de sweat than a dip in a lake?! Post ride we were conveniently close to lac de Nantua for the first two days so it was a no brainer to go for a dip. Located in the foothills of the mountains the glacial waters are refreshing but surprisingly pleasant. Given that we were in a van it was our only option for a free wash so it was welcomed with splashes and smiles.
Day 2: 110km 2200m elevation
A climb like no other
Beginning todays ride in Oyonnax. Another blissful day. A little longer and a little harder but equally as enjoyable. Again greeted with rolling countryside and the odd gentle climb, even ending up on some tour du France roads. We were surprised at how quiet the area was. Be warned there really is nowhere to buy snacks or water so be well prepared. Armed with hardboiled eggs, nuts, and bananas, by 1:30 we were a little peckish so a café was on the priority list. We were in luck, only to be told we couldn’t have the plat du jour (we never figured out why! Not French?!), but they could give us cheese, charcuterie, and bread, so when in France.
Day 3: 40km 1260m elevation
WOW. So the first two days absolutely lulled us into a false sense of security with their meandering roads and gentle climbs. Day 3 however, was a different story altogether! Brutal and punchy Col du Grand Columbiere is a whole other kettle of fish. Home to some of the greatest climbs on the Tour du France I knew the Jura’s most iconic climb was Col du Grande Columbiere, so it had to be done. I am used to cycling in the Alps as well as Devon’s sharp steep short hills, so I feel pretty prepared for most eventualities; what a fool. I was not prepared for this! Starting out in the town of Artemare we began on a gentle incline, which never seemed to let up. Instead, it got steeper, and steeper, and steeper again. With an average of 11% gradient and peaking at 19% it was a grueling 18km ascent! There was a lot of cursing, a lot of sweating, and a lot of zig-zagging. At one point I thought I was going to have to get off my bike but stubbornness and going through the thought process of clipping back in on the steep banished such temptation. The first half of the climb was the toughest and it gradually got a little more enjoyable. The sun did not shine for us so our sweat just made us cold! As we began to reach the summit I then saw another road and quickly realised we weren’t quite there. As ever though, once we did summit it was worth it. Breath-taking views of the River Rhone with the Alps rising up to the left, and Lac Bourget to the right. Two of my adventure conquests, making the climb even more special than it already was. Sharing the pain and laughs with a friend always makes the torture worth it!
Interesting facts about the Jura:
It’s the home of Absinthe! (As well as other well-known and popular wines) – that’s an excuse alone to go back!