Visit Morzine in the peak summer holiday season, and you’d be forgiven for believing it was a mecca reserved for an entirely different breed of rider: one wearing baggy shorts and more likely to see their heart rate hit the upper echelons going downhill rather than climbing a mountain.
Despite the huge array of cultivated trails, and conveniently placed uplifts which serve skiers in the snowy season, it’s not only full-face helmet wearing downhill mountain bikers who can enjoy Morzine – though if you do like to enjoy a mixture of riding then you’ll most certainly be spoilt for choice.
Nestled amongst climbs which enjoy decades of Tour de France history, the French ski resort offers up a wealth of opportunity for road riders seeking miles of tarmac and metres of ascent.
Why go cycling in Morzine?
Nudging the border to Switzerland, Morzine is set in the French Alps and the mountains provide a backdrop which will have you recalibrating your expectations of high definition television.
The natural beauty wordlessly makes its own case – but of course it’s not the only place you can hunt out a stunning vista.
Being a ski resort, Morzine (or, Morzine-Avoriaz, since pairing up with the newer resort 14km up the mountain) is also set up for tourists – in this case, very active ones.
Whether balancing on the tightrope spanning the 300m wide Lac de Montriond or completing a midweek triathlon, Morzine’s residents (many of them expats) and holidayers have a low tolerance for boredom and seemingly Duracell bunny levels of energy.
With ski lifts, a complex of swimming pools including a 50 metre outdoor playground, tennis courts, skate park, a slide which will give you a glimpse at what the mountain bikers are enjoying without risk to your collarbone – and more – Morzine can provide all you need to keep an entire family entertained.
Or, indeed, a group of friends who want to eat and drink their way through the evenings via the endless array of bars and restaurants.
When it comes to cycling, the climbs are suitably long and hard enough to entertain a roadie for at least a week. There are some shorter and shallower humps too, and if flat is your thing, there’s the option of riding the stunning but elevation starved 170km around lake Geneva.
When to go, and how to get there?
Being a mountain location, you’ve got to accept that the weather forecast is unlikely to throw up wall-to-wall sunshine from May to October – probability suggests you’ll get the odd rainy day over a week long stay.
However, average temperatures sit at around 20ºc through June, July and August – and mid afternoon you can expect them to reach the high 20s.
If you want the buzz of busy streets and plenty of people watching opportunities, August is your best bet – being peak school holiday season. If you’d rather things were quieter, look to visit earlier, or in late September.
If you’re flying, the easiest option is to land at Geneva airport – a 70 km drive from the French hub. Alternatively, you can board the Eurotunnel or Ferry it over to Calais and commence the 881km road trip. The payáge fees will begin to add up, but there’s plenty of nice spots en route if you want to make a mini-break of the journey itself.
Where to ride
Tourist Centres are usually a landmark to avoid like the plague, but if you’re riding in Morzine, it’s worth a visit – if only to pick up a copy of the ‘Guide Velo’, or ‘Road Bike Guide’. In a world awash with glitchy GPX files, this little booklet has long been a refreshing example of route guidance done right (at time of writing).
There’s useful routes that will take you out to the key climbs – of which we’ve handpicked just a few of the tougher ascents below.
Others not to be missed are the stunning Col de l’Encreaz, and the Col du Corbier (6km, 8.6 per cent) is a perfect opportunity for a short sharp benchmarking effort.
The shorter, shallower ascents of the Col du Perret (963m) and Col de Terramont (1096m) can be tagged together nicely for a less challenging, rolling day out, too.
Col de Joux Plane
Building up to 1691m in elevation – and providing a perfect platform from which to view the snowy peaks of Mont Blanc – the Joux Plane is arguably the hardest climb of the lot.
Ride straight up from Morzine and it’s 11km at 6.5 per cent, or depart from Samoëns for 11.1km at 8.91 per cent, with a max of 11.2 per cent.
Riding from Samoëns, the gradient is pretty relentless in its consistency – aside from a tough ramp at 1km and another at 6km, plus a little breather at 4.5km.
Used as a “time trial” route, this 14 kilometre climb is perhaps the ultimate end of season hill climb destination.
The Col d’Avoriaz joins Morzine to Avoriaz. It averages at six per cent, with some testing 10 per cent sections, and contains 20 hairpins. The fastest recorded ascent was made by none other than Bernald Hinault – in 33 minutes, and the Tour de France is no stranger to this mountain.
Erupting straight out of Morzine, this is a handy climb to warm the legs up on arrival, test yourself before departure, or – if you’re a glutton for punishment – tag onto the end of a longer ride. From the top, you can descend down the Col de Joux Verte…
Col de Joux Verte
Running parallel with the Col d’Avoriaz is the Col de Joux Verte. It’s a far prettier climb, which is also nicely shaded for much of the ascent.
The climb is 15 kilometres long, and averages 5.7 per cent. En route, you’ll pass the stunning Lac de Montriond, and soon after a section of leg sapping 9 per cent switchbacks, you’ll emerge in Les Lindarets – affectionally called the “goat village.”
Kilometres 11 to 13 are pleasantly shallow, at about 5 per cent, giving you a great opportunity to enjoy a little respite and soak in the views before the last two km at around 7 per cent.
Col de le Ramaz
Another Tour de France legend, the Ramaz featured in 1981, 2003, 2010 and most recently in 2016 – when Thomas De Gendt won the stage which concluded in Morzine itself.
Climb from Mieussy and you’ll enjoy 13.8km at 7.1 per cent, or ride from Taninges for a 16km climb at 6.1 per cent.
The Mieussy side offers up two consecutive 9 per cent kilometre markers at 9 and 10km – right below a series of long tunnels which can feel like a remarkably tempting excuse to soft pedal out of the sun. It’s worth taking a rear light, since the first tunnel is both long and closed.
There’s endless activities to be enjoyed off the bike, and a myriad of food and drink outlets to peruse at your leisure. But here are out top picks for accommodation and entertainment…
The product of two UK cyclists who loved Morzine so much, they had to buy a place there, 44South provide cycling holidays for roadies and triathletes looking to get the most from their stay.
Their chalet can sleep up to 18 people, and there’s a range of boarding options depending on the level of catering you’re looking for.
Le Lac de Montriond
Don’t miss out on a day at the lake.
At 1.3km long and 300m wide, it’s expansive enough to be enjoyed by swimmers, canoeists and the newer breed of SUP boarders. There’s a cafe at each end, plus paths for running, walking, and pony rides…
If you’re a roadie who partakes in the coffee culture of cycling, you may find some of the coffee on offer elsewhere a little lacklustre. Antidote: Satellite Coffee.
Here, you’ll find the lovingly barista made flat white you’ve probably been craving since arrival on French soil, as well as Instagram ready pancake stacks, plus vegan and gluten free cakes. The perfect place to kill a rainy afternoon.
Skoda Ice Rink
Morzine-Avoriaz has its own ice hockey team, and fixtures are fairly regular.
An evening spent spectating, armed with a pint and chips, is a pretty good way to recover from a long ride in the mountains.