Driving Tours Of The Alps

There are so many stunning views, peaks, valleys and villages in and around our resorts that the only way to fit them in is on a driving tour. The Alps provides your pick of ultimate routes – passing waterfall walks, abandoned buildings, ancient forts, wild landscapes and charming settlements. Ascents can be so steep you go from a summer’s day to winter wonderland in the space of an hour!

We wanted to find the best scenic drives in the Haute Tarentaise – so who better to ask than transfer drivers, who cover thousands of miles up and down these mountains each year? We asked two of our favourite local companies for their recommended routes…

Cool Bus: The Vanoise Tour

Rob Forbes, Cool Bus owner: “This circular 225km full-day road tour takes you around the edge of the Vanoise National Park. It’s possible to do by car or bike – but if you’re pedalling be warned it features no less than 4000 metres of climbs and descents!

Starting from Bourg St. Maurice you first climb up to the head of the Tarentaise valley, passing the dam at Tignes and then through the world famous ski resort town of Val d’Isere. From here you start the proper climb of the Col de l’Iseran. This is the highest paved mountain pass in the Alps and tops out at 2770 metres. It has played host to many epic battles in the Tour de France and also forms part of the “Route des Grandes Alpes” – a 684 km driving tour from Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) all the way down to the coast near Nice that takes in the most beautiful scenery and passes of the French Alps. The road up the Col is closed during the winter and in fact becomes one of the skiing pistes of Val d’Isere.

Driving in the Alps: Col de l'Iseran, Valdisere
Driving in the Alps: Col de l’Iseran, Valdisere

At the summit you will almost certainly find a few patches of snow so it’s always a good place to stop for photos, an impromptu snowball fight or even a quick sledge! To the left you will see a glacier that in the past has been used for summer skiing. The less mature of us might also find amusement in the name of the peak you’ll see directly in front of you – Pointe des Arses!

Dropping down the far side you enter the national park itself – the oldest national park in France, established in 1963 – a wilderness area bordered by the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys. Pass 4km through the park – a complete contrast to the ski lift-strewn landscape you just left behind! To your right you’ll see a footpath roughly tracing the same route as the road; this is the famous GR5 hiking trail which stretches over 2000 km from the Netherlands all the way to Nice. Look out for some stunning waterfalls just to the side of the road.

From here you drop down into the beautiful Maurienne valley at Bonneval-sur-Arc and the next place that is well worth a stop is the Barrière de l’Esseillon. This is a series of 200-year-old forts surrounding a narrow section in the valley above a gorge. Back in the day this was the main route across the Alps between France and what is now Italy, and these fortifications protected those on the Italian side from French invasion!

Driving in the Alps: Forts de l'Esseillon
Driving in the Alps: Forts de l’Esseillon

If you have time, park next to the main road at the Redoute de Marie Therese (the only fort on the south bank) then walk from here down to the impressive suspension footbridge “Passerelle de Diable”, then up to the main forts on the far side. There are Via Ferrata routes on the cliffs below the forts, but you’ll need special equipment and previous experience to tackle these.

Getting back behind the wheel again you now drop down to Modane, then hop onto the motorway for half an hour and exit at La Chambre to start the big climb up the Col de la Madeleine.

Since the first time it was used in 1969, this pass has featured in the Tour de France no less than 24 times. It is classed as “Hors Categorie” meaning it’s so steep it’s out of their grading system! If you are passing through here in the height of summer you are likely to see quite a few hardy souls braving the pedal up – the gradient averages 8% over its 19km of ascent! If you are here out of a season you could be in for a treat because this is a fantastic drive and can be surprisingly free of traffic. In places it seems like miles pass without a single straight section of road, literally bend after bend. It’s well worth a stop at the summit to admire the view which spreads out before you in all directions. You can see Mont Blanc to the north and the southern Alps stretching out behind you.

From here you just have the final descent back down into the Tarentaise and then the short 20-minute drive back up the valley to Bourg St. Maurice to finish.”

Cool Bus operate transfers across the Tarentaise in summer and winter
Cool Bus operate transfers across the Tarentaise in summer and winter

Whiterides: Cormet De Roselend – Bourg St Maurice – Beaufort 

Dan Barnett, Whiterides owner: “This route, which is closed during the winter months, goes from Bourg St. Maurice over to Beaufort village, starting uphill right away. The first place you get to on the drive is an old abandoned building; a little spooky but interesting to look round. It was planned as a spa hotel as there are hot springs nearby, but the project was halted when the water source was disrupted during building!  The half-built hotel still remains, with an empty swimming pool opposite which now has trees growing inside.

You then climb up the winding narrow roads to the next place of interest which is a super green plateau where you can camp for free or stay in the Nova refuge and get some food. From here you can access walks further up the valley to the local glaciers.

Beaufort village
Beaufort village

About 7 km from here you reach the summit which is at 1989 meters (don’t forget to have your photo taken by the summit sign).

From there wind down a further 2-3 km to be met by the awesome view of the Lac De Roselend (our feature image) and its impressive dam. Here you can make a pit stop by the Lac or even camp; there is a hotel, bar and restaurant which has great views over the lake.

From here it’s around 15 km down to the pretty town of Beaufort where you can stop in the local bakery for food and refreshments, and then go to the cheese shop to get some of the local Beaufort cheese the area is famous for.

Great for a day or two’s drive, this route is also a great one for road biking.”

White Rides operate transfers across the Tarentaise in summer and winter
White Rides operate transfers across the Tarentaise in summer and winter

Zoe Swiderski

EDGE Magazine (from the team behind last year's Tarentaise Source) is your guide to holidaying, working or living around Tignes, Val d'Isere, Bourg Saint Maurice, Les Arcs, La Plagne, La Rosiere, Peisey Vallandry & Sainte Foy. Our website www.edgemag.net is packed full of useful live information, regularly updated features and interviews with something for everyone...snow-lovers, starter snowboarders, seasoned skiers, serious apres-skiers, seasonaires and locals. Pick up a copy of our magazine from December in loads of places in each resort including bars, restaurants, shops, cafes and airport transfer vans too. For more information and to request a media pack e-mail info@edgemag.net We'd love to hear from you!

Leave a Reply