View of the Vosges straight from the saddle.
Trip report of a bike adventure in The Vosges, a fantastic region of forest covered, dome shaped mountains and jaw dropping landscapes.
The Vosges is a unique mountain range, yet relatively unknown, in eastern France. Its said that millions of years ago the mountains were higher here than in the Alps, but the passage of time and erosion have softened the region to its current understated splendour. Covered by forests of shimmering green (its the 3rd most wooded département in France) the “Ballons des Vosges” as they are known in french are literally balloon shaped mountains, an apt description!
So it’s in this incredible region that GravelUp have developed their extraordinary gravel bike based trip, the team’s third creation alongside the Causses and Corsica. A bike, and particularly a gravel bike, is the ultimate tool for exploring this massif. Its often said that the company that makes a ride, and all seven of us riders can confirm this after our weekend (and much more!) together. A weekend of physical effort, pure pleasure, laughter and being in the moment, everything you need for a a great time. All enabled by our expert local guide Timothée and the GravelUp team.
An invitation into the unknown - our first pedal strokes.
A personal welcome in our room sets the tone for our adventure, which alongside all the little extras throughout the trip adds up to GravelUp’s mantra “Beyond Biking”.
Our adventure starts at our basecamp, handcrafted Canadian style cabins that will be our home from home for the trip. We’ll meet their creator Lionel whilst discovering more of the surrounding and legendary forest later in the weekend. The ancient trees around the cabins seem to speak above us, creaking and cracking through the night and transporting us to another realm… a tried and tested sound, and very much recommended by yours truly!
Introductions made, beds tested and bikes sorted by the GravelUp team, we were ready to hit the trails and discover what turns out to be paradise on a gravel bike, and the joy of riding with friends. A quick briefing from Tim, our local guide (even if he’s Alsacien!), and we were on our way.
We get off to a great start with a downhill, but of course what goes down must go back up and we start to climb. With the domed mountains here topping out at an average 1200m above sea level, the deep and hidden glacial valleys present some awesome challenges and the odd surprise to all cyclists, especially gravel loving, ones. Warmed up by our pedal strokes we discover the fist highlight of the trip, an ancient glacial lake today more green than white. Once given a moments contemplation it transports us to another realm with its shapes and colours.
The Vosges’ reputation for rain didn’t disappoint and it made an appearance, as if to make sure we have the fll experience, as after this we were blessed with glorious sunshine for the rest of the trip.
It was quite a refreshing interlude from mother nature as we warmed ourselves on the climbs and were somewhat sheltered by the trees towering above us. The teams moral stayey high, buoyed by the beautiful stretch of road that Tim, our guide, took us on. Having enjoyed gravel for starters our main course was sweetened by the smooth tarmac laid out ahead, finding just the right balance so characteristic of gravel riding. For dessert we found a lovely rolling hill with a smooth earthen path. Over 20ish kms our route went from paths to sublime sections of road, with the odd bit of singletrack in between, encapsulating the essence of gravel and setting the tone for the coming days of riding.
Our return to our cabins was under a radiant sky, with the leaves still glistening after the days rain under the glow of the soon to-be-setting sun.
It’s thanks to the richness of the soil and diversity of the forest in the Vosges that so many forestry tracks have been made, lending themselves perfectly to gravel riding. They are a river to the region, allowing logging trucks to sustain an important part of the economy here and making for an incredible network of trails, each better maintained than the last. Which makes for heaven on a gravel bike, limited only by each of our physical capacities to maintain our efforts on the climbs.
These trails took us to the pink sandstone, grey granite and ochre coloured earth around Bresse and it must be said that our small group were blown away by the constantly changing landscapes. The pace of travel by bike allowed each of us time to open our eyes and senses to each precious moment, sharing local specialities and experiences along the way.
As Olivier, one of the founders, explained to us during our trip, GravelUp comes from a holistic view of cycling. Trying local products, meeting local people and enjoying other activities (not just pedalling!) are also important ingredients in each bike trip. Everything adds up to take us further than our bikes are able to, summed up by their mantra “Beyond Biking”.
Its no secret that cyclists like eating good food with some good beer and wine too, all shared with friends after a good days riding. Which sums up nicely our weekend, once the bikes were done for the day and prepped ready for the next. Stories of the day flowed over local beer and nearby Alsacian wines, especially the local pinot variety wine tasting. With the fire lit, the smells and sounds mingled as bedtime approached, and words of the next day’s challenges to come from our guide sent us to bed with sweet dreams.
The next morning our bikes could wait, because we had yoga first. Alice was waiting for us by the river that ran alongside our cabins, mats laid out, ready take our merry band of 7 through a practice to restore our weary legs. 45 minutes later we were feeling (almost!) as good as new and ready for our hearty breakfast to fuel our day. It was these moments off the bike that really added to the journey - sharing a good meal or a moment at a local spot with passionate people. It’s a feeling thats hard to describe and must be experienced, away from an alloy or carbon frame!
Refuelled and rested, we set off for the day ahead. Though it was only the 2nd day there’d already been lots of memories made and moments shared… You’ll have to join a trip yourself to experience it all and see what else was waiting for us next along the trail and beyond it!
At the heart of the Vosges massif there’s an adventure waiting for you, and possibly one beyond what you’re used to. From the first view of where we were staying, the people we met, to the last pedal stroke on the bike, it was really special adventure that was unique right from the start. Moments shared both on and off the bike added to make the trip even more special.
Cycling can be pure freedom, a tool to take us off the beaten track, opening and removing barriers, allowing us to push ourselves to our limits and beyond. GravelUp is the perfect catalyst for this.
The forest was the perfect place for this to happen, soothing and rejuvenating mind and body, and opening up another world of possibilities… always along another forest track! If there’s a destination to discover by bike, the Vosges is it and it’s waiting for you. Just make sure you know where you’re putting your front wheel.
How to dress for winter riding?
The key to keeping warm is… staying dry! Gravel is ideal for year round riding, on dry trails and muddy tracks alike. Winter riding needs good kit, and there’s two golden rules to help keep you as warm and dry as possible.
3 bikepacking movies you must see
Don’t miss the three bikepacking adventure movies we have selected for you! You’ll only want to do one thing after watching them: explore the world on your bike.