The other side of the Côte d'Azur
When arriving in Nice, I went directly to Café du Cycliste shop, located in the port with a façade in the colors of the French Riviera, so typical!
I was excited in getting to know the other people joining the trip. As soon as I arrive, I was warmly welcomed by the GravelUp team as well as the Café du cycliste team. First chit chat with the other riders and I soon realized that we were all coming from different countries in Europe. Exciting!
The Café was really a great place to have some quality time with the crew. Plus the team made sure we had plenty of delicious coffees and cakes. For the most fashionistas of us, we even had time to shop a new jersey...or two. Hard to resist!
I was lucky to travel light to Nice as GravelUp offered the opportunity to ride on a 3T gravel bike called Exploro team. I was curious about it since it was my first time using this brand, and above all first time riding a gravel bike. I was not disappointed when I first saw it. The dark green color with a matt finish was stunning! The GravelUp team did really a great job in preparing the bikes for us. They even had to cut the saddle post to fit the position of one of the riders.
3pm. Bikes are ready. Riders too. We were given the choice to head to our first hotel by van or by bike. Guess what I pick? I could not wait to try my new bike, and so do all the riders. And here we go: a 50km transfer (bike) ride along the famous promenade des anglais, with constant eye on the gorgeous mediterranean. Great impressions for my first few hours with the crew!
We spent the night in Théoule-sur-Mer, in a pretty comfortable hotel with a sea view. Dress code for the dinner was casual obviously. After a quick shower, we took a short walk down a small road to eat grill fish in a small restaurant which just opened its door for us. The busy season had not started yet. Au menu : grilled seasonal fish, wine and a stunning view at the bay. Not too bad for my first day on the french riviera.
When the alarm rang at 6am, I almost regretted saying “Yes I’ll come to the yoga class” yesterday at dinner. But once I sat down on the yoga mat, facing the sea, listening to the soothing sound of the waves, this thought completely vanished. I saw everyone in the same mood… the early birds half asleep waiting for the sun to rise and to enlighten the riding day ahead of us.
GravelUp beyond biking experience is exactly what this morning yoga class is all about. Also called an Up moment as the team likes to create.
On the rhythm of “inhale, exhale” from Yuko, our yoga teacher, the stretching never felt so good, especially when the class is designed for cyclists who never stretch and are super rigid… if you know what I mean. Yuko’s smile, positive energy and kindness was the recipe to start the day perfectly.
After breakfast, we all gathered in front of the hotel. Some were making the last settings on their bikes. Jean-Baptiste, one of the co-founders, distributed Meltonic bars and energy gels. Everyone was welcome to help themselves. Ali, our guide for the weekend gave the last tips and advice and off we go !
The first pedal strokes on the scenic coastal road set the tone of the day. The first gravel path in the Massif de l’Esterel was already stunning. We all climbed at different speeds and everyone waited at the top. The group was welcoming, most people didn’t know each other beforehand. French, English, German and Latvian were spoken but gravel riding was our common language. The smooth and rocky paths, breathtaking views, harder climbs, flat tires and the pit stop to enjoy a moment,with a typical smell of Provence. Some were more confident in the descent, others enjoyed climbing, in the end it was just an up and down ride, and a bit more…
A bit more, because Ali, our guide, brought us on so many different off-road surfaces, into the woods, on singletracks or in the middle of pine trees and eucalyptus. We stopped for lunch in a well-chosen restaurant, with a panoramic view of the Esterel. The food was local and delicious. A refreshing and refueling pause to move on to the second part of the ride!
This trip was also a great opportunity to meet Rémi, the founder of Café du Cycliste, the special guest for this trip. Great moments shared on our gravel bikes in the afternoon!
We finished the first ride in the late afternoon, with a rocky descent facing the Mediterranean Sea. Two other members chose to follow an easier descent back to our hotel in Théoule-sur-Mer. Some jumps in the water and enjoyed a few drinks before getting ready for dinner. It was nice to see everyone in the evening, sharing a good meal, with a glass of wine on the terrace while the last sun rays disappeared behind the hills of the Esterel.
I was excited for yoga and this second class did not disappoint. The sunrise was perfect this time. Just like a moment suspended, the morning sunlight gently shined on the sea, then on us, a pure bliss. The body awakened and was ready for another riding day!
We started with a road climb taking us to the heights of the Esterel hills, on a road overlooking the sea. The red stones of the area made it very special, we could almost feel being in Utah. One of the best things with gravel is that it avoids traffic. There were no cars, a few hikers and cyclists, we had the road and tracks for us! Magical!
One tough climb on a closed road to have a beautiful view of the region and then we descended to join the GravelUp team who had prepared our picnic boxes for us. Awesome gravel tracks around a lake and some climbs in pine forest and woods. A last push together to reach a small village: Tanneron where the GravelUp team was waiting for us with fresh beers and snacks. The reward after the group effort!
With the bikes on the roof, the van drove a part of the group back to Nice and the hotel, close to the port and Café du Cycliste shop. But some of us thought that we missed something… the descent of course ! So we added another 20km to enjoy a straight descent back to Cannes after all the elevation of the day. It had to rain at some point during the weekend. So there it came, a few drops at the end of this 100km ride, luckily we were really close to the train station to catch a regional train back to Nice.
We all enjoyed one last dinner together, a moment full of laughter, sharing great memories from the trip, having a few glasses of wine around telling personal anecdotes.
A special ride, the one cherished by Gravel Up: the hangover ride. A short loop of about 40km around Nice, going Up to the Col de l’Eze. Rémi showed us his favorite gravel tracks in the area. A gravel climb and a good amount of elevation to reach a viewpoint at 700m alt. Another warm day to be on the bike and to enjoy these moments with the group. Quite a unique experience !
A last glimpse at the French Riviera coast, and we’re off for one last big descent to Café du Cycliste in Nice. We enjoyed a last brunch all together to celebrate the end of the trip! The GravelUp team even had a last surprise for us: the award ceremony of UP Nice badges (a little attention given to each participant).
Goodbye to all members of the trip and to the GravelUp team. Farewell to my 3T Exploro team. This Italian premium bike fit very well what the trip had for us: good grip on rough terrain, comfortable for a long day on the saddle, responsive and stiff enough on the road to enjoy some speed. Can I get one of these for real? working on it...
It was time to head back home and keep all those memories precious, until the next trip...
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.