The Col du Glandon is one of the most beautiful climbs in all of the French Alps. From the tree-lined start to the open-top hairpin heaven finish, it’s quiet and peaceful and gets you so close to nature you can taste it. Traffic is almost non-existent. The sound of rushing water and bird-song fills the air.
The Glandon starts in Saint Étienne-de Cuines, just opposite the road leading to the Col de Madeline. Once clear of the town, you’re very much left to your own devices, just you, the road, the birds and the bees, and the river. The occasional bird of prey and a few sheep, the odd cow.
There are no ski stations to speak of. No ski lifts litter the landscape, no restaurants or delivery trucks. They are all kept well away over the other side of the mountain. Just one wooden hut at the top selling coffee and cake.
The road meanders back and forth across the valley without a care in the world. Before deciding it’s time to head up through the clouds onto the lush green summer pastures into a playground above the tree line. Once over the top, the road meets up with the Col de la Croix de Fer in a cycling paradise on what feels like the roof of the world. To ride up here is nothing less than a gift, a privilege.
Don’t let anyone tell you not to do this, not to go. But don’t think this is something easy. The Glandon keeps almost all of its power dry until the final few kilometres, which are as tough as anywhere in the Alps, and they can break you if you don’t know how to bend.
Some days the mountain tops are bathed in sunshine. Some days you will find nothing but rain, snow and cold, lightning storms, zero visibility, and moody, heavy clouds. Getting up can be challenging enough. Getting down can freeze you to the bone. You’re hands frozen to the bars, the rain blinding your eyes, shaking so badly while desperately trying to stay upright on the road long enough to reach shelter and warmth.
Other times you can swoop down through the curves like a bird without a care in the world. The sun on your back, wind in your hair and joy in your heart. It isn’t like there’s a choice. You take what you are given and like it.
© davidt 2022