At 1600m altitude, the Col de Turini is the highest point within a reasonable day’s cycling. Although it has featured in the Tour de France in the past, it is more famous for the car rallies that take place on a regular basis – you need to know when they are taking place, otherwise you will have the frustration of climbing all the way up to the first village to be greeted by a couple of unhelpful gendarmes refusing to let you go further. The notion of actually putting signs at the bottom of the climb does not apparently occur to the rally organisers.
There are actually 3 ways up the Turini, and they each have their individual charms.
- Starting from the west just north of Lantosque, it is a relentless climb at a fairly consistent gradient mainly through woodland, but with plenty of amazing viewpoints along the way.
- The middle route from L’Escarene itself offers a couple of options: the road divides after the pretty village of Luceram, one route tackles the Col Saint Roch, as the name suggests, the landscape is barren and covered in slate; the other route tackles one of the most highly engineered bits of road in the region, a series of short hairpin turns. Both roads converge at around 1300m, leaving a long undulating drag to the Col.
- The easterly route from Sospel is the longest and with the greatest height gain. Discouragingly, once out of Sospel, there is a gentle descent before you start climbing. The test is not so much the gradient which is never steep, but the length at 25km, and the 1250m height gain which is the same as the Col du Galibier.
Once you have reached the Col at 1600m, you actually have the option of tagging on a little-known 17km loop and another 425m of climbing! The road surface is not great, but the views are astonishing including the ruins of 3 forts dating from the Napoleonic Wars but which also saw use in the Second World War.