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The Madone challenge

"Battles of man, fragments of shells, from now on you will be no more than the Madonna of peace". Inscribed on a statue made from WWII shell fragments, these are the words that greet intrepid cyclists who reach the highest point of this trail, if they take up the challenge of climbing the Col de la Madone.
One of the most beautiful and difficult coastal passes in the Alpes-Maritimes.
The sea as a view line during the ascent that marks the climax of a highly attractive loop. It skims past Europe's highest coastal village of Sainte-Agnès and passes through Castellar and Peille, which soar above Menton and the Vallée du Paillon, respectively.
Recommended departure point: Peille municipal car park. 

ITINERARY

 

Peille, the Alpes-Maritimes' "most intriguing" village
Clinging to the mountain side, Peille has retained all of its medieval authenticity. Catch your breath at the 14th century Gothic fountain in the Place de La Colle square (drinking water) before continuing on to explore its winding old streets and arched passageways. Embark on an original tour of the village, following these 14 slabs of Auvergne volcanic lava depicting postcards of yore placed in locations that have been photographed.
The elm of Gorbio
Listed among France's two hundred trees of interest, this elm awaits visitors in the village square, and is Gorbio's unrivalled symbol. Planted in 1713 on the occasion of the treaty of Utrecht under which the County of Nice was returned to the Duke of Savoy, the elm has kept watch over generations of villagers for close to three centuries now, and has been the silent witness to many a bloody conflict.
The Jean-Cocteau museum
Nestled at the foot of old Menton, facing the shore, the museum exhibits works from the Séverin Wunderman donation. Inspired by the many facets of Cocteau's talent, the Var-born architect Rudy Ricciotti decided to create a museum reminiscent of a beached seashell.
Castellar, ancient fiefdom of the Lascaris
Human activity on the site of Castellar dates back to the prehistoric era. It was the fiefdom of the Lascaris-Vintimille family that produced a number of illustrious names over the centuries, such as the builder of the famous Lascaris palace in old Nice. The medieval town survived the many twists and turns of history, from war to earthquakes via witch hunts.
Sainte-Agnès - unique fortifications on the Riviera
Europe's highest perched coastal village, Sainte-Agnès clings to the side of a rocky spur, thus offering heart-stopping views of the Côte d'Azur. Journey up to the fortified castle and medieval garden that proudly overlook the village. The Fort, starting point for the Maginot Line built between 1932 and 1938 to defend the bay of Menton, has been astonishingly well-preserved.
Let the Madonna set the pace
Brought to light by Lance Armstrong who used it as a yardstick prior to the Tour de France, the Madonna continues to fascinate and has even lent her name to a road bike range produced by a famous bicycle brand.
Other athletes have trained here too, such as Swiss cyclist Tony Rominger and the American Tom Danielson who holds the world record for having made the journey up in 30 minutes and 24 seconds! Departing from Menton, a 13.3 km climb awaits before reaching the peak at 925 m high, with an average gradient of 7% and maximum gradient of 12%.

Departure point: Peille village car park
Bike type: Road bikes
Age:
+16 years
Distance:
67 kilometres
Ascent/descent: +1,889 metres
Time: 5 hours

   
GETTING TO PEILLE

 

From Nice, get on the A8 la Provençale towards La Turbie Menton. Take Exit 57, heading to La Turbie RD 2204A.
At the roundabout, follow the RD 2564 towards Menton for 600 m before turning left on to the RD 53. Continue on for 9 km towards Peille. The journey takes approx. 45 minutes from Nice centre. 
                                                  

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Comité Régional du Tourisme Côte d'azur France