Col de Turini

Col de Turini

31 kilometres of demonic, twisting asphalt in France's Alpes-Maritimes

The Col de Turini is a legendary stage in the Monte Carlo Rally, with massive crowds gathering on its summit, often in the cold and snow. Starting at Sospel, the stage comprises 31km (19 miles) of demonic, twisting asphalt leading to La Bollène-Vésubie and taking in the 1170m (3838ft) col.

The stage was often run after dark and became known as the ‘night of the long knives’, getting its name from the lights of the cars cutting through the trees and slits in the walls as they hurtled up or down the pass. However, the Turini hasn’t seen a night stage since 1997, and as the World Rally Championship heads towards safer rallies every year, it seems less and less likely to return.

The Monte Carlo rally was designed to promote Monte Carlo as a tourist destination, which seems to have worked quite well going by today’s coastal traffic. The Turini, though, on this sunny April day is quiet as a mouse. A choice of routes lead from Monte Carlo to Sospel, the quickest taking around 40 minutes. Sospel is the largest city in the valley of Bévéra but it’s far from the high life of Monaco. It’s possible to grab a coffee and panini before the onward drive if your timing is in sync with the locals' lunchtime habits.

Heading out of Sospel on the D2566, villages soon become spartan and speeds start to rise. The first bends of note appear as we enter the Gorges of Piaon, steep sided rocky walls tight to each side of the road. Crossing the gorges is a 42 meter bridge accessed by a long ramp that leads to the Notre-Dame de la Ménour chapel originally occupied by a celtic tribe until the Romans came along. Shortly after we arrive at Moulinet – watch for the speed bumps on exit. After Moulinet the road surface becomes more, well, rally-like. Suspension is now tested as the surface changes every few kilometres and the road twists and turns onwards and upwards.

Notre-Dame de la Ménour chapel
Notre-Dame de la Ménour chapel

The Turini feels much more like a rally stage than the majority of large Alpine passes. It’s tight, bumpy and twisty with small walls and a big drop on one side, and steep cliffs on the other. It’s not a road designed for an Aventador or a wide-bodied supercar but there is plenty of evidence that some brave souls have sacrificed their bodywork on the asphalt. Some of the road surface changes and angles are certainly worth watching out for.

The road enters pine forest as we head to the top, and cliffs and walls give way to equally unforgiving coniferous trees. We take stock at the summit, peering into the Hôtel des Trois Vallées at the signed pictures of rally stars and old number plates, and nosing around the closed cafés. It’s such a famous area, but devoid of the cheering crowds, snow and spinning of tyres it’s just a wide bit of road with a couple of hotels. Not even a decent view to speak of. Everything is closed, and with only a Gitanes-smoking local hitting an old ski lift with a hammer – there is a very small ski area here – we decide to push on.

Stacked hairpins
Stacked hairpins
Stacked hairpins

Hitting the descent, we are now on the M70 and into fast, forested turns, hammering the brakes. We soon emerge from the pines into the classic maritime Alpine scenery with rock walls, steep drops, ravines and of course, twisty asphalt. And yes, some of it is very decent indeed. We imagine a helicopter tracking our progress on the descent.

Before we know it, we’re in La Bollène-Vésubie, a sleepy hamlet with stepped streets perched on a rocky outcrop.There is time to crack open a Red Bull while the engine ticks and cools, and then we head back up and over.

Col de Turini is unusual if you are used to the Alpine pass classics like the Furka pass or the Great-Saint-Bernard. For a start, it’s quiet – at least in April – due to its remote location and lack of any major roads or towns. This comes as quite a surprise after the traffic of the Côte d’Azur. The road surface and tight nature make it different from the Swiss, if not the Italian passes, and its lack of altitude robs it of a spectacular view from the top. But on this April day, following the mountains as they tumble back towards the coast, it is one of the best drives we can remember.

Summit coordinates 43°58'57.9”N 7°23'20.2”E
Summit Altitude 1170 metres
Distance 31 kilometres

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