Colle del Nivolet

31
Woohooo

Woohooo

nivolet250

Let’s get the hyperbole out of the way: This may be the most beautiful high Alps paved climb I have ever cycled. Seriously. 🙂

Colle del Nivolet is a gigantic climb in Piemonte, Italy in the heart of the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso. It was built between 1953 and 1963 to service the two hydroelectric dams up high. The national park, along with the Vanoise National Park, (the connected French side of the highest mountains here), make up one of the largest protected natural areas in Europe. Apparently the wild ibix here migrate between the two parks.

Wikipedia lists it as the 8th highest paved road in Europe at 2641 metres (the summit sign say 2612m).

Happy Bike

Happy Bike

I started in Locana forty kilometres from the summit. In fact, the climb takes quite a while to get interesting. The first half is on a lightly trafficked, but main road that gently climbs towards high mountains. Nothing too special.

TIP: After 14 kms there is a 3.5 kilometre uphill tunnel (8% average). Not fun at all. To bypass: a 100 metres before tunnel take the small road on right. It is the old road — in terrible condition, but hey (and there are some great old hairpins). After 2 kms you are forced into the tunnel. But ride 100 metres inside and climb out again on the left onto a better quality old road that rejoins the main route at the tunnel exit. Phew!

The route gets more touristy as it reaches Lago di Ceresole – a large artificial lake with a dam. It’s after the lake that the climb finally starts to get fun. From 15 kms or so to go, the road is closed for 7 months of the year a clear sign that we are leaving civilisation.

The steepest part of the climb are these great hairpins below the two dams. They wind everywhere, I failed to capture a good photo, but fun to cycle.

Here the climb begins to get very fun

Here the climb begins to get very fun

More hairpins

More hairpins

The first diga (dam) is the big one. Diga/Lago di Serrù.

Diga di Serrù (Serrù Dam)

Diga di Serrù (Serrù Dam)

The beautifully coloured Lago di Serrù decorates the view for the spectacular last several kilometres to the summit.

Lago di Serrù - standing on the dam

Lago di Serrù – standing on the dam

Every Sunday until the end of August, the road from Lagi di Serrù until the summit is closed to motorised traffic. Bikes/pedestrians only.
Next, there is a much smaller dam at the darker blue Lago Agnel.

A flat stretch, but scenic.

A flat stretch, but scenic.

Then the road heads up again.
Lago Agnel

Lago Agnel

Gran Paradiso indeed

Gran Paradiso indeed

After the Colle (pass), the paved road descends for a couple of kilometres. There are a couple of more lakes and a little restaurant – it’s just over the Piemonte / Aosta border. By mountain bike it is possible to continue down into the Aosta valley via Valtourmench.

view over the top of the col.  Paved road ends beyond 2nd big lake

view over the top of the col. Paved road ends beyond 2nd big lake

I loved, loved, loved this climb. And I had a lot of fun trying to get a few photos on the way back down.

Route 2,704,081 – powered by www.bikemap.net

9.5 Awesome
  • Views 10
  • Difficulty 9
  • Quiet / No Traffic 9
  • Fun Factor 10
  • User Ratings (25 Votes) 5.6
Share.

About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill.

31 Comments

  1. Pingback: Lago di Narèt

  2. The film The Italian Job features this climb, a point of interest worth noting, at the end the coach comes to rest precariously high above those lakes.

      • 2 years ago i climbed the Col de Nivolet with bike road, as yuo said last 15km is incredible scenic climb one of the best climb in the Alps. After the top and the short descent just after the end of 2nd little lake, start the 9km hiking trail that will finish in Pont Valsavaranche where the asphalted road return. The first 7km oh hiking trail is a false flat from 2550 to 2300m and was possible to cycle (very slow!!) for 2-3km even with bike raod, the rest is bike by hand. Last 2km is a narrow and steep hiking with bike on shoulder, half hour of steep descent. The total 9km is roughly 2 hours of hiking included time to photo!! My stage is follow with P.S. Bernardo e half Iseran until Tignes. The day after I climbed last part of Iseran, MontCenis and the whole flat ValSusa until the foot of Nivolet, loop closed with 370km and 6800m climbed. A very very nice tour, here some pictures (poor) of that incredible days. https://picasaweb.google.com/112979256872436490347/TraNivoletEIseran

  3. Pingback: Here are my ten favourite alpine Road Bike Climbs of 2014.

  4. Hi Will, I would love to do the Nivolet just when it opens in spring. It looks absolutely amazing! Do you happen to know anywhere I can monitor when it opens? Cheers, Jesper

    • Hi Jesper,

      Last year the road above the dams opened in late June. It is situated in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso . So I followed the news on their official site. I also contacted them in mid-June and they quickly responded with the planned dates for opening more than a week before it happened.

      Link: http://www.pngp.it/

  5. Hi Will. Did this one last week with my daughter and I fully agree with you. This climb has everything except traffic and it’s easily as breathtakingly beautiful as Stelvio! We did however start at the beginning of ‘Lago di Ceresole’ to avoid the less interesting bit (and the scary tunnel). From here it only gets better and better… If I could choose only one climb ever I think I’d choose this one. Thanks for the inspiration!

  6. Fantastic col and even better pictures. One question: how do you take your own pictures? Auto timer doesn’t give enough time to get down from such a beautiful vantage point and ride the bike before the pux is snapped.
    Will try to do this col next year. Gavia and Mortirolo + Dolomites this year.

  7. Did the ride one week ago (after lago del narret and passo della novana the day before). Was already very cold at the top, but what a stunning climb!
    One quick comment on your tip to avoid the tunnel: the small road to avoid the tunnel is on the left, not on the right.
    Thanks for spending the time building this top list of 100 favorite climbs, you are the best!

    • JFK, Well done, three superb climbs. But the turn off the MAIN road is on the right, then immediately crosses a bridge to the left. (if I remember correctly)

      • I tried to go to the right, but had the impression the road was just going up. Then I went back and took the road which leaves on the left of the main road , and passes along the river all along. Maybe if I would have kept on the right I would have been able to pass above the tunnel and reach back the same road (from the map seems that both left and right road joins after 250meters).

      • I did the climb yersterday, based on the info here to take the right turn, we went 2km uphill at 18% to a dead end road.

        We went down and took the road to the left and ended up a what seemed also a dead end road blocked by a huge rock , we went back again and found no other road so went back again to the road with the rock and had a look behind the rock and there was the road that went past the tunnel.

        About halfway you enter the tunnel again and the after 100m or so you can exit the tunnel again climb over a wall and get to the second part of the road. The wall to climb over is almost a 1m high you have to look out not to damage your bike.

      • Tim, glad you found it – sorry if I didn’t explain it well – for others have a super close look at the map in post as it may look closed as you search for it. Yes, it was a little complicated, and requires going back in and quickly out of the tunnel part way up.

  8. Pingback: Rifugio Sogno di Berdzé (above Cogne)

  9. Hi Will,

    After a very long time of anticipation, I finally managed to ride the Colle del Nivolet today.
    You couldn’t be more right, this is cycling’s greatest road climb.
    I started from Locana too, I wanted to make sure I got the ‘full experience’. Forty kilometers of pure enjoyment. The very tough headwind and freezing rain in the kilometers before the dam, who cleared after this point, added to the experience.
    Incredible.
    Thanks for sharing this gem with us.

  10. Frank Exelmans on

    We had the same experience climbing this Colle (with the motorbike), one, maybe the most, magnificent climb of the Alps, and we done quite a few …

  11. My experience with Nivolet is ride from one side (Ceresole Reale) to opposite side (Val Savarenche) on road bike (including fresh snow in top part). Quite tricky but amazing trip. 🙂

    • Zbynek,

      Fantastic! I have climbed the far side but didn’t get far above Pont with a mountain bike. It was late in the year, and I was running out of light, but one day, I hope to reach Nivolet from this back side. 🙂

  12. Hello Will
    Your site is a real inspiration for me, in my search for scenic and hidden climbs. From 14 of 15 august I ‘m going to Italy for a week and bring my race and mountainbike. At this moment I have booked a hotel close to Colle Fauniera. For the other part off my holiday I’ m in doubt off chosing for colle Nivolet or colle del Assiette.
    If I do colle nivolet, which I prefer, I m staying in Pont Cavanese or Locarna. Do you know if there are any nice cols to climb (race or mtb) in that area.
    Greetz Peter

    • Hi,

      You mean Locana? The one big climb near Nivolet that is on my list ….. but I’ve never done is Lago di Teleccio. It starts on the way up to Nivolet, from the tunnel. It looks very steep, certainly quiet, but I don’t know the surface quality. Some details here: http://www.cyclingcols.com/col/LagoDiTeleccio There are lots of huge climbs near Strada dell’Assietta – the best are all gravel/mountain bike. Search my blog for Jafferau, Chaberton, Colle delle Finestre, Colle del Sommeiller for some ideas. These are some of the very highest unpaved roads in the entire Alps. Fantastic stuff.

      On the other hand, Nivolet is perhaps my favourite road climb. You’ve picked a good area. Hope that helps.

      • Hi Will, thanks for your reply. The decision is made. I will go to Nivolet and will try to go to Lago Di Teleccio and maybe to some off the other lakes as well. I will let you know about the road conditions of the climb to Lago di Teleccio. Peter

      • Hello Will, I ve done several climbs in my life but never had a real favorite. Until now! Colle de Nivolet is the best ever. I did it on monday after driving through the night because the weather forcast for monday was the most promising. I started at Sparone. So it was 43 km and 2000 meters of climbing. The fun started just before the tunnel with the steep hairpins, then the old scenic road. It was easy to find, Your tip and following the tracks of the bikes in the gravel. Being tired it was very hard to reach the top. It took me more then 4 hours. But you get so rewarded with the nice views. It is as if Colle the Nivolet has the best parts of every climb I ve ever done. On tuesday I tried to go to Lago Tellecio on my mtb, and the plan was to bike or hike on left side of the lake to refugI. Pontesi. It is steep but the surface was better then I expected. After San Lorenzo you reach an upper valley where it is less steep. After the last abandoned village, there is a massive wall, with some hairpins. You only hear the sounds off nature and heavy breathing. Unfortunate the sound off nature became thunder so I had to turn 2 km before the summit.
        today I did Nivolet again, from the exit of the tunnel. And I must say, it is more enjoyable and less struggling. After the descent I tried to go up to Lago telluccio again but on my roadbike. Although the sky had been blue the entire day it started to rain at San Lorenzo. I waited for an hour but the conditions became worse. After some thunder I decided it was best to descent and save some energy for colle Fauniera the next days. The climb to Lago de Tellecio can be done on a road bike it even has some stretches with new asfalt. Going down is slow, but not to bad even in the rain.

    • Very nice photos! Yes, it is possible to cycle first two km or so along wide gravel road, next below in valley is narrow trail sometime rideble (carefull) sometime walking – some places are very wet (torfmoor). Last 1,5 km is typical hiking path – narrow twisty and steep. You must take bike on shoulder. Just below this steep section is nice waterfall. Finally you find park place and asphalt road. Nice adventure although road from Ceresole Reale is more impressive.

Leave A Reply