Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of high altitude, unpaved alpine climbs. Quiet, challenging, beautiful. Perhaps the best concentration in the Alps can be found in northern Piemonte near Bardonecchia/Susa. Colle delle Sommeiller, Monte Chaberton, Monte Jafferau, etc. And the fabulous network of old military roads around and including Strada dell’Assietta / Colle delle Finestre.
Last week I managed my 4th ride involving all or parts of Strada dell’Assietta. This post will try and detail this network and give you five ride ideas. All challenging, all on unpaved roads, all super quiet, and all spectacular.
Below you will find:
- Strada dell’Assietta explained
- Colle delle Finestre explained
- Five Ride Ideas
This will be a long post and I’ll often refer to the coloured routes and landmarks on the map below.
1. Stada dell’Assietta (SP173) Explained
The Strada dell’Assietta refers to the Strada Provinciale 173 (SP173) – the red route on the above map. It is roughly 35 kilometres long, running from Sestriere to Pian dell’Alpe (just below Colle delle Finestre). While this high altitude ridge has been of military importance since the 1700’s, the current road and most of the fortifications were built/began in the late 1800’s with additions leading into both World Wars.
In 1747, the Battle of Assietta was fought at altitude here during the War of the Austrian Succession. The Piedmontese were forced to spread their forces protecting 13 passes, but successively repelled the French invaders inflicting over 5000 casualties (3700 killed including 7 French generals). This great Savoy-Piedmontese victory is still celebrated every July 19th with costumed ceremonies at the colle.
Broadly speaking, it can be divided into 3 sections:
A. Sestriere to Col Basset
This 6 kilometre stretch climbs from Sestriere at 2050 metres to Col Basset at 2460 metres – roughly 7%. This is a wonderful little climb full of hairpins and views.
From Col Basset it is possible to cycle the steep couple of kilometres to the summit of Mont Fraiteve at 2702 metres (marked on map).
B. Col Basset to Colle dell’Assietta
The heart of Strada dell’Assietta, this middle 17 kilometre stretch is a ridge road between Col Basset (2460m) and Colle dell’Assietta (2472m). Sometimes flat, sometimes up/down, it traverses several colles (see map), and passes lots of old military installations (forts, bunkers, etc). Amazing.
The Strada dell’Assietta is closed to motorised traffic on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the summer. Very nice. While it never has too much traffic, these days eliminate the dust from the ever present groups of motor-cyclists and trek company jeeps.
C. Colle dell’Assietta to Pian dell’Alpe
This 11 kilometre stretch descends from Colle dell’Assietta (2472m) to Pian dell’Alpe (1950m). It includes a flattish cliff stretch in the middle and some superb hairpins down.
2. Colle dell Finestre Explained
Broadly, there are three parts to Colle delle Finestre (SP172).
The Famous North Side
Dark green on the map, this is one of the legendary cycling climbs in Italy appearing in the 2005, 2011, and 2015 Giro d’Italia. It’s a beast of a climb, one of the toughest in the Alps. But the grade is steady. It’s almost always either side of 9%. No respites, but few crazy steep ramps either.
The lesser known south side
Light Green on the map, the south side of Finestre begins paved. But a couple of kilometres down, the official SP172 actually leaves the current paved main road and again becomes an unpaved cliff road descending 1000 metres to Depot (the lower half is again well paved).
Strada Militare delle Finestre – Gran Serin
The yellow route, this is one of the true highlights of the region. This 13 kilometre, slightly crazy, ultra high stretch of old military road is always closed to traffic. It starts exactly at Colle dell’Assietta (2472m) climbs past Forte Gran Serin and heads higher to just under 2800 metres, before descending through fantastic hairpins/mountains to the main road just below Colle delle Finestre. The best.
3. Five Rides
#1 Strada dell’Assietta & Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre from Sauze d’Oulx
This incredible 91 kilometre loop starts from the ski station at Sauze d’Oulx. It’s a 1000 metres of climbing on a fun Assietta access road (purple on map) just to reach Col Basset and the Strada dell’Assietta. The route then rides Strada dell’Assietta until Colle dell’Assietta turning higher onto the Strada Militare Colle delle Finestre, finally returning to the start by riding Strada dell’Assietta from Pian dell’Alpe until Col Basset.
This link provides a detailed report with map and far more photos than you likely want including a gallery of all the col signs :).
#2 Strada dell’Assietta via Parco Naturale Gran Bosco
The brown route on map, this amazing climb on “smooth as Wimbledon” unpaved roads (closed to cars) climbs 1400 metres – much through the woods of the Parco Naturale Gran Bosco – to join Strada del’Assietta. It also includes a detour up Monte Gran Costa to a fort at 2615 metres, high above Assietta. Finally, it descends via an old Strada dei Cannoni trail. As good as it gets. Map and full details here.
#3 Colle delle Finestre, Colle dell’Assietta, and Above
This route climbs the famous side of Colle delle Finestre, joins Strada dell’Assietta until Colle dell’Assietta, finally looping back on the high yellow Strada Militare delle Finestre – Gran Serin. Hard work but so rewarding. Map and full details here.
#4 Full Strada dell’Assietta
This loop starts in Sestriere and rides the entire Strada dell’Assietta, it then descends the less famous (light green) side of Colle delle Finestre (it also includes a detour up to Mont Fraiteve – 2702m). Finally, it climbs back to Sestriere – much of the way on unpaved trails – although the main road is possible (and much faster). No link to this as this was my recent ride. So here is the map of the route:
#5 Forte Gran Serin via Frais
Yes, I am always “route planning.”
I have have never done the pink route on the map but it looks awesome. EDIT: I rode this remarkable climb in 2017 – see here. Almost 2000 metres of climb to reach Forte Gran Serin from the valley below. My understanding is that this is unpaved, maybe occasionally even trails, steep (especially last few kms), but ride-able. A project for us all!
More and more in recent years I have searched out high unpaved climbs. The solitude and beauty of these roads is something tough to experience on a road bike. I just can’t recommend enough the Strada dell’Assietta and all the route options in this region.