Fifteen “Fun” Tunnels to Cycle in the Alps

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My friends know I am scared of tunnels. I am a coward. But the Alps are filled with hundreds and hundreds. So I have slowly learned to embrace my fears – often leading to some pretty fun experiences. :)

Here are 10 great rides, all with “special” tunnels.
This list excludes just plain miserable tunnels like several dark, wet, uphill, truck-filled, nightmares on Col du Lautaret, or the horrible galleries below Val d’Isère. Only fantastic climbs allowed.

#1 Tunnel du Parpaillon

7584397878_baef456095_bOver a century ago, for many years, this was the highest road in France. The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys.

The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long – at 2643 metres. The geographic col is above at 2780 metres. Ride details here.

1900 metres of ascent to reach the tunnel!

1900 metres of ascent to reach the tunnel!

#2 Tunnel des Ecouges

The Vercors Massif is filled will great natural rock bridges and fabulous galleries cut into cliffs, but the Tunnel des Ecouges (below Col de Romeyère) is a terrifying spider hole.

Cyclists are legally obligated to have a light – it is not straight so one can’t see the end! I was fortunate that a kind motorcyclists waited for me and escorted me through. Going up-hill and desperately trying to keep up, I hit my highest heart rate of my entire life. Ha, no joke. Ride details.

Terrifying!

Terrifying!

Some less scary tunnels in the Vercors:

#3 Tunnel du Galibier

Actually, cyclists aren’t supposed to cycle through this. But the Tour de France did for decades.

The Galibier tunnel is only wide enough for one car, so direction is regulated by traffic lights

The Galibier tunnel is only wide enough for one car, so direction is regulated by traffic lights

Col du Galibier was first made crossable for military purposes in 1879 with the sexy name: “Routes des Grands Communication #14.” To simplify the crossing, a tunnel was finished in 1891, roughly 90 metres below the summit.

The Tour de France passed through the tunnel – at 2556 metres – until 1976 when it was closed due to disrepair. Instead, the road above the tunnel was improved on both sides – providing the most spectacular stretches and steepest cycling of each side – and a summit of 2642 metres. The tunnel was re-opened in 2002 – for cars only. But from 1976 onwards, suddenly the route to Galibier was higher and roughly a kilometre longer.

Read my “history” of Col du Galibier here.

The Galibier Tunnel

The Galibier Tunnel

#4 Col du Sanetsch Tunnel
The biggest of several tunnels to Col du Sanetsch.

The biggest of several tunnels to Col du Sanetsch.

Col du Sanetsch is one of the toughest and most beautiful “lesser known” climbs in the Alps. In the Swiss Valais, it is a dead end, up to a beautiful Dam/Lake.

The tunnel – high, in the middle of no-where – has automatic light sensors! I love Switzerland. It is long – 800metres – and wet. But has a few openings for views …. or to hide from cars. I had to be “rescued” once on Col du Sanetsch.

Sanetsch Tunnel:  Light sensors!

Sanetsch Tunnel: Light sensors!

#5 Susten Pass

The gigantic climb up the west side of the Susten pass in central Switzerland has a bunch of tunnels that even I like. Beautifully carved into the mountains. Ride details.

A tunnel with a view:
A tunnel with a view Some more Susten tunnels:

#6 Croix de la Coeur
Me and my stork pal

Me and my stork pal

Every time a pro bike race goes to Verbier (the Tour de Suisse will be there again in 2014), I complain that the route stops too low, in town, while the best climbing is well above.

At 2173 metres, La Croix de Cœur is one of my favourite climbs (both sides great). At the cross itself begins a horizontal ridge, cliff road deeper into the mountains. And to enjoy the amazing views – and visit a very fun giant stork statue – one must brave a quite scary tunnel. Ride details here.

Dark, and narrow.  Beware of marmottes.

Dark, and narrow. Beware of marmottes.

#7 Lac de l’Hongrin

I’ll let the video speak for itself (excuse my language in the video) ;) . Ride details.

Remember, the top of this climb is often closed as it passes through a military zone. Check ahead of time.

#8 La Galleria Rosazza
Scary Tunnel!

Scary Tunnel!

High above the beautiful Santuario di Oropa (Oropa Sanctuary) in the Italian Alps is La Galleria Rosazza. It was dug/built by hand during the 1890’s to connect two sides of the bigger mountain. The was used to transport animals between sides as well as help bring down ice – in an age before refigerators.

The tunnel is the high point of the road and there are wonderful, tiny cliff roads on both sides that any cyclist would love.

I braved the dark, wet confines, only to find the exit blocked by four metres of snow.
Ride details here (Spoiler alert: I made it over the snow).

The light at the end of the tunnel ..... was snow.

The light at the end of the tunnel ….. was snow.

#9 The Secret Road to Col de la Charmette
Funny tunnel sign in Gorges du Guiers Mort

Funny tunnel sign in Gorges du Guiers Mort

In the Chartreuse Alps just south of Grenoble is a fantastic little road starting in the Gorges du Guiers Mort, closed to cars, and just about ride-able with a road bike.

The start is easy to miss, heading up to the Chartreuse de Curière monastery. But after the monastery things get fun. An old deserted cliff road, with several tunnels. Too much fun. Ride details.

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#10 Annecy Bike Path Tunnel

Let’s end with one low-altitude tunnel that is nothing but fun. Even I am not scared here. The Annecy bike path is a flat, car-free, wonderful place to cycle. Perhaps 10 kms south of Annecy the path goes through an old train tunnel.

One can cycle 50 kilometres all the way to Albertville on the path. Details.

No cars, but popular with cyclists.

No cars, but popular with cyclists.

#11 Lac d’Emosson

One of the most beautiful Alpine dams/lakes I know. Just before the dam, off to the right is a very long tunnel that leads to a road on the high side of the lake. I was scared, but it was worth fighting my fears. Details here.

Long (700m)  tunnel to access far side of lake.

Long (700m) tunnel to access far side of lake.

#12 Col du Solude

An amazing ride above Borg d’Oisans opposite Alpe d’Huez. This cliff route starts off by riding through four dark, dark tunnels. Bring a light. Details here.

Another tunnel

#13 Lac de Tsuezier

A big climb in the Valais region of Switzerland to another alpine dam/lake. Just before the lake are a series of long tunnels. Details here.

Several long, but lit, tunnels

Several long, but lit, tunnels

#14 Lac de Moiry

The fifth highest paved road in Switzerland. The final stretch to this large alpine lake/dam requires passing through a long tunnel. Details here.

lac de moiry

#15 Above Gemmipass

Not the longest tunnel, but yikes. Just beyond Gemmispass, I passed through this tunnel to get a better view of the Wildstrubel Alps. Details here.

Narrow, low, scary tunnel

Narrow, low, scary tunnel

This is a very incomplete list. Please let me know your favourite “tunnel” experiences.

The above were all phobia-battling challenges for me. But what are my favourite tunnel rides? Very short and with a view.

Gorges de la Nesque with the boys from St.Etienne

Gorges de la Nesque with the boys from St.Etienne

The Mysterious Screaming Tunnel (Val Ferret):

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About Author

Happiest while cycling uphill. More enthusiastic than talented, my 2014 Challenge is to cycle 50 great rides, slowly.

3 Comments

  1. Congratulations for this article!! I am also very fond of tunnels! My favourite one is Parpaillon, of course!
    http://claudi.blogspot.com.es/2011/08/el-tunel-du-parpaillon-en-busca-de-un.html
    Long, dark, wet, scary!
    In the Alps should also be mentioned the tunnel at the top of Hochtor Pass.
    Also very famous in the italian Alps is the tunnel in Passo di Gavia.
    But my favourite road with tunnels is Passo San Boldo, near Venice, in Italy, incredible road with incredible history: http://claudi.blogspot.com.es/2011/08/san-boldo-la-carretera-de-los-cien-dias.html
    Thanks for your article!

  2. Thanks Claudio for all the suggestions!

    I know the Gavia tunnel that replaces the old cliff road. I love that cliff road and doubt I’d ever go through that tunnel again :)

    gavia

  3. Hello

    One tunnel is missing from your list, but now I think it’s closed : the road to Tunnel du mortier (D218) above Montaud, near Grenoble. They had to repair the road too often each spring (like Charmette btw) and after one bigger than usual rock fall, decided to close the road end of XX century I think. Before, it was the best way to ascend to Vercors without cars (St Nizier and Sassenage access are very unfriendly for cyclists). And besides, you often had the nice surprise to get to the sunny side after the darkness, before a nice downhill to Autrans.

    I still hope they will reopen the road someday…

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