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 tunnels truly worth braving allowed.
This is an update of a post from last year with a few more “fun” tunnels added.
#1 Tunnel du Parpaillon
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.
#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.
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.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.
#4 Col du Sanetsch TunnelCol 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.
#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.
#6 Croix de la CoeurEvery 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.
#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 RosazzaHigh 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).
#9 The Secret Road to Col de la CharmetteIn 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.
#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.
#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.
#12 Col du Solude
An amazing ride above Bourg d’Oisans opposite Alpe d’Huez. This cliff route starts off by riding through four dark, dark tunnels. Bring a light. Details here.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#16 Col du Coq
The climb to the Italian ski station below the Matterhorn has a few tunnels, but the most “fun” is above the best set of hairpins of the climb. Ride details via the superb Col Saint-Pantaléon here.
#18 Above Lac du Mauvoisin
Why is this 18th? This is perhaps the greatest “secret” tunnel on the list. The hors-categorie climb to the beautiful Valais lake/dam (climb starts below Verbier) is superb. But bring a mountain bike and travel 2 kms through this dark, wet tunnel above the dam at roughly 2000 metres altitude to unlock an amazing road beside, and then far above, the lake. Ride details here.
The reward after the tunnel:
#19 Passo Falzarego
In the Dolomites, this lovely climb near Passo Giau has a not-too-long tunnel nearing the summit. Why did I include it? Because it has a signed hairpin (#14) inside the tunnel. Old school! Ride details here.
#20 Monte Grappa
This incredible Italian mountain, famous for its WW1 battles and the book by Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms), has 9 hors-categorie routes. It also has a tunnel museum at the summit (used in WW1).
For cyclists, there are also some non-scary, but very sexy tunnels to cycle through. Ride details here.
#21 Tunnel du Bois Clair
OK, near Cluny in Burgundy, this tunnel is not in the Alps. But, at 1.6 kms in length, it claims to be the longest bike-only tunnel in Europe, part of the superb burgundy network of green-ways. It is closed in winter to protect a colony of bats (yikes). Ride details when the tunnel was closed. I returned later with Doreen to cycle through but never blogged.
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.
The Mysterious Screaming Tunnel (Val Ferret):