For me, this is the most beautiful cycling climb in the Alps. Magical.
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 – think Col de l’Iseran), make up one of the largest protected natural areas in Europe. Apparently the wild ibix here migrate between the two countries.
Colle del Nivolet is the 3rd highest paved road in Italy at 2612 metres. I believe it’s the 10th highest paved road in Europe.
See here for the 10 highest paved cycling climbs in Italy
Alpine dams/lakes, loads of sexy hairpins, and stunning snow covered mountains. Woohoo!
The first time I cycled Nivolet I started in Locana 40 kilometres from the summit. But the first 12 kms or so are quite uninteresting on a narrow road, with local traffic, etc. so I skipped them this time. It’s fine if you are touring, just nothing special. In fact you can start climbing 55 kilometres from the summit and enjoy a long stretch of 1% to warm up the legs.
I only had my hybrid with me, but this is of course a road bike climb.
This time I began in Noasca, just before the first steep kilometres, perhaps 28 kms from the summit. Almost immediately there is a 3 kilometre uphill tunnel – with a sign warning of 15% stretches, damn. But there is a way to bypass the tunnel on a fun old road. Just follow the road to the left of the tunnel entrance (see map at bottom) until you see a giant boulder:
EDIT! IMPORTANT: Since I wrote this, the old road has been refurbished and now is in perfect shape and cyclists can avoid the long tunnel in peace and quiet.
Along this old road there are house-sized boulders everywhere – I understand why they built a tunnel. It’s of course bumpy, but it is fine for a road bike. It passes by a scenic gorge, and is far more enjoyable than a long, uphill tunnel.
Note, after a couple of kilometres you are forced to climb into the tunnel. Just ride for 100 metres and then climb out on the left for the old road again. 🙂 After another kilometre the old road re-joins the main road at the tunnel exit.
Next, after a few easy kilometres is Ceserole Reale, the final significant town. There is a huge dam and lake. A hint of things to come.
There are a few easy kilometres, and then things becomes truly special. The toughest part of the climb is the 5 kilometres leading to the next dam, all averaging above 9% with hairpins in every direction.
I don’t know what these weed things are called, but things were very red at this stretch:
The road goes ride by the big Diga (dam) Lago Serrù at 2275 metres. See the sign in small photo above: from this point the road is closed to motorised traffic every Saturday in summer. Wow, very nice especially considering touring motor-cyclists love it here.
Next the road actually rides across the dam of Lago Agnel (2300 metres).
Up to this point, this has already been a memorable, challenging and beautiful climb. But these final 4 kilometres ……. wow. Here’s a close up of the first few hairpins above Lago Agnel:
The final few hairpins give ever better/higher views of the two lakes below. Yes, I spent some time scrambling up rocks with my mini tripod. I needed all 30 seconds of my camera’s timer. 🙂
There are quite a few other lakes here and there, including two fairly large ones and a couple of small ones just over the far side called Laghi del Nivolet (Lakes of Nivolet).
Beyond that second lake the paved road ends but a rough road continues into the Aosta region. It is “possible” to traverse down into the Valsaverenche. But it requires a super steep hike down for a stretch before reaching the village of Pont (1968 meters). I once cycled up to Pont from the very far side and began the hike to Nivolet but I ran out of light and turned back. See here.
Colle del Nivolet has never been in the Giro – I assume because it’s in the middle of a National Park, so it is not as famous as Stelvio, Gavia, or other great Italian roads. But again, for me, it is the most beautiful cycling climb in the Alps.
Near the start of the climb to Nivolet is a fabulous “secret” road to another high alpine dam. Lago di Teleccio. Highly recommended. See here.
Indulge me, a few more photos:
Ahhh, the memories…
Perfect write-up of this thing of beauty!
It looks very nice in early autumn!
Have you never considered buying a bluetooth camera remote? It’s fairly cheap… The 30-sec timed shot doesn’t look like something I would like to try 5 times 😀
A great blog & brilliant reminder of my trip to Aosta last July – we did a day trip to Colle del Nivolet & we weren’t disappointed!!! The photo I took overlooking the two lakes has won me a camera & a watch in separate photo competitions 🙂
Thanks for sharing your adventures Will.
Went riding up here last month but unfortunately got rained out just after the first lake 🙁 Poop, as it will be a long time till I get back!
A few notes – there is a bus service run by GTT that goes from Pont Canavese all the way up to Colle del Nivolet, some of which will take bikes (they have racks on the back). It stops a number of times at Locana, Noasca, Ceresole Reale etc. Not a bad way to get closer if you do not have a car. Be careful reading the timetables as they are in Italian. I read it incorrectly and ended up having to start 35km’s back from Pont Canavese ugh.
Also, weather seems to turn on a dime. I went mid August and was freezing on the descent – I had jersey, arm warmers, light gloves, spray jacket and a beanie/balaclava, and would suggest that as a minimum even in summer. Of course 10 mins after the descent the sun came out and was stinking hot!
Please is Pont Canavese a train station? On google maps it seems it is, but the website I use for all european trains does not include it. For next year I plan to stay in Torino and do not know if it is possible to get to Pont Canavese with a bike.
Thank you very much.
I have never taken a train there but a search makes it look there is a local line that ends there. See this: http://www.sfmtorino.it/le-linee-sfm/sfm1-pont-rivarolo-chieri/
Wow! It looks like you hit the weather jackpot for your trip up the Col.
I just returned from a two week stint in France where I encountered snow on the Galibier, Izoard and Iseran, sweated like a pig on the Glandon and Croix de fer, and was rained out of my chance to climb to Nivolet. Each day of the trip covered cols and routes described so well by you in your blog. Many thanks Will for making the trip so incredible and successful .
Hi Martin, thanks for the comment, it sounds like you did very well given the weather. But you’ll have t come back for Nivolet 🙂 – Will (a fellow Canadian)
I did the Nivolet for the first time this summer, starting from Ceresole Reale in perfect weather early in the morning. Had the road to myself except for a chamois and one motorcyclist. What an amazing place! I drove through the tunnel coming up and again after the climb looking for that entrance on the left, but the only thing I saw looked blocked. I must have missed it. Next time I will try the old road!
This is the one right mate?
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well hello and thank you for a wonderful description including how to deal with that tunnel.
We re riding it tomorrow ( have been waiting and watching the weather ) and wondering – is it easy to access fresh water as it is almost everywhere in Europe ? We re re thinking the clothing and food we ‘ll take on board and the second bidon cage is looking attractive for any extras we may need – if we can get water en route .
Cant wait and thanks in advance!
Hi Rachel, I am not certain, but I worry that Nivolet is still closed from winter. I saw photos of them clearing snow 3 days ago and it seemed a long way from being ready. But again, I am not certain. I sent a message to someone that may know but haven’t heard back yet. To your question, there are plenty of places to get drinks up to and just after Ceresole Reale. After this, I think it’s a lot more difficult. There is a restaurant half way up or so that may be open, but not positive.
Thank you so much ! The best climb ever, i couldn’t feel my chain at all , so hypnotic, ive done a few “hills” but this was in another galaxy .The top part was closed for ice but i perservered to get great views of the mountains and the ibex walking across the dam wall as if it were flat! Thank you !
Grazie e Bravo!