My favourite climb. Period. It is so beautiful one just laughs while pedalling. Here’s what I said in 2014 after my first visit:
Let’s get the hyperbole out of the way: This may be the most beautiful high Alps paved climb I have ever cycled. Seriously. 🙂
It’s the 3rd highest paved pass in Italy. See here for the 10 highest paved passes in Italy.
This was the last climb of the Alps visit of my great friend Jens. He had originally suggested Barcelonnette as a place to visit. I nodded enthusiastically and planned as many special climbs as I could (see last few posts) — but saved a final detour for this amazing place.
I’ve written about Nivolet a couple of times before (here’s a 2016 autumn ride), but a few fun facts ….. and, of course, some photos.
- The road was built in 1931, primarily to give access to the dams/lakes up high.
- It has never appeared in the Giro d’Italia, partly for environmental reasons, partly for logistical reasons (dead-end, etc).
- Apparently it is one of the best star-gazing sites in Italy. No pollution, high, no light, etc.
- Yes, it featured in the original Italian Job film – the teetering van scene
- Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved pass in Europe, is only a handful of kilometres away as the crow flies (less than 10), but over high, high mountains. France and Italy park authorities manage wildlife herds here in partnership. But it’s a 4 hour drive by car between the passes! No roads.
Near the start of the climb to Nivolet is a fabulous “secret” road to another high alpine dam. Lago di Teleccio. Highly recommended, and perhaps the only other “great” climb in the region. See here. Trust me, truly marvelous.
Back to Nivolet: We started from Ceresole Reale at the first of several dams/lakes. This left us the best 18 kilometres of the route. One can start far lower, see profile, but most of the lower slopes are nothing special.
I’ve ridden these lower parts. The important thing to note: perhaps 28 kilometres from the summit is a 3 kilometre tunnel. And it’s very steep in this tunnel, yuck. But, see this 2014 post for an amazing “detour” on the old road. Great hairpins, the need to briefly climb in and out of the tunnel, etc. But so fun. Note, this old road is falling apart and one needs to be responsible. But so much better than a long uphill tunnel.
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.
Here is a 3D video of ride that includes the lower slopes/tunnel:
I don’t have much else to say except I love this road. The final 15 kilometres or so are truly incredible. So let’s get to more photos. 🙂
First, one climbs a fabulous series of hairpins below Lago di Serru, the first of two big dams/lakes.
The Diga (dam) di Serru is at 2275 metres. On Sundays in summer the road is closed to cars from here onwards. Very nice.
A future project? On the fun hairpin section below Lago di Serru, one can easily see the old military road on the way up. It looks steep/rough but do-able on a mountain bike. Strangely, I didn’t take a photo of it. ;(
Next, there is an easier stretch riding across the Lago Agnel (lamb lake) dam.
If the climb ended here, it would be a favourite. But now the true fun begins. The road hairpins higher with an ever changing angle of the best cycling view I know. Yes, we took a lot of photos.
The pass itself is 2612 metres (3rd highest in Italy). But don’t stop here. Just over the pass are a few more lakes and a couple of restaurants. Note, the road continues down in Aosta.
What a road. Ridiculous.
It’s possible to descend the far side of Nivolet to Pont, the top of a 26 kilometre climb in Val d’Aosta. But the road disappears and it is a steep hiking trail for a stretch. Not easy. See here for a post where I cycled up to Pont and began the hike, but have up due to late season lack of light.