Colle del Nivolet, in Piemonte, is my favourite paved climb in the Alps. It is so beautiful. But it’s a dead-end. However, it is possible – with some serious hiking – to reach it from the back Aosta side.
The summit of Colle del Nivolet (2612m) is the border between the Piemonte and Valle d’Aosta regions of Italy. It’s the 9th highest paved road in the Alps. See here for the 20 highest paved climbs in the Alps.
This was a two day trip and I’ll split it into two posts:
Day 1: Climbing the Aosta side of Nivolet and descending the famous Piemonte side.
Day 2: Climbing the Piemonte side but via an old military road/trail then descending back to Aosta (see here).
It’s almost 40 kilometres up to Colle del Nivolet from the Aosta Valley floor. The first 26 kilometres are paved and climb into Valsavarenche, one of many “finger” valleys extending into the high Alps from the Vallée d’Aoste. Note, the profile above is ONLY for the paved climb. The map at the bottom of the post includes a profile of the entire route.
It’s a nice 26 kilometre paved climb, on relatively quiet roads. There is the soothing white noise of a mountain river beside the road for the entire upper stretch. More details here.
Unpaved from Pont to Colle del Nivolet
It’s at the village of Pont (roughly 1950 metres) where things get “fun” as the paved road ends. There is a trail head in the middle of the village that leads to Nivolet. Time to put the bike on my shoulder and start hiking. I am going to provide a lot of detail here as I know many people are interested in this back route. Note: I would take a slightly different way down the next day. I have mapped both stretches below – labeling a few section and adding some photos.
I climbed the red route on day one. It is 9 kilometres to Colle delle Nivolet from Pont. On day two I would descend the purple route, slightly longer at 10 kilometres. It’s the first 2 kilometres from Pont that are the toughest. Climbing along a steep, rocky path finally reaching Croce della Roley (2310 metres). It’s steep and completely unrideable. Bike carrying on a rocky but well-worn trail.
Here’s slightly confusing time-warp video that shows most of the route from Pont to the Croce – for anyone curious.
After reaching the cross, things slowly start to get easier. The route enters a huge plateau. Its here the two routes on the map split. My way up (red) stays lower, and gently climbs in the middle of the plateau along hiking trails.
Below is another time-warp video of most of the route between Croce della Roley and Nivolet. You’ll see after a few difficult sections, by the 45 second mark, I am pedaling the rest of the way. Where the two routes intersect near Nivolet is where the road ends for cars coming from the other side. There are a few refugees/restaurants and a big parking lot. I’d found the masses.
The Purple Route
The purple route (the way I descended the next day) requires an extra kilometre on a very steep trail when climbing. But it then reaches an old “road” easy to ride on all the way to Nivolet. Below is a scrollable 360 degree photo of the plateau. You can see clearly the trails on one side and the old “road” on the other.
Years ago they had considered building a road between Nivolet and Aosta. They finished the easy part higher up, but never finished the project
The end of this old road just before the steep hike down to the Croce slowly turns into a hiking trail. But the views are terrific:
Which option is better?
I don’t have a strong opinion. It’s a trade off. Climbing via the purple route adds another very tough/steep/rocky section, but then provides a completely rideable “private” road for several kilometres. Either way, you’ll need to struggle up the rocky trail between Pont and Croce della Roley.
Once I reached the paved road and the restaurants, it is still a touch more than a kilometre uphill to Colle del Nivolet. There are a couple of large lakes on this Aosta side. The photo below is looking back from near the summit. Pont is far, far down that valley!
Descending the “famous” side
See here for a detailed post climbing the truly amazing 40 km paved Piemonte side of Nivolet. Today, I would only descend 20+ kilometres to Ceresole Reale where i was spending the night. As usual, I took lots of photos.
Here’s a scrollable 360 degree photo of the Piemonte side above Lago Serrù. What an amazing place:
The Giro d’Italia recently had a stage here. But they stopped beside Lago di Serrù (2275 metres). It’s the light blue lake in the distance in the above photos.
There is also a great hairpin section below Lago Serrù. Here’s another 36 degree scrollable photo. Turn the photo and you’ll find the dam/lake
Look closely at the top left quadrant of the photo below. Can you see all those hairpins that look like hiking trails? That is the old military “road” that I would ride on Day 2. Stay tuned.
Finally, I just descended down to Ceresole Reale and its lake. Wooohooo! This was a great adventure that I’d been wanting to do for a long time. The hiking sections are tough, but not dangerous. But you need to be prepared to hike and carry your bike for a long time.
There is one other great paved climb in this region. Part way up the Piemonte side is the brilliant climb to Lago di Teleccio. Highly recommended.
When I post day two, I hope to have a more polished video. But here is a very unpolished preview.
Wow! Amazing photos. Even more spectacular and inspiring than your last ride up to Nivolet!
Will. Thanks so much for your efforts in riding then putting the blog together. You will inspire others to ride this simply fantastic trail. No doubt Luca and Sergio will be among them. I am sorry to say at 70 it is probably too much me me. Thanks mate.
Amazing ride, Will, I’m intrigued you chose the gravel bike, because some of those trails look pretty rough. Was it for the portability on the hiking sections?
I usually prefer a mountain bike on rough rides but i knew very little of the super rough stuff on my two day trip was rideable downhill, so I figured the gravel bike was as good as the mountain bike, and a touch better on all paved stuff. This day 1 had no unpaved downhill stretches.
And it was fine on all the uphill unpaved stuff like the upper plateau on day 1 and the day 2 military road. Ultimately either a gravel bike or mtb would work I think.
Great website and info!
On this ride from Pont to the summit of the Nivolet,
I’d like to add that the first 500m starting in Pont are very steep, and it’s more climbing than walking.
Here’s what it looks like:
If the views on top of the Nivolet weren’t so magnificent, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
But since the views are so great, I would only say to the brave to be very carefully.
Have great rides!
Thanks for sharing. I have done the Piedmonte side last year. I had hoped to try the same route this year but ran out of time. Your detailed post makes it a lot less uncertain, so hopefully next year I will give it a go. cheers!
Is this backroad navigatable by night, with good lightning? Or is this mission impossible?
I don’t see why not. It’s not particularly dangerous as you are going uphill on a well used trail. But it is completely uninhabited and partly in woods so you’d want good lights,