Let’s get the hyperbole out of the way: This may be the most beautiful high Alps paved climb I have ever cycled. Seriously. 🙂
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), make up one of the largest protected natural areas in Europe. Apparently the wild ibix here migrate between the two parks.
EDIT: Note, I have now ridden/hiked up the backside via Pont – see here. And I have also ridden the famous side via a virtual unknown old military/hunting trail – see here.
Wikipedia lists it as the 8th highest paved road in Europe at 2641 metres (the summit sign say 2612m).
I started in Locana forty kilometres from the summit. In fact, the climb takes quite a while to get interesting. The first half is on a lightly trafficked, but main road that gently climbs towards high mountains. Nothing too special.
TIP: After 14 kms there is a 3.5 kilometre uphill tunnel (8% average). Not fun at all. To bypass: a 100 metres before tunnel take the small road on left. It is the old road — in terrible condition, but hey (and there are some great old hairpins). After 2 kms you are forced into the tunnel. But ride 100 metres inside and climb out again on the left onto a better quality old road that rejoins the main route at the tunnel exit. Phew!
The route gets more touristy as it reaches Lago di Ceresole – a large artificial lake with a dam. It’s after the lake that the climb finally starts to get fun. From 15 kms or so to go, the road is closed for 7 months of the year a clear sign that we are leaving civilisation.
The steepest part of the climb are these great hairpins below the two dams. They wind everywhere, I failed to capture a good photo, but fun to cycle.
The first diga (dam) is the big one. Diga/Lago di Serrù.
The beautifully coloured Lago di Serrù decorates the view for the spectacular last several kilometres to the summit.
Every Sunday until the end of August, the road from Lagi di Serrù until the summit is closed to motorised traffic. Bikes/pedestrians only.
Next, there is a much smaller dam at the darker blue Lago Agnel.
Then the road heads up again.
After the Colle (pass), the paved road descends for a couple of kilometres. There are a couple of more lakes and a little restaurant – it’s just over the Piemonte / Aosta border. By mountain bike it is possible to continue down into the Aosta valley via Valtourmench.
I loved, loved, loved this climb. And I had a lot of fun trying to get a few photos on the way back down.
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.
Quiet / No Traffic
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The film The Italian Job features this climb, a point of interest worth noting, at the end the coach comes to rest precariously high above those lakes.
Hi Ian, thanks for that.
2 years ago i climbed the Col de Nivolet with bike road, as yuo said last 15km is incredible scenic climb one of the best climb in the Alps. After the top and the short descent just after the end of 2nd little lake, start the 9km hiking trail that will finish in Pont Valsavaranche where the asphalted road return. The first 7km oh hiking trail is a false flat from 2550 to 2300m and was possible to cycle (very slow!!) for 2-3km even with bike raod, the rest is bike by hand. Last 2km is a narrow and steep hiking with bike on shoulder, half hour of steep descent. The total 9km is roughly 2 hours of hiking included time to photo!! My stage is follow with P.S. Bernardo e half Iseran until Tignes. The day after I climbed last part of Iseran, MontCenis and the whole flat ValSusa until the foot of Nivolet, loop closed with 370km and 6800m climbed. A very very nice tour, here some pictures (poor) of that incredible days. https://picasaweb.google.com/112979256872436490347/TraNivoletEIseran
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Hi Will, I would love to do the Nivolet just when it opens in spring. It looks absolutely amazing! Do you happen to know anywhere I can monitor when it opens? Cheers, Jesper
Last year the road above the dams opened in late June. It is situated in the Parco Nazionale Gran Paradiso . So I followed the news on their official site. I also contacted them in mid-June and they quickly responded with the planned dates for opening more than a week before it happened.
Hi Will. Did this one last week with my daughter and I fully agree with you. This climb has everything except traffic and it’s easily as breathtakingly beautiful as Stelvio! We did however start at the beginning of ‘Lago di Ceresole’ to avoid the less interesting bit (and the scary tunnel). From here it only gets better and better… If I could choose only one climb ever I think I’d choose this one. Thanks for the inspiration!
Fantastic, well done. I think you were wise to start where you did.
Thanks for the note.
Hi Jesper, how long was the ride from this point?
It’s roughly 15 kms from Lago di Ceserole to the summit
Fantastic col and even better pictures. One question: how do you take your own pictures? Auto timer doesn’t give enough time to get down from such a beautiful vantage point and ride the bike before the pux is snapped.
Will try to do this col next year. Gavia and Mortirolo + Dolomites this year.
I have a camera with a 30 second auto timer 🙂
Did the ride one week ago (after lago del narret and passo della novana the day before). Was already very cold at the top, but what a stunning climb!
One quick comment on your tip to avoid the tunnel: the small road to avoid the tunnel is on the left, not on the right.
Thanks for spending the time building this top list of 100 favorite climbs, you are the best!
JFK, Well done, three superb climbs. But the turn off the MAIN road is on the right, then immediately crosses a bridge to the left. (if I remember correctly)
I tried to go to the right, but had the impression the road was just going up. Then I went back and took the road which leaves on the left of the main road , and passes along the river all along. Maybe if I would have kept on the right I would have been able to pass above the tunnel and reach back the same road (from the map seems that both left and right road joins after 250meters).
I did the climb yersterday, based on the info here to take the right turn, we went 2km uphill at 18% to a dead end road.
We went down and took the road to the left and ended up a what seemed also a dead end road blocked by a huge rock , we went back again and found no other road so went back again to the road with the rock and had a look behind the rock and there was the road that went past the tunnel.
About halfway you enter the tunnel again and the after 100m or so you can exit the tunnel again climb over a wall and get to the second part of the road. The wall to climb over is almost a 1m high you have to look out not to damage your bike.
Tim, glad you found it – sorry if I didn’t explain it well – for others have a super close look at the map in post as it may look closed as you search for it. Yes, it was a little complicated, and requires going back in and quickly out of the tunnel part way up.
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After a very long time of anticipation, I finally managed to ride the Colle del Nivolet today.
You couldn’t be more right, this is cycling’s greatest road climb.
I started from Locana too, I wanted to make sure I got the ‘full experience’. Forty kilometers of pure enjoyment. The very tough headwind and freezing rain in the kilometers before the dam, who cleared after this point, added to the experience.
Thanks for sharing this gem with us.
Fantastic, congratulations. A shame about the rain, but very well done.
We had the same experience climbing this Colle (with the motorbike), one, maybe the most, magnificent climb of the Alps, and we done quite a few …
My experience with Nivolet is ride from one side (Ceresole Reale) to opposite side (Val Savarenche) on road bike (including fresh snow in top part). Quite tricky but amazing trip. 🙂
Fantastic! I have climbed the far side but didn’t get far above Pont with a mountain bike. It was late in the year, and I was running out of light, but one day, I hope to reach Nivolet from this back side. 🙂
Your site is a real inspiration for me, in my search for scenic and hidden climbs. From 14 of 15 august I ‘m going to Italy for a week and bring my race and mountainbike. At this moment I have booked a hotel close to Colle Fauniera. For the other part off my holiday I’ m in doubt off chosing for colle Nivolet or colle del Assiette.
If I do colle nivolet, which I prefer, I m staying in Pont Cavanese or Locarna. Do you know if there are any nice cols to climb (race or mtb) in that area.
You mean Locana? The one big climb near Nivolet that is on my list ….. but I’ve never done is Lago di Teleccio. It starts on the way up to Nivolet, from the tunnel. It looks very steep, certainly quiet, but I don’t know the surface quality. Some details here: http://www.cyclingcols.com/col/LagoDiTeleccio There are lots of huge climbs near Strada dell’Assietta – the best are all gravel/mountain bike. Search my blog for Jafferau, Chaberton, Colle delle Finestre, Colle del Sommeiller for some ideas. These are some of the very highest unpaved roads in the entire Alps. Fantastic stuff.
On the other hand, Nivolet is perhaps my favourite road climb. You’ve picked a good area. Hope that helps.
Hi Will, thanks for your reply. The decision is made. I will go to Nivolet and will try to go to Lago Di Teleccio and maybe to some off the other lakes as well. I will let you know about the road conditions of the climb to Lago di Teleccio. Peter
Hello Will, I ve done several climbs in my life but never had a real favorite. Until now! Colle de Nivolet is the best ever. I did it on monday after driving through the night because the weather forcast for monday was the most promising. I started at Sparone. So it was 43 km and 2000 meters of climbing. The fun started just before the tunnel with the steep hairpins, then the old scenic road. It was easy to find, Your tip and following the tracks of the bikes in the gravel. Being tired it was very hard to reach the top. It took me more then 4 hours. But you get so rewarded with the nice views. It is as if Colle the Nivolet has the best parts of every climb I ve ever done. On tuesday I tried to go to Lago Tellecio on my mtb, and the plan was to bike or hike on left side of the lake to refugI. Pontesi. It is steep but the surface was better then I expected. After San Lorenzo you reach an upper valley where it is less steep. After the last abandoned village, there is a massive wall, with some hairpins. You only hear the sounds off nature and heavy breathing. Unfortunate the sound off nature became thunder so I had to turn 2 km before the summit.
today I did Nivolet again, from the exit of the tunnel. And I must say, it is more enjoyable and less struggling. After the descent I tried to go up to Lago telluccio again but on my roadbike. Although the sky had been blue the entire day it started to rain at San Lorenzo. I waited for an hour but the conditions became worse. After some thunder I decided it was best to descent and save some energy for colle Fauniera the next days. The climb to Lago de Tellecio can be done on a road bike it even has some stretches with new asfalt. Going down is slow, but not to bad even in the rain.
Peter, Thanks for the report. Well done. I hope to climb Tellecio soon.
I did again, after 3 years, Col de Nivolet form Locana and hiking trail down to Pont Valsavaranche. The hiking road was in good conditions, I cycling (very slow) for almost 4km, here the pictures:
Alex, fantastic ….. thanks for sharing!
Very nice photos! Yes, it is possible to cycle first two km or so along wide gravel road, next below in valley is narrow trail sometime rideble (carefull) sometime walking – some places are very wet (torfmoor). Last 1,5 km is typical hiking path – narrow twisty and steep. You must take bike on shoulder. Just below this steep section is nice waterfall. Finally you find park place and asphalt road. Nice adventure although road from Ceresole Reale is more impressive.
Thanks guys! The description of Zbynek is very accurate, nice!
I road it today in bad weather. Still an Amazing climb even if I didn’t actually seen half of what you amazing pictures shows coz of the fog. But I was still there and your site was one of the inspiration to do it. Thanks.
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Amazing, Probably I will go for it next year. Meanwhile will make myself physically fit. One question, how much time does the whole journey take if we start from Locana? I did a smiliar trip in India, 100 kms a day with 20% incline and flat roads, it also includes 2 hours lunch break. Is it advisable to stay at Locana? I would be coming from Piacenza, so can I rent any bikes there?
Tough to answer, it depends how strong you are. It’s 2000 metres climb from Locano. Hard work. 3 hours perhaps for me.
I hope to be heading to Aosta Valley next summer. Saw Mike Cottey’s video on Colle del Nivolet below and then a google search got me to your site. Guess I should have started there.
You had very positive write up on the ride. But I am staying in Aosta. So am on wrong side. I don’t see any roads on north side of Nicole? But there is a Colle so I thought there would be? So given your recommendation on the ride, am thinking of reducing accommodation time in Aosta and spending a couple of nights near Local as I don’t want to drive all the way around to Locana and then back to Aosta in a day. Is there a climb on north side? I suspect not. If not would you recommend anywhere to stay?
I then plan to drive to La touissure.
John, reaching Nivolet from the Aosta side of Nivolet requires some hiking (see a couple of comment from others above). I tried a few years ago. It’s a 26 km road climb to Pont, then some steep, unrideable hiking, for a few kms until a road is reached …. initially unpaved. I ran out of light when I tried and double backed: see here: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/valsavarenche/. But it’s not really a road bike idea.
I have a map with Aosta rides that I have done – https://www.cycling-challenge.com/vallee-daoste-cycling-map/. There are quite a few good rides. The town of Aosta is nice enough to stay. Or I like a hotel near Bard, below the big castles at a choke point in the main valley.
There is one other great climb that starts on the same road as Nivolet far lower down: https://www.cycling-challenge.com/lago-di-teleccio/ It’s tricky to know where to stay. Ceresole Reale on the big lake perhaps 20 kms from summit of Nivolet is sort of a resort region with several hotels, it is above much of the climb, but well below all the superb parts. I have stayed a couple of times in Rivarolo Canavese and then driven to the start point. It’s an OK town (nothing too special though). Finally, make sure you read closely my tip on how to take the old road that skips the 3 km tunnel. It makes the lower part of nivolet far more fun.
Thanks will. Very useful. My wife is a hiker, usually when I am on a long ride so maybe she will join me on the walking section. I will check out the towns you mention. I tentatively booked something in Locana but not sure if it’s up to my wife’s standard. By the way, the aosta tourist office have a fantastic hard copy folder with about 30 rides in aosta Valley. I will do some more research and may bother you again with some more questions.
yes, I have a folder with all their route cards. It’s nicely done.
My two brothers and I had the pleasure of this ride from Lacano in Sept 16, for myself it was the first major climb of my life after having to abort a planned ascent of the Stelvio in 2014 for my Bro-la 60th b,day due to cancer . It was the most beautiful, trying, exhilarating experience of my riding adventures thanks to Bro-Jo who was relentless in his weekly rides after surgery to bring me back to form, and Bro-la for pacing me up the last 5k when legs and lungs were at their limits due to a bronchial infection that was giving me grief. Will, thanks for the tunnel warning, however I do wonder if we should have heeded your advice and taken the detour but in the end it added to the experience . As an after note I conquered the Stelvio, Colle D,Agnello & Ghishello in Sept 17 (with Bro-la & Jo) for my 60th but Nivolet remains #1 in my books…….Spocket 57
Just a quick question – is it allowed for cyclists to go through the aforementioned tunnel? Thanks.
Yes, bikes are allowed in the tunnel.
Thanks for the quick reply. But to my understanding, the tunnel is not lit (and considering it’s very long, perhaps the ventilation is not best either)?
I’m trying to plan a multi-day round-trip and your website is of huge help. I think I’ve already sent you my compliments last year but can’t praise it enough :-D.
Another great post Will – thanks! We’ll be in the area around early/mid-October – do you think it would be open/passable that late in the season?
Cheers from Oz, Jeremy
There is a very good chance in early/mid October, but one never knows. 60/40 and have some warm clothing for the descent 🙂
As Will says, it’s a lottery, but I was up there on Oct 26 2017, in sunny weather, 14 dec C at the top. The road was closed to traffic above Ceresole Reale for the season, so no cars. The larches had turned beautiful yellow-orange, I want to say “ablaze”, unfortunately literally so down in the valley where they had some bad forest fires (back in Ceresole one couldn’t see 10m for the smoke).
Note that the old road that bypasses the tunnel above Noasca has been resurfaced in preparation for the Giro this year (they ride up to the dam, not the col).
This ride cannot be described , beyond perfect . I cycled it late evening when road was still closed as this year winter was late .Saw so many ibex-one even greeted me past the lake-from 1 meter -then i saw two ibex ” walk ACROSS the wall like it was nothing ,have photos to prove it ! past the seru more ibex-just be quiet and you will see them. There was so many waterfalls, the one on the Agnel was deafning ,there were no cars , so silent you could hear everything,lots of snow but not as bad as gavia this year(that was trecerous) I did not want to come back down .Just do it it is out of this world you forget the average 9%. I’m torn between this and the gavia as the best one .
Just got back from doing this over the weekend – a spectacular ride, thank you so much for the recommendation and description. The old tunnel-diversion road has recently been repaved (for the 2019 Giro it seems, given the various markings), is very obvious (a left turn just before the tunnel entrance) and is now a real pleasure to both ascend and descend – you no longer need to enter the tunnel in the middle, and it’s closed to motor vehicles most of the way – so if you’re up for the elevation gain I’d recommend starting from no later than Noasca (we started from Pont Canavese where we were staying, but the bit between there and Rosone certainly is eminently skippable, and the next part not all that special if you’re short on time / energy). At the top, if you carry on down from the col to the lakes and then along a bit – to the end of the sort-of-paved bit of road before there’s a barrier and its condition deteriorates – you get a view of Gran Paradiso :-). And it’s still car- and motorbike-free (though shuttle buses still run) on summer Sundays above lago Serrù