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.
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.