The Alpine borders between Italy and France are lined with forts and high altitude military roads – most dating from the end of the 19th century or World War 1. Forte Jafferau (2805 metres) is the highest Fort in Italy and the second highest in Europe. It was built between 1896 and 1898. It was bombarded and largely destroyed as part of the peace treaty ending World War 2.
The highest Fort in the Alps is atop Mont Chaberton (3131 metres) – cycling details here.
This is my third time cycling Monte Jafferau. This time via the old Galleria (tunnel) dei Saraceni, which had just reopened after being deemed unsafe since 2013. The map below has all three routes, all astounding unpaved old military roads. So great even if the tunnel is terrifying. 🙂
The pink route is called La Strada Militare 79 (or Strada Militare Fenil-Pramand-Föens-Jafferau). I started from Salbertrand riding 2 kilometres on the SS24. There is a tiny left turn to Fenil and the climb begins. It soon passes the 19th century Forte Fenil. This is the start of the old military road. It’s paved for one more kilometre until Montcellier. Then 20+ kilometres rough gravel to Monte Jafferau. I’d recommend a mountain bike versus a gravel bike as this is often very bumpy, rocky gravel. Wider tires and suspension were welcome, especially for the long descent.
The climb is beautiful from the outset, quickly rising above the main valley below. It’s often very steep, and I spent much of the climb looking for a good line through the rocky gravel.
At 2088 metres I reached Colletto Pramand. Note, on the map below all the cols are marked and there is a gradient profile of the route. I was getting close to the tunnel.
The tunnel was built at roughly km 13 to 14 of the road in the 1920s due to the endless avalanches making the road impassable. The middle stretch of the old road has completely disappeared. The tunnel is directly under these hollowed out cliffs at roughly 2200 metres.
There is a tiny tunnel and then the real fun begins. The tunnel is u-shaped and just under a kilometre. It is narrow, pitch dark, and very wet. One needs a light. It is uphill too but not crazy steep. Note, it looks like a straight line on my map as my GPS lost signal in the tunnel. I was quite terrified the entire time, especially when – mid tunnel – it became very noisy due to a waterfall somewhere. But I survived!
Below is a 360 degree photo of the tunnel. You can move/zoom the photo with a mouse/finger.
Two kilometres above the tunnel the route meets the other two routes and some fabulous hairpins up to Col Basset (2610m) begin.
Note, there is another super high cycleable Col Basset (2425m) nearby on a high military road: Strada dell’Assietta. See here.
As shown on the map, at Col Basset I briefly went in the “wrong” direction to visit Colletto Vin Vert (2686m). It’s a hiking trail and I half pedaled half pushed, but the views (plus another col reached) made it a worthwhile detour. Col hunters like me have no choice sometimes. 🙂
In the photo below from Colletto Vin Vert I can see Col Basset just below, the route to Monte Jafferau ahead, and far in the distance the summit of Monte/Forte Jafferau.
The next stretch from Col Basset is about as beautiful as it gets as the route winds along the high ridge.
The last few hairpins to the summit are on a terrible surface. Hard work. A couple of cyclotourists pushing:
The fort has been mainly destroyed but there are entrances to underground tunnels/barracks, and plenty of ruins. The other two rides have more photos of the fort. Views from the summit:
I could have descended one of the other routes, but the SS24 down the bottom needed to link the starts is a busy road and I was enjoying the quiet so I just double backed the way I came. This seemed like a great idea except: I HAD TO BRAVE THAT TUNNEL AGAIN!
This climb is magic. So beautiful. With 2000 metres of ascent on a tough surface it is also a big day out. Highly, highly recommended.
A 3D video of the route (doesn’t work on all browsers):
Gigantic, deserted, beautiful old gravel military road via 4 cols to 2805 metres. Woohooo.
Quiet / No Traffic