My friends know I am scared of tunnels. I am a coward. But the Alps are filled with hundreds and hundreds. So I have slowly learned to embrace my fears – often leading to some pretty fun experiences. 🙂
10 20 great rides, all with “special” tunnels.
This list excludes just plain miserable tunnels like several dark, wet, uphill, truck-filled, nightmares on Col du Lautaret, or the horrible galleries below Val d’Isère. Only tunnels truly worth braving allowed.
This is an update of a post from last year with a few more “fun” tunnels added. Edit: Also added a couple more from 2019.
#1 Tunnel du Parpaillon
Over a century ago, for many years, this was the highest road in France. The route du Parpaillon was built between 1891 and 1911 by the French military to link the Ubaye and Embrun valleys.
The high point of the road is the tunnel – 520 metres long – at 2643 metres. The geographic col is above at 2780 metres. Ride details here. And details from the equally good south side here.
#2 Tunnel des Ecouges
The Vercors Massif is filled will great natural rock bridges and fabulous galleries cut into cliffs, but the Tunnel des Ecouges (below Col de Romeyère) is a terrifying spider hole.
Cyclists are legally obligated to have a light – it is not straight so one can’t see the end! I was fortunate that a kind motorcyclists waited for me and escorted me through. Going up-hill and desperately trying to keep up, I hit my highest heart rate of my entire life. Ha, no joke. Ride details.
Some less scary tunnels in the Vercors:
#3 Tunnel du Galibier
Actually, cyclists aren’t supposed to cycle through this. But the Tour de France did for decades. It’s useful for when climbing from the north side early in the season when it’s still closed above the tunnel but the south side is open. I was told by workers that I could use it on a day when the north side was closed. Careful, it’s very narrow and one-way at a time. Respect the traffic lights, have your own light, and best to try and follow a car.
Col du Galibier was first made crossable for military purposes in 1879 with the sexy name: “Routes des Grands Communication #14.” To simplify the crossing, a tunnel was finished in 1891, roughly 90 metres below the summit.
The Tour de France passed through the tunnel – at 2556 metres – until 1976 when it was closed due to disrepair. Instead, the road above the tunnel was improved on both sides – providing the most spectacular stretches and steepest cycling of each side – and a summit of 2642 metres. The tunnel was re-opened in 2002 – for cars only. But from 1976 onwards, suddenly the route to Galibier was higher and roughly a kilometre longer.
Read my “history” of Col du Galibier here.
#4 Col du Sanetsch Tunnel
Col du Sanetsch is one of the toughest and most beautiful “lesser known” climbs in the Alps. In the Swiss Valais, it is a dead end, up to a beautiful Dam/Lake.
The tunnel – high, in the middle of no-where – has automatic light sensors! I love Switzerland. It is long – 800metres – and wet. But has a few openings for views …. or to hide from cars. I had to be “rescued” once on Col du Sanetsch.
#5 Susten Pass
The gigantic climb up the west side of the Susten pass in central Switzerland has a bunch of tunnels that even I like. Beautifully carved into the mountains. Ride details.
A tunnel with a view:
Some more Susten tunnels:
#6 Croix de la Coeur
Every time a pro bike race goes to Verbier (the Tour de Suisse will be there again in 2014), I complain that the route stops too low, in town, while the best climbing is well above.
At 2173 metres, La Croix de Cœur is one of my favourite climbs (both sides great). At the cross itself begins a horizontal ridge, cliff road deeper into the mountains. And to enjoy the amazing views – and visit a very fun giant stork statue – one must brave a quite scary tunnel. Ride details here.
#7 Lac de l’Hongrin
I’ll let the video speak for itself (excuse my language in the video) 😉 . Ride details.
Remember, the top of this climb is often closed as it passes through a military zone. Check ahead of time.
#8 La Galleria Rosazza
High above the beautiful Santuario di Oropa (Oropa Sanctuary) in the Italian Alps is La Galleria Rosazza. It was dug/built by hand during the 1890’s to connect two sides of the bigger mountain. The was used to transport animals between sides as well as help bring down ice – in an age before refigerators.
The tunnel is the high point of the road and there are wonderful, tiny cliff roads on both sides that any cyclist would love.
I braved the dark, wet confines, only to find the exit blocked by four metres of snow.
Ride details here (Spoiler alert: I made it over the snow).
#9 The Secret Road to Col de la Charmette
In the Chartreuse Alps just south of Grenoble is a fantastic little road starting in the Gorges du Guiers Mort, closed to cars, and just about ride-able with a road bike.
The start is easy to miss, heading up to the Chartreuse de Curière monastery. But after the monastery things get fun. An old deserted cliff road, with several tunnels. Too much fun. Ride details.
#10 Annecy Bike Path Tunnel
Let’s end with one low-altitude tunnel that is nothing but fun. Even I am not scared here. The Annecy bike path is a flat, car-free, wonderful place to cycle. Perhaps 10 kms south of Annecy the path goes through an old train tunnel.
One can cycle 50 kilometres all the way to Albertville on the path. Details.
#11 Lac d’Emosson
One of the most beautiful Alpine dams/lakes I know. Just before the dam, off to the right is a very long tunnel that leads to a road on the high side of the lake. I was scared, but it was worth fighting my fears. Details here.
#12 Col du Solude
An amazing ride above Bourg d’Oisans opposite Alpe d’Huez. This cliff route starts off by riding through four dark, dark tunnels. Bring a light. Details here.
#13 Lac de Tsuezier
A big climb in the Valais region of Switzerland to another alpine dam/lake. Just before the lake are a series of long tunnels. Details here.
#14 Lac de Moiry
The fifth highest paved road in Switzerland. The final stretch to this large alpine lake/dam requires passing through a long tunnel. Details here.
#15 Above Gemmipass
Not the longest tunnel, but yikes. Just beyond Gemmispass, I passed through this tunnel to get a better view of the Wildstrubel Alps. Details here.
#16 Col du Coq
This very challenging, quiet climb in the Chartreuse Alps, not far from Grenoble, has a nasty; wet tunnel on it’s tough eastern side. Details here or longer loop here.
The climb to the Italian ski station below the Matterhorn has a few tunnels, but the most “fun” is above the best set of hairpins of the climb. Ride details via the superb Col Saint-Pantaléon here.
#18 Above Lac du Mauvoisin
Why is this 18th? This is perhaps the greatest “secret” tunnel on the list. The hors-categorie climb to the beautiful Valais lake/dam (climb starts below Verbier) is superb. But bring a mountain bike and travel 2 kms through this dark, wet tunnel above the dam at roughly 2000 metres altitude to unlock an amazing road beside, and then far above, the lake. Ride details here.
The reward after the tunnel:
#19 Passo Falzarego
In the Dolomites, this lovely climb near Passo Giau has a not-too-long tunnel nearing the summit. Why did I include it? Because it has a signed hairpin (#14) inside the tunnel. Old school! Ride details here.
#20 Monte Grappa
This incredible Italian mountain, famous for its WW1 battles and the book by Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms), has 9 hors-categorie routes. It also has a tunnel museum at the summit (used in WW1).
For cyclists, there are also some non-scary, but very sexy tunnels to cycle through. Ride details here.
#21 Tunnel du Bois Clair
OK, near Cluny in Burgundy, this tunnel is not in the Alps. But, at 1.6 kms in length, it claims to be the longest bike-only tunnel in Europe, part of the superb burgundy network of green-ways. It is closed in winter to protect a colony of bats (yikes). Ride details when the tunnel was closed. I returned later with Doreen to cycle through but never blogged.
This is a fun one. Tucked in the Alps in Valais region of Switzerland, there is a cliff road that leads to Derborence that has 2 long series of tunnels cut into the rocks. Not too scary as lots of viewing “holes.” Details here.
#23 Monte Jafferau via Galleria dei Saraceni!
Galleria = Tunnel (in Italian)
2019 Tunnel! –> This was 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. It’s an astounding unpaved old military roads to one of the highest forts in the Alps (2805 metres). So great even if the tunnel is terrifying.
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.
#24 Col du Rousset
This beautiful hair-pin filled climb is a south entrance into the Vercors. At the summit is an 800 metre long tunnel. I’ve been to the Col from the north side but was scared to go through the tunnel :). But it’s reasonably lit and has a small sidewalk that I used when the lone car passed me.
This is a very incomplete list. Please let me know your favourite “tunnel” experiences.
The above were all phobia-battling challenges for me. But what are my favourite tunnel rides? Very short and with a view.
The Mysterious Screaming Tunnel (Val Ferret):
Congratulations for this article!! I am also very fond of tunnels! My favourite one is Parpaillon, of course!
Long, dark, wet, scary!
In the Alps should also be mentioned the tunnel at the top of Hochtor Pass.
Also very famous in the italian Alps is the tunnel in Passo di Gavia.
But my favourite road with tunnels is Passo San Boldo, near Venice, in Italy, incredible road with incredible history: http://claudi.blogspot.com.es/2011/08/san-boldo-la-carretera-de-los-cien-dias.html
Thanks for your article!
Thanks Claudio for all the suggestions!
I know the Gavia tunnel that replaces the old cliff road. I love that cliff road and doubt I’d ever go through that tunnel again 🙂
One tunnel is missing from your list, but now I think it’s closed : the road to Tunnel du mortier (D218) above Montaud, near Grenoble. They had to repair the road too often each spring (like Charmette btw) and after one bigger than usual rock fall, decided to close the road end of XX century I think. Before, it was the best way to ascend to Vercors without cars (St Nizier and Sassenage access are very unfriendly for cyclists). And besides, you often had the nice surprise to get to the sunny side after the darkness, before a nice downhill to Autrans.
I still hope they will reopen the road someday…
Just for info. The road to the Tunnel du Mortier has been cleared of debris from the Ch. des Boeufs turn, there is still the landslide. However the surface on the Grenoble side is now dirt. The tunnel itself has a grill across it blocking access although it is currently possible to get through a hole someone has made in the grill. It might be ok on a road bike with good tires. There is a new forest road to the tunnel but entirely dirt, the track starts at l’Echarina above Noyarey. The tunnel is “officially” closed to everyone.
One special tunnel is on the gravel road from Val di Susa to Mont Jafferau. Tunnel was open but full of water maybe 50 cm (August). Good joke!
Another interesting tunnel is on old way bypassed new long tunnel between Canale Agordo and Falcade. Without light, dark like in a cave.
Does anybody cycled through tunnel Munt la Schera between Switzerland and Livigno? 🙂
Thanks for the comment. I believe that Jafferau tunnel route is completely closed after a collapse. I could see the tunnel when I climbed Jafferau from a different direction this summer. I don’t know Munt la Schera (yet), sounds terrifying. Many thanks
Note, I have now added the Jafferau tunnel – Galleria dei Saraceni! See above. Truly amazing was re-opened after some major repairs but still quite grim.
It’s possible. I was there (Jafferau) in 2007. Munt la Schera I cycled in 2004. It was probaly longest tunnel which I have ridden. Not very fun but odd gateway into Switzerland. From 2008 is tunnel closed for cyclists but there is a transport by microbus with cyclo trailer for fee 5€.
Highest paved tunnel is at the end of Otztaler Gletscherstrasse near ski resort Tiefenbach, I hope. Some known tunnels are on Col de la Croix de Fer. Nice short tunnels are in Gorges Daluis on one way direction road (take this road from Entrevaux to Guillaumes for more interesting vieuws). Of course, wonderfull Gorges du Cians includes some small tunnels too (don’t miss Grand Clue and Petit Clue).
The tunnel just collapsed a year or two ago. Definitely can’t go IN tunnel now. There is a hiking trail, but not certain how difficult
I can also advice the 2 tunnels on the Monte Zoncolan in Italië.
Passo San Boldo
There is an abandoned road from Ornon: Pont des Oulles to Villard Reymond (for Col du Solude) that features two tunnels, The section between the two tunnels is unrideable due to fallen trees and a section of road that has been washed away, but walkable with extreme care.
Grazie ?, bellissimo
Possible addition: Kunkelspass (from Tamins to Vättis in the Grisons). Small road out of Tamins that becomes unpaved and steep as you enter the forest about 3 km from the top. It’s packed dirt, few pebbles, so doable on a road bike, but bring short gears (it’s probably 15%). The tunnel is at the top, as the road flattens, it’s quite short, with lateral openings, very dramatic. The road is paved on the North side, a pretty valley. I wouldn’t recommend riding N to S, the descent may be dangerous.
The nearby Gigerwaldsee dam lake has a couple tunnels as well, it’s worth a visit.