I am just going to start with the video. Woohoo! Then I’ll explain the route (and, as usual, add too many photos). There is a detailed map with an altitude profile at the bottom.
Colle del Nivolet is my favourite paved pass in the Alps. But I wanted to try riding an alternate unpaved route overlooking much of the legendary paved climb. It’s a truly amazing ride on the remnants of an old military road filled with hairpins, then along part of the ancient Sentiero del Re (King’s trail). All surprisingly rideable.
Look carefully in the top left quadrant of this photo — do you see all those hairpins!
This was the final day of a two day trip that I’ve split it into two posts:
Day 1: Climbing the back Aosta side of Nivolet, descending the famous Piemonte side. See here.
Day 2: Climbing the Piemonte side but via an old military road/trail then descending back to Aosta.
See here for a detailed post climbing the famous, fully paved, 40 km Piemonte side of Nivolet.
The idea for the route? Simple: while climbing Nivolet previously I had seen those incredible hairpins high above me and wondered if they were rideable. I learned it was an old military road and not a hiking trail, so why not have a look?
I started from Ceresole Reale on the main Nivolet road.
After roughly 10 kilometres I turned onto an unpaved road,. Now officially named the Sentiero Renato Chabod, this is the remnants of an old military road built in the late 1800s. Fabulous. It’s rocky and rough in places and a few hairpins have collapsed so one needs to take a hiking trail. But generally, I was pedaling not hiking.
The views are just incredible. Lago Serrù and Lago Agnel in the distance:
At just over 2300 metres, after 22 hairpins or so, the military road would turn left just a few hundred metres from the main paved route just above Lago Agnel (the big lake just above Lago Serrù). But I turned right, joining part of the Sentiero del Re – named after Vittorio Emanuele II – who used the region for hunting.
The route becomes a hiking trail, much narrower and rougher, but usually rideable.
It’s not as scary as it might have seemed in the video. I passed Casotto Bastalon (a mountain refuge? 2423 metres) and turned left back towards Nivolet. Soon I reached the smaller of two lakes, both named Lago Losere at roughly 2500 hundred metres. I then descended to the larger Lago Losere which is directly beside the main road.
In total, this unpaved part of the ride was just under 10 kilometres with 700 metres of ascent. So … much … fun! And even better, I would now get to ride the final, and best, three kilometres to Colle del Nivolet.
Here’s a 360 degree scrollable photo:
The Descent to Aosta
The descent is almost 40 kilometres. The first 10 kilometres are unpaved and include some very steep hiking/bike carrying. I would take a slightly different way down than I climbed. In my day one post I mapped and detailed the two possibilities. So I’ll go in less detail here.
From Colle del Nivolet, the first two kilometres down are still paved, and busy. It leads to a large parking lot and a couple of refuges/restaurants – beside two more lakes. Looking down:
The road is then barriered and becomes unpaved and deserted. But it continues for several slightly downhill kilometres. Years ago they had planned to build a road all the way down, but it was never completed.
Here’s a 360 degree scrollable photo of the upper, easier part of the unpaved descent. You can clearly see the “road” I took down, and the trails that I climbed on day 1.
It’s a difficult hike down from the “road.”
Part way down is Croce del Roley. Then more crazy hiking begins. Steep and rocky (but not dangerous).
I eventually reached Pont (1950 metres) and the paved road through Valsavarenche (see this old post for details of this paved climb). I was tired ( so no photos), but I thoroughly enjoyed this long descent through a beautiful valley.
Wooohooo! I am so excited that this two day trip went so well. I wasn’t certain that either day would work, but both were fantastic routes. I’d heard of the hiking up from Pont and it was something I’d planned for ages, but the military route idea was a complete unknown and surpassed all expectations. Beautiful.
What kind of video equipment do you use? Go pro thing on your helmet I see.,. but also something else drone-following you or something?
Mavic Air drone. I’m not very good at it but …..
Thanks for posting information on biking between Colle Del Nivolet and Pont. After watching your videos, it seems descending to Pont on a touring bike with rear panniers would be possible. Below Croce del Roley would require careful walking with a heavy bike.
Yes, exactly. You can ride to Croce del Roley if you take the trail through the valley and not the long old road that ends above the Croce. In other words, take the route I climbed not descended. Then at Croce del Roley it is almost entirely hiking to Pont. Not dangerous – it’s a well-used hiking trail, but unrideable.
Thanks for replying. ?
I rode it on a hardtail mtb and really struggled as there are several large drops and thin tight slippy corners down into Pont, however if you continue along the valley the descent down to Degioz/Vers-le-bois is completely rideable and grassy. The only problem is a scree slope between them however this is just a traverse. I would recommend not going alone as a slip with a heavy bike can be disastrous and help wouldn’t arrive quickly or at all as there is no signal on the scree.
Thanks very much for posting your rides on here, providing excellent comments on them and superb photos. It really is a pleasure to read and creates so much inspiration to us other riders to get out there. Thanks again.
Thanks for replying. 🙂
Amazing scenery. What bike is this and more importantly what tyres did you use?
I was riding a Trek Checkpoint with 40c tires. Frankly, a mountain bike might have been a better choice for the route, although most of the crazy rough stuff was uphill (or carrying down to Pont – any bike would need to be carried), so no worries.
What an amazing story! I am enthusiastic and considering doing this side as well after climbing the Piemonte side. Would you say that it is ok to do by myself on a race bike with 28mm tiers? Any estimation how long the descent would take from the top to Pont?
Personally, I wouldn’t do it with 28mm tires. I think I had 40c and would have preferred a full mountain bike. But it depends how fussy you are.
From Pont, it’s 9 rough kilometres to the summit. A couple that include lots of hiking. How long? I don’t know, well over an hour for me.
Hi will, this looks great! Having climbed the nivolet from locana twice I would like to give this alternate route a go on my next visit. Intention is to go up from locana on the old military road from lago serru, down to the Aosta side then back around on the road to locana. Bid day out I know! Do you know busy are the roads around aosta/pila/ pont saint Martin etc?
Hi Andrew, the many climbs in Aosta are generally pretty quiet. Only the through road down in the bottom of the main valley has fast traffic, so linking a couple of climbs down low might be busy … although around the Aosta village is a bike path down very low. Outside of ski season …. climb to Pila will be quiet. Enjoy
thanks for your help Will! I think I’ll end up doing this over a couple of days from pila including the pila & Lago layet climbs, around to locana. then Lago di teleccio & up the nivolet over back to pila/aosta. With some big fat 50mm road tyres on the gravel bike 🙂