Steepest Gradient (%)
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Cycling Colle de Nivolet, Italy.
OH MY! Yes, this is a MUST DO climb, no doubt about it. This route has been described as one of the most beautiful climbs you have never heard of. However, judging from the many cyclists we encountered on the route on an early September Monday, the secret is out! The last third of this climb is among the most spectacular and breathtaking you will ever find. We were blessed with perfect weather, clear skies and blooming wildflowers for our one shot at this jewel.
We begin in the small, quaint village of Locana at the Parco Nazionale Grann Paradiso Visitor Center. Here, you can obtain information about the park, including roadway and hiking routes. There is another Visitor Center in Ceresole Reale (western end of Lago di Ceresole) at about mile 13 / 21 km, although it was closed at noon when we arrived.
This is the longest top climb in Italy. The first 17 miles / 27 km have their steep sections, but for the most part are not too difficult, averaging 5% over that long stretch. Once we are in site of the first set of major switchbacks as we approach the dam at Lago Serro, the grade begins to increase for good, with the final 8 miles / 12.8 km a 50% greater average grade at 7.5% with a fair amount of that approaching and entering double digit territory.
Tunnel -- Bring flashing taillights
At about mile 9 we enter the 3,200m (3km) tunnel. There are no warnings or restrictions for bicycles as you see on some roads and tunnels. However, the tunnel is dangerous and should be avoided.
Alternative Route: The Old Road
The old road is to the right, about 100 meters before the tunnel – take that! The tunnel is terrifying and dangerous, but even taking the Old Road we must enter the tunnel at about the 2 kilometer mark. Will of Cycling Challenge accurately notes that you only need be in the tunnel 100 meters when using this route, and can exit to the left after that stretch. However, we failed to see the opening (while the entry is a clear and wide opening, the exit point has a guardrail and does not jump out at you as does the entry point). Thus, we were forced to ride 1 km in this tunnel at about 10% average grade with the sound of cars, trucks and motorcycles echoing through it. Fortunately, traffic was fairly light during our five minute dash to safety. The tunnel is lit, but not sufficiently to illuminate a cyclist slowly pedaling up a steep grade.
On a happier note, the old road is an experience unto itself. We travel along a river to our right along a worn and broken stretch of pavement, past a huge boulder that blocks all but a skinny cyclist.
Old road -- alternate around tunnel.
Simply stunning scenery.
We spent at least an extra hour on this climb stopping to take photographs – we kept telling ourselves, “OK, this is the last set of photos, we have to get going,” but inevitably we didn’t travel much further until stopping again to take more photos of spectacular once-in-a-lifetime photos.
We encounter four lakes and magnificent switchbacks along the way. Three of these lakes are within sight of each other as seen in the photo above: Lago Agnel in the foreground, the larger Lago Serru in the background, and an unnamed lake to the left; we pass scenic and popular Lago di Ceresole at miles 13-15. We also pass through two sets of switchbacks that are simply gorgeous – not many, if any, are better in Italy (we have to rank Stelvio north and Nivolet one-two for Italy, but we cannot decide which is one and which is two, so we will settle upon calling both the best).
This is one worth travelling to – it is a Must Do-Bucket List Climb that words simply cannot describe – photos are a good, but not adequate substitute for climbing what may just be The Most Beautiful Climb in the World.
Steepest kilometer begins at km 17 (11%)