Fancy tackling a couple of the big gravel passes in the Italian Alps? If so then the Colle del Colombardo and the Colle delle Finestre are two classics to add to your bucket list! You can either take on the 100 kilometres and 3,800 metres of climbing in one big day, or split it over two days as I did, with one climb per day.
Both of these monster climbs start off paved, before turning to gravel halfway up, with the Colle del Colombardo probably the tougher of the two. On the Colombardo the first few kilometres of the climb were steep! Thankfully with it being paved, it was very rideable, but you definitely can’t help but think to yourself “I hope it's not this steep for the next 13 kilometres!”
After 5 kilometres of paved road, we reached the tiny hamlet of Sant'Antonio and the gravel began. 7 kilometres of loose, rough and chunky gravel at that, doable on a gravel bike but easier on a mountain bike. At 1,898 metres we reached the pass and found the sanctuary dedicated to the Madonna Degli Angeli, still today a destination for Marian pilgrimages.
After the pass, the dirt road actually climbed up for a further couple of kilometres to over 2,000 metres, but it was a gentle gradient, traversing across the mountain tops. It’s here that the views really provide the wow moments. After all that effort, the descent into the Valle di Susa didn’t disappoint.
The Colle delle Finestre also started pretty steep, but it soon settled into a nice gradient and I was especially thankful that the majority of the tarmac section was in the trees, offering some much-needed shade from the 35 degree heat!
The Finestre is possibly the most famous of the Italian gravel roads, thanks to it being featured in the Giro d’Italia several times. At 19 kilometres long with its iconic 55 hairpins, it is undeniably spectacular. The road was built in the 1700’s to access the old military Forte di Fenestrelle, and tops out at 2,178 metres.
The first 11 kilometres are on tarmac and you wind your way up shoelace switchbacks through the trees. When the tarmac stops and the gravel begins the valley opens up and the views are epic. This road really is switchback heaven.
Due to its popularity with off-road vehicles as well as cyclists, the gravel section is very well compacted, making it easier riding than the previous days Colle delle Colombardo. Mountain bike, gravel bike, even road bikes can take on the mighty Colle delle Finestre... Although from my experience the road bike is okay up, but a bit touch-and-go descending the gravel side.
From the summit there are several options, you can either turn right along the stunning old military road ‘Strada dell’Assietta’ which is AMAZING and I would highly recommend it (but we had ridden this last summer.) Drop back down the mountain, either the way you had just come to Susa, or down the paved road the other side into the Sestriere valley. Or if you were looking for the road less travelled and not afraid of some hard graft hike-a-bike, then you could turn left and follow my continued route back to the car. Warning: the hike-a-bike section is not for the faint-hearted with two to three hours of hauling, pushing and lifting on a footpath over the Colle la Roussa!
Leaving the pretty historic town of Lonzo, the route wound its way up the provincial road for 20 kilometres, to the foot of the main event, the Colle del Colombardo. …
The second day started on the little lanes winding through sleepy villages. There was even a little easy single track in places. Then before we knew it, we had popped …
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The third and final day to get back to the car. It was a fairly early start, as we knew it was going to be a gruelling hike-a-bike right from …