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11-07-2020 | Herman Nekkers

The highest climbs of Europe #4 - Col de l'Iseran

The Col de l'Iseran is the highest official col in Europe. Its located in a remote corner of France. You can't ride a loop and there are no gran fondo's. That makes the col relatively unknown. Nevertheless, the Iseran is very worthwhile, a 'must do' for your palmares.

Col de l'Iseran

Picture 1: North side, just after Val d'Isère

Col de l'Iseran

Country: France
Height: 2770 meters


The Iseran is located entirely in the French department of Savoy. This is a dream for winter sports enthusiasts, because Les Trois Vallées is the largest winter sports area in the world. Because the ski seasons are getting shorter, the area tries to attract cyclists for the summer. That is why a new col has been opened in 2019 between Courchevel and Méribel: the Col de la Loze. The road is only accessible for cyclists. Furthermore, the Savoy is full of large and well-known cols, such as the Col du Galibier, Col de la Croix de Fèr, Col du Glandon, Col de la Madeleine and the Cormet de Roselend.

The south side

The col can be reached from the north and south. The south side is the most interesting. From Lanslebourg you first climb to an insignificant col. After that it descends slightly and stays flat for about 8 kilometers through a nice wide valley. But from Bonneville-sur-Arc it goes up seriously for 13 kilometers. The road is narrow; this is great cycling. There's hardly any traffic. You'll have to work hard, because it is steep all the time. The landscape is desolate, rough and untouched. An ideal recipe for a super trip.

The north side

The Iseran of the North side is a very different climb. From Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the distance to the summit is no less than a staggering 47 kilometers. After a section of false flat, there's a 15 km long climb. Until Val d'Isère it is almost flat on a road with some long tunnels. Not really nice. But after the famous ski village hell breaks loose. Another 16 kilometers of climbing, averaging at 6%. At first it's  false flat, but after you've crossed the Isère it's enjoyable. You'll be overwhelmed by the lunar landscape. For a long time you have a beautiful view of the ski village. It's usually not crowded on the small road. Climbing at its best.

Cycling history

Only nine times the Iseran was included in the Tour. But when it was, it was usually a spectacle. In 1992 Chiappucchi booked his legendary victory after 200 kilometres of battles, 125 kilometres of which were solo:

In 1996 the passage of the Iseran and Galibier was cancelled due to heavy snowfall. And who doesn't remember the cancelled ride in 2019 when the road was flooded by heavy storms?

Gran fondo's

Haute Route Alps (Iseran is often, but not always, included)


Col de l'IseranCol de l'Iseran north

Col de l'IseranCol de l'Iseran south

Loops and tours

It's either from Bourg Saint Maurice or from Lanslebourg. Other options don't exist.


Click on the images to download the routes.

The highest climbs in Europe, the list

01 Pico Veleta Spain 3375
02 Tiefenbachferner Austria 2829
03 Cime de la Bonette France 2802
04 Col de l'Iseran France 2770
05 Passo dello Stelvio Italy 2758
06 Kaunertal Austria 2750
07 Colle dell’Agnello /
Col Angel
Italy /
08 Passo Gavia Italy 2652
09 Col du Galibier France 2642
10 Colle del Nivolet Italy 2632
11 Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse
Austria 2571
12 Timmelsjoch /
Passo Rombo
Austria /
13 Pass Umbrail Switzerland /
14 Colle delle Fauniera /
Colle dei Morti
Italy 2481
15 Nufenenpass /
Passo della Novena
Switzerland 2477
16 Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard /
Colle del Gran San Bernardo
Switzerland /
17 Furkapass Switzerland 2436
18 Roque de los Muchachos Spain 2426
19 Hochwurtenspeicher Austria 2421
20 Col du Granon France 2413


Colle del Nivolet

Picture 2 (Wikimedia Commons Anthospace): North side, pont Saint-Charles

Col de l'Iseran

Picture 3 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols): North side, view on Val d'Isère and the Lac du Chevril

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 4 (Wikimedia Commons Anthospace): North side, a tough final kilometer

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 5 (Wikimedia Commons Anthospace): North side, just below the summit

Col de l'Iseran

Picture 6 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols): South side, just after Bonneville-sur-Arc

Col de l'Iseran

Picture 7 (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols): South side

Col de l'Iseran

Picture 8 (Adobe Stock): South side

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 9 (Wikimedia Commons Anthospace): South side, tunnel Oulietta

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 10 (Wikimedia Commons Anthospace): South side, view on the valley

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 11 (Wikimedia Commons - Anthospace):  The col

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