04-07-2020 | Herman Nekkers

The highest climbs of Europe #5 - Passo dello Stelvio

If the cycling heaven exists, then it's here. There are things in life you just have to do. Climbing the Stelvio is one of them.

Pass Umbrail

Picture 1: Famous view back to the eastern climb

Passo dello Stelvio/Stilfserjoch

Country: Italy
Hight: 2758 meter


The Passo dello Stelvio is located on the border of the Italian regions of Trentino-South Tyrol and Lombardy. A persistent misunderstanding says that the eastern side of the Stelvio lies in the Dolomites. However, it is located in the Ortler Massif, the Dolomites are much more to the east. Both mountains are located in South Tyrol and are part of the Alps. Because South Tyrol is predominantly German-speaking, the name Stilfserjoch is used there. We'll use the Stelvio.

Lombardy is economically the most important region of Italy. Both summer and winter sports tourism is very important. The capital is Milan. Recently, the region was the centre of world news when Bergamo and its surroundings were the centre of the corona outbreak in Europe. For cyclists it is paradise here. There are hundreds of high and medium-high climbs, of which the Stelvio, Gavia and Mortirolo are the most famous names.

The road was built centuries ago for the transport of military equipment. Because at that time this was done by horse, the gradient was not allowed to exceed 9%. The architect stuck well to that assignment. It doesn't get much lower than that, so the climb from both sides is a test of strength.

The east side

The pass can be reached from three sides: Prato, Bormio and the Pass Umbrail. We have discussed the latter here before. The east side from Prato is the classical side with the 48 curves. Prato is located in German-speaking South Tyrol and is called Prad here. The Stelvio is without doubt one of the most mythical climbs you can imagine. The 25 kilometre long east side is the most famous side. After a few easy kilometres it rises to 9% and stays that way until the top. The 48 bends are nicely numbered. The view on the Ortler Mountains is magnificent during the whole ride. But the most special point is at turn 22, at restaurant Franzenshöhe. If you take your time here, you will have a wonderful view of the remaining bends and the pass. A unique photo opportunity. The participants of the Dreiländergiro experience it all, because this is the only major gran fondo that has a route over this side of the Stelvio. For those who still have good legs, the last kilometers are intense enjoyment. If legs hurt here, it is a tough ride.

The west side

The climb from Bormio is hardly inferior. 22 kilometers, 40 hairpin bends averaging at 7.3%. The road largely runs along a mountain wall with a gorge on the other side. Occasionally the ride is interrupted by a narrow tunnel with moderate lighting. A light on your bike is a good idea. Long straights and series of hairpin bends alternate. You're riding along a beautiful waterfall and 3 km before the pass you can turn left to the Umbrail. The last kilometers are fantastic with many curves. The Stelvio Pass height is also the finish of the fantastic Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini

You must have done the Stelvio. Only disadvantage is the sometimes dense traffic. However, on weekdays out of season it is not that bad.

Cycling history

In spite of the mythical image of the climb, the Giro has only been here 10 times. Actually that should be 11 times, but in 2013 the Stelvio was cancelled due to heavy snowfall.

In 2012 Thomas de Gendt achieved a legendary victory on top of the Stelvio after a long solo. Check out the images:

Gran fondos

Dreiländergiro (east side)

Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini (west side, finish at pass height)

Re Stelvio Mapei

Radrennen Prad-Stilfserjoch


Passo dello Stelvio StilfserjochPasso dello Stevio east

Passo dello Stelvio StilfserjochPasso dello Stevio west

Routes and loops

Of course you can do a back and forth to the top from both sides. From Bormio you can also first drive to the Umbrail (or Stelvio) and then descend to Santa Maria. From there you go in the direction of Prato to finish with the east side.


Click on the images to download the route.

The highest climbs in Europe, the list

5 Passo dello Stelvio
6 Kaunertal
7 Colle dell'Agnello
Col Agnel
8 Passo Gavia
Italy 2632
9 Col du Galibier
France 2632
10 Colle del Nivolet
Italy 2632
11 Grossglockner
Austria 2571
12 Timmelsjoch /
Passo Rombo
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
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 (Herman Nekkers): On my way to the Stilfserjoch

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 3 (Herman Nekkers): A delightful run-up with a magnificent view at the same time

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 4 (Cees Steenbergen): Characteristic hairpins

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 5 (Herman Nekkers): Bend 22, you're looking at a wall of bends

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 6 (Adobe Stock): You're not gonna get much nicer

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 7 ((Wikimedia Commons - Horemu): Turning and turning just below the top

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 8 (Adobe Stock): It remains fascinating

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 9 (Cees Steenbergen): Tornante 1, the last corner before the summit

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 10 (Herman Nekkers): Enjoy from the top

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 11 (Adobe Stock): Great view of the climb from the west side

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 12 (Adobe Stock): West side, hairpins

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 13 (Hotel La Genzianella): The last kilometers you cycle along a waterfall

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 14 (Adobe Stock): West side, one more look back into the valley

Colle del Nivolet

Picture 15 (Herman Nekkers): Yes, the holy place reached

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