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17-03-2023 | 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 UmbrailStelvio west side, from Bormio

Passo dello Stelvio/Stilfserjoch

Country: Italy
Height: 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.

Book your accommodation near the Passo dello Stelvio

Bormio, Prato allo Stelvio (Prad am Stilfserjoch)

Don't wait to book. Many hotels offer free cancellation.


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


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

1 Pico Veleta Spain 3375
2 Tiefenbachferner Austria 2829
3 Cime de la Bonette France 2802
4 Col de l'Iseran France 2770
5 Passo dello Stelvio Italy 2758
6 Kaunertal Austria 2750
7 Colle dell’Agnello /
Col Angel
Italy /
8 Passo Gavia Italy 2652
9 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 NivoletOn my way to the Stilfserjoch

Colle del NivoletA delightful run-up with a magnificent view at the same time

Colle del NivoletCharacteristic hairpins (Cees Steenbergen)

Colle del NivoletBend 22, you're looking at a wall of bends

Colle del NivoletYou're not gonna get much nicer

Colle del NivoletTurning and turning just below the top

Colle del NivoletIt remains fascinating

Colle del NivoletTornante 1, the last corner before the summit (Cees Steenbergen)

Colle del NivoletEnjoy from the top

Colle del NivoletWest side, hairpins

Colle del NivoletThe last kilometers you cycle along a waterfall (Hotel La Genzianella)

Colle del NivoletWest side, one more look back into the valley

Colle del NivoletYes, the holy place reached

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