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19-02-2023 | Herman Nekkers

The highest climbs of Europe #8 - Passo Gavia

There's ambiguity about the height of the pass. There isn't about its beauty. Experts say the Passo Gavia is perhaps the most beautiful climb in the world. A true pearl with a legendary history in cycling.

Passo GaviaSouth side, start  from Ponte di Legno (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)

Passo Gavia

Country: Italy
Height: 2652 meters


The Passo Gavia lies in Lombardia. Milan is the capital of this region. This area is Italy's most important region for Italy from an economic standpoint. Tourism is also booming, because of the presence of large lakes like Lake Garda, Lake Como, the Lake of Lugano and the Lago Maggiore. Livigno is het area's most popular ski resort. It's also a popular place for pro's for altitude training. Lombardia is a great area for cycling, and Il Lombardia race is one of the 5 monuments in pro cycling. Next to the Gavia, one can find many big names such as the Stelvio, Mortirolo, Umbrail, San Marco, Foscagno en de Eira. But that's this the tip of the iceberg. Visit Climbfinder to find more.

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The height

There's some debate about the mountain's height. Is it 2621 or 2651 meters? We did some research, read our follow-up article. The one and only correct height of the Passo Gavia is 2621 meters. We're shooting ourselves in the foot here, since we'd promised we would also use the altitude on the col sign. That sign says 2652 meters, which means the Gavia is 2 places too high in the in the ranks. Well, there are worse things in life.

The south side

The climb can be reached from two sides: from Ponte di Legno (south) and Bormio (north). The south side is highly recommendable. It's not only more challenging, the views and surroundings are also much nicer. This climb is a true adventure. Starting from Ponte di Legno, the roads becomes very narrow quite rapidly. Cars can hardly overtake, which stays like that all the way to the summit. There's a never-ending view on the Italian Alpes. It compensates for the sheer pain your legs will feel because of the mediocre tarmac combined with 10% gradients. Some 3 kilometres before the top, there's a dark tunnel. Through a series of switchbacks, you'll eventually reach the top. Col connaisseur Michiel van Lonkhuyzen (Cyclingcols), thinks this is the most epic climb in the world.

The north side

From Bormio, the climb is less spectaculair. The first half goes to the ski village of Santa Caterina over a wide road. From there, the roads becomes narrower and the views significantly improve. Cycling here is awesome. High peaks all around, enjoyment all around. The last few km's are false flat, which give you the opportunity to look around. Early in the season, snow walls are quite common here, especially after harsh winters.

Book your accommodation near the Passo Gavia

Ponte di Legno, Bormio

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


Cycling history

Although every cycling fan knows the Gavia, it was only included in the Giro twelve times, two of which two were cancelled. On June the 5th 1988, one of the most legendary events in pro cycling happened here. It's hard to find words to describe what happened. At the time, the road was party unpaved, and it was snowing heavily. Johan van der Velde was the first rider who passed the summit, wearing just a summer outfit. He missed his soigneur, who was waiting with dry clothes. A few kilometres later, seriously hypothermic he had to stop and get into a car, so did many other riders. It look as though Hampsten would win, but shortly the before the finish line, he was overtaken by Breuking got his most beautiful win in his career. Hampsten did however take the pink jersey, which he would keep the entire Giro. Van der Velde and the other riders were dropped right before the finish, nearly an hour after the winner. He was however awarded the L'uomo di Gavia (the man of the Gavia). If you never seen the incredible footage, here's the legendary video.

Gran fondos


    Passo GaviaPasso Gavia south

    Passo GaviaPasso Gavia north

    Routes and tours

    As said, the Gavia can be climbed from two sides: from Ponte di Legno (south) and from Bormio (north). There's however a great alternative: the famous Mortirolo-Gavia tour. The Mortirolo is one of Europe's hardest climbs, one that should be on your palmares for sure. In our version, we've taken the classic climb from Mazzo. It's also possible to ride from Tiolo, which is a little easier. And if you're looking for a next level challenge, take the route from Tovo: a crazy climb with gradients up to 27%. No matter how you climb the Mortirolo, the Gavia is always ridden from Ponte di Legno. 

    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


    Passo GaviaSouth side half way. View on the valley.

    Passo GaviaSouth side, one of many switchbacks (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)

    Passo GaviaSouth side, mediocre road quality (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)

    Passo GaviaSouth side,  the last hairpin before the summit (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)

    Passo GaviaSouth side, lovely view on the straight end before the last serie of switchbacks.

    Passo GaviaSouth side, view on the summit (Michiel van Lonkhuizen - CyclingCols)

    Passo GaviaNorth side.

    Passo GaviaNorth side.

    Passo GaviaHeight, 2652 meter, according to the sign (Marc Eikens)

    Passo GaviaThe data (Marc Eikens)

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