The area around Bormio, nestled in the Italian Alps, is one of the most famous cycling regions in the world. Home to the Gavia, Stelvio & more, this part of northern Lombardy regularly hosts the Giro and is one of THE places to come for a long weekend of classic climbs. A lot of people come for the Stelvio but there is so much more to explore in this scenic area. Here are our top 10 climbs in the region:
The most famous image of the Stelvio is the 48 hairpins the other side up the mountain. Our favourite side of this climb is from Bormio, with a more varied route and great scenery and the final climb in the classic Granfondo Stelvio Santini. This side up is 22km averaging 7% with a few steeper sections (we had a max gradient of 14%). The climb starts immediately out of Bormio with some hairpins (get used to these!) before straightening out following a steep valley. After another short but steep hairpin section you head through the tunnels (dark enough to want lights, definitely on the descent) and then the climb opens up in front of you (pictured above). The hairpins here are next to a waterfall and the views are spectacular. You are rewarded at the top of this section with a rare bit of flat before following the saddle road to near the Swiss border. This is the easiest part of the climb but there is a sting at the end, the final 3km averages nearly 10% just to make sure you earn your summit at 2758m.
The longest climb in the region at a full 35km. The climb is entirely in Switzerland and takes you from the Italian border in Tirano to the Italian border just above Livigno. The famous Bernina Express train route starts over the same roads and you can see the red trains climb up the valley for the first half of the climb. The climb is in two parts with a flatter section in the middle at Miralogo.
The second part of the climb is quieter with some of the best scenery in the region. There are a number of hairpin sections averaging 7 to 8% before the road turns right back to Italy. The last 3km snakes its way to the pass with some steeper gradients before you see the Italian flags signafying the border at the summit.
This is it, the hardest climb in the Stelvio region and one of the hardest climbs pro cycling. The Mortirolo from this side is 12km averaging 11% and never going 8%. The road is narrow and steep throughout, the corners are sharp and there are several long intimidating sections.
As you get close to the top you pass the Marco Pantani memorial and then the road merges with the climb from the Grosio side. From here, the climb is much easier with the 11% stuff giving way for 8%. The final 3km is great, after spending most of the first 9km in the trees (this climb is much lower than all the others in the region) you hit delightful Alpine pastures with cows ringing their bells and great views in all directions. The final push to the summit is flatter still so leave some energy for one last sprint finish.
The Passo Gavia is the other monster climb starting in Bormio. This is the other side of the climb beginning in Ponte di Legno and can be ridden on the Mortirolo / Gavia loop. The climb is more wild than the Stelvio which has it’s advantages (less traffic) and disadvantages (worse road surface). This side of the Gavia is 19km at 8% and is steep in parts.
The first 4km are a nice easy warm up but the last 15km is all above 7%. The first section of hairpins is steep with a few long straights at over 10%. The road narrows so if there are any vehicles (often classic cars or motorbikes) it can be tough for them to overtake you. The higher you go the worse the road surface. With just over 3km to go you ride through a long, dark tunnel (lights needed), the road surface get’s worse and the gradient gets steeper. On a hot day this is a tough a finish as you will ride but you are rewarded with some amazing views and cake at the top.
This is a great warm up ride and a taster for the climbing to come. The Cancano starts a few km outside of Bormio on the road to Livigno and takes you up to a stunning mountain lake. The climb is 9km averaging 7% up hairpins the whole way up. The corners are flat so you can get your cadence up for each straight. At the top there is a tower with great views back down the climb and if you keep going you will hit the gravel road by the lake. There is a cafe just round the corner, beyond here the gravel becomes looser and is not advisable on a roadbike. A great taster for this amazing climbing region.
The famous side of the Stelvio. 48 hairpins, no flat sections and exposed to the afternoon sun makes this a tough, tough climb. The ride starts in Prato and the first half is under the tree-line with some easier gradients of 4 and 5%. This then ramps up to 7, 8 and 9% sections. Unlike climbs in France, there are no mile markers so your Garmin is your only sign for how long you have to go. With around 7km to go, you can see the top which looks intimidating. Tick off each hairpin until you get down to corner 1 and then you have one last effort to the summit where you can have a welcome break, grab a coffee and hot dog, take some pics and enjoy the long, fun descent back to Bormio.
The Foscagno Pass is a much longer and harder climb from the Bormio side but is covered on this side from Livigno on a loop ride including the Forcola Pass. From the top of the Forcola (2,315m) there is a long descent to Livigno and then there are two climbs to the Foscagno. Because of this, you stay high for these two climbs and are above 2000m for most of this.
The first climb from Livigno is over the Eira Pass, a 6km climb at a 6% average with some long sweeping hairpins and lovely views down into the Livigno valley. After a short descent you can see the road snaking up to the Foscagno Pass for 4km. The final part of the climb is steeper going up 3 final hairpins until you get to the top by the customs post back to Bormio.
Like the Cancano, this is another warm up climb close to Bormio. This road hairpins all the way from the valley town up to the ski station. Starting from the Gondola in town the climb is almost 10km at 7.5% gradient. The road surface throughout is poor (you can really see which climbs have been used in the Giro and which haven’t!) but there is very little traffic so you can choose your lines. At the top is a coffee stop where you can take in the views of the valley below before descending home.
Another route up the mighty Mortirolo is from Grosio. While the Mazzo side is a shorter, brutal climb averaging 11%, this way up is more like a classic Alpine climb – similar to Alpe d’Huez. This side up is 14km and averaging 8%, this side up is quiet and glorious. The road starts with a left turn off the main valley road and the hardest part is at the beginning. The first 3km averages 11% before calming down. Keep yourself out of the red here and you will be fine. This is one of the best sign posted climbs in the region with each kilometre marked. With 3km to go you join the Mazzo side and leave the tree-line to be met with lush meadows and great views.
Our final top 10 climb of this region is another spectacular, long climb which in other areas would be the headline climb. Starting straight out of Bormio, the first 12km to San Caterina is relatively flat with a short pave section before the gradients kick up a notch. In total, this pass is a full 25km averaging 5% but in reality it is two parts – the first half averaging 2-4% and the second half averaging 6-8%. The road climbs quickly over some tight hairpins before opening out into high mountains with some amazing snow capped views all around. Like the other side of this climb, the last 3km has a poor road surface but amazing views. You will definitely deserve your coffee and cake at the top!
Join a Sportive Breaks package with daily guided rides by a local expert, book your trip for the Stelvio Weekender here.