Gavia is a great massive crossing of the central alps. It is a
very popular ride. It is also a crossing with a long history.
But from the narrow road, that allows only small vehicles (no
trucks allowed), you would never suspect the length of time,
that people have crossed the main range of the alps here.
Still - the road remains very narrow. Today this ride
would be even better if the road size could accommodate the
crowds - or vice versa. - The practical solution is: just pick
an unpopular day to ride a bike across it.
START-END EAST ALT: Capo di Ponte
02.(694m,23.3km)route START-END EAST: stays right in
03.(1180m,32.2km)profile turns away from main road,
into Ponte Di Legno
04.(1390m,43.0km)route rejoins SP300
05.(2621m,58.0km)TOP: Passo di Gavia
07.(1240m,84.2km)START-END WEST: Bormio and jct with
road to Passo Stelvio
11.(370m,134.3km) START-END WEST ALT: Tresenda
From South. The lower Camonica Valley,
coming up from Lago d'Iseo has many different faces, and I bet
that every bicycle tour creates a different experience. The
reason are the many different faces of this urban environment,
crowded together in the valley.
The valley becomes more visually interesting north of Breno.
The towns up in the hills take on a more spectacular appearance.
You could say that something like a "pass road" starts
above Edolo and its crazy chaotic town center. The road still
stays in the valley, but now it climbs smore steeply, towards
Passo di Gavia and Passo del Tonale.
Following road signs for Passo Gavia leads around the town
Ponte di Legno. This option follows up the first switchback
toward Passo del Tonale, only to turn off onto the road to Passo
Gavia and practically descent into Ponte di Legno again. The
aproximately 100 meters of extra climbin do not make that much
of a difference, but I probably had about 60 lbs in touring
equipment attached to my mountain bike, and the extra climbing
effort did make a difference. The profile above takes an earlier
turnoff through the town Ponte di Legno.
This is the start of a massive climb, and the scenery is
grandiose and spectacular, but it changes very little. Finally
the road starts to leave the V shaped bottom of the valley and
climbs up the western slope in long switchbacks. I found a nice
bench to have lunch on after the first 1000 meters of climbing
for the day.
second thousand meters were harder. The road becomes very
narrow. This would be a great thing, if this were a side road
that hardly anybody travels on. But on this sunny weekend there
were 1000s of motorcycles from Austria, Germany, Italy,
not to mention Poland, a Chech Ferrari ralley, and various other
motor enthusiast niche groups, that I could not identify,
because I choose blissful ignorance about these things.
But in any case, there were still few enough cars and
motorcycles, that it is possible to take pictures of the pass
road without them, as is demonstrated here. The massive view
behind changes slowly. With elevation gain the peaks behind the
peaks rise in stature. Looking at this now on the map, it
becomes clear that these massive ranges are elegant room
dividers for Italy. Hard to believe that behind that vertical
wall already lies Lago di Garda, three days worth of riding away
for me (but I rode a few detours), and much lower in elevation
than where I started today.
Meanwhile the road has become a little wider again and is now
solidly above treeline. I was just thinking, how rare it is
around here to find a pass road with no tunnels, no bridges, no
civil engineering marvels, just grand scenery, when ... I
found myself at the entrance of a long tunnel. And to make me
pay for my thoughts, the tunnel was uphill, and not very well
lit. With all that weight on the bike I decided to walk the
second half. I learned only late that apparently there is a very
scenic rough detour around the 800m tunnel avaiable for
Exiting the tunnel the view shed has not really changed. But
there is a new vantage point on the road ahead, a last series of
steep switchbacks, and somewhere above these snowfields and all
these zigs and zags must lead to a crossing.
The top has a restaurant/albergo, and generally the
motorcycles outnumber the bicycles parked there by a large
From North. (described downwards) On this side the road
lingers a while on top, passes a crucifix in deep snow, together
with parked vehicles whose occupants also want to postpone the
downward journey a little longer. Initially the way down is in a
straight line through the snowy slopes. The air on this side is
much colder. The vegetation contains more northern evergreens.
The air seems clearer - and the drop is not nearly as large. But
there are high massive towers of mountains looming behind all
this. The road quickly descends into Sta Catarina Valfurva,
again partially on a fairly narrow road full of vehicles.
From here a wide road descends into Bormio, passing villages
with monumental houses. The housing style shows the proximity of
Switzerland, where intricately painted holy figures on fountains
and in house alcoves are also common. Bormio is a fairly
expensive ski resort in an exquisite mountain setting ( but a
rock bottom bargain compared to nearby Switzerland ) with many
historically fascinating bridges and town blocks.
Archeological finds on the north side of the pass indicate
that this pass has been used in the stone age. During the late
middle ages the Venetians built a better trail over the pass to
thread a way between the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian empire on one
side, and the Lombards on the other. At the end of the 16th
century Venetian traffic increased drastically, and the name
"Strada Imperiale" was used for the crossing. With the
decline of the Venetians came also the decline in the popularity
of this route. The road across the pass dates back to the time
Cycling: When the Giro d'Italia first crossed this
pass in 1960 it was still unpaved. It was scheduled to be on the
route again the following year. But this was only the first of
several occurrences when the crossing was canceled. More
cancellations occured in 1984, 1988, and 2013. But the
successful Giro crossings outnumber the cancellations: 96, 99,
04, 06, 08 and 10.
Five years after the death of Italian racer Fausto Coppi, the
designation "Cima Coppi" was introduced to designate
the highest point on each Giro d'Italia route. Between then and
2012 Passo Gavia was the third most common Cima Coppi, after Passo
Stelvio and Passo d'Agnello.
The Tour de France also used this route. It is even the reason
the road was paved in 1986, in order to facilitate the race.
A Day on a Tour:
( < Colle San Zemo | Col
du Mont Cenis > )
Passo di Gavia: Malonno > Edolo > Ponte di Legon >
Gasso di Gavia > Sta Catarina Valfurva > san Antonio >
Bormio with several slow miles exploring around town: 52.0miles
with 7445ft of climbing in 6:52hrs (Garmin etrex30: m4:14.6.7)
Dayrides between this and the next day with different
start and end points are on pages: