10 Best & Most Beautiful Road Climbs in Europe

Stelvio pass climb

The excitement of climbing is incomparable with any other cycling experience for me. The connection to miraculous nature, brain unbound from anything connected with daily life, and the pure pain is, well liberating... I love European climbs.

Steady tempo, deep breathing (I will explain in future blog post if you wish), circular pedal stroke and relaxed upper body will help you survive these beautiful yet crazy climbs:

 

1. Stelvio

The Stelvio Pass on the boarder of Italy and Switzerland was picked by the British automotive show Top Gear as the greatest driving road in the world and is the highest finish in any Grand Tour. With so many bends of the road and nearly no trees, Stelvio is great if you want to see the Giro with your own eyes (of course if you're lucky enough to catch a good place). If you are considering biking there (and you should be) try late August when the roads are closed to motor vehicles one day in the month. On that day around 8000 cyclists ride the pass.

Average grade: 7.4 %, Length: 24.3 km, Height start: 950 m, Height top: 2758 m, Elevation: 1808 m, Photo by Patrick Connolly

 

2. Alpe d'Huez

The Alpe d'Huez has been a regular stage finish since 1976 (first time in 1952). Its famous '21 steps to heaven' or '21 levels to hell' are where each bend honors a cyclist who won the stage in the past. Climbing the Alpe d'Huez is moving into the history of the Tour the France, from the latest winners at the bottom to the first one, Fausto Coppi at the last - the 21st bend. At the top, you will enjoy the beautiful ski village of Alpe d'Huez. When you're up there drinking your coffee, don't forget to mention Francois Riblon's win in 2013 to the natives who had long awaited a French win. All the more spectacular since the pass was ridden 2 times during this stage at the 100th Tour de France.

From Bourg d'Oisans: Average grade: 8.1 %, Length: 13.2 km, Height start: 744 m, Height top: 1815 m, Elevation: 1071 m, Photo by Bernardo Möller

 

3. Passo Gavia

The highest mountain pass in the Italian Alps is often the highest peak of Giro d'Italia too. On 5 June 1988, the race passed over the Gavia in a snowstorm, making for an epic stage won by Erik Breukink. (Take a look on the 40th second of this video and notice the snowdrift.) I read about this incredible story in the book by Bob Roll, where he was describing it as he had stopped during the descent, and was running up the hill to warm up a bit. The second Andrew Hampsten (who won overally) succeeded thanks to the great preparation of the team (which obviously wasn't so usual at this time) when he'd had winter glows, jacket and a cap. Let this story be a warning for you when you're getting ready for the climb.

From Ponte di Legno, Average grade: 7.9 %, Length: 17.3 km, Height start: 1258 m, Height top: 2621 m, Elevation: 1363 m, Photo source

 

4. Grossglockner

This famous alpine road leads you into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, and to the highest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner (3798m). Glossglockner was even featured in Giro d'Italia twice (last time in 2011). Prepare for an incredible 36 switchbacks, and an altitude ascending to 2504 meters.

From Fusch - Salzburg, Average grade: 8.3 %, Length: 21.4 km, Height start: 805 m, Height top: 2504 m, Elevation: 1766 m, Photo by Marbes

 

5. Monte Zoncolan

Monte Zoncolan

This climb is crazy! Don't go there if you love your legs. But seriously, Monte Zoncolan is the hardest climb on Giro and one of the hardest climbs in Europe. Take a look at the profile, is this normal? The organizers of Giro were even thinking of including this climb twice in 2014, luckily for the riders (and unluckily for us) they haven't... The panels with all the Giro d'Italia heroes each 500 m will make you keep going and on the top you will really feel the spirit of Marco Pantani... 

From Ovaro: Average grade: 11.5 %, Length: 10.5 km, Height start: 525 m, Height top: 1735 m, Elevation: 1210 m, Photo by Renzo Agostinis

 

6. Tourmalet

The Col du Tourmalet is the highest road in the central Pyrenees and the most utilized of any of the peaks in the Tour de France with 74 appearances so far (2013). This mythical climb was included for the first timein 1910, and was referred to as the "Circle of Death". Imagine that at the time the riders had only two gears and they had to reverse the wheel with a wrench to change it. Come on, you have to climb this one easily...right?

From Luz Saint Sauveur: Average grade: 7.4 %, Length: 19 km, Height start: 711 m, Height top: 2115 m, Elevation: 1404 m, Photo by Imanol

 

7. Col du Galibier

Col du Galibier

When I was riding this climb, I didn't prepare too much as my friends were about to pick me up with a car. The climb wasn't so hard but I was slow and exhausted anyway, so I was relieved when I saw the board with the name Col du Lautared (2058 m) and this is exactly the place where the Col du Galibier begins still with 8.5 km of a moon land to do to the top...so I guess I have to ride it again.

From Valloire: Average grade: 6.9 %, Length: 18.1 km, Height start: 1401 m, Height top: 2646 m, Elevation: 1245 m, Maximum: %, Photo by yoyo du 33

 

8. Pico de Veleta

Pico de Veleta

Pico de Veleta in the Sierra Nevada mountains is the highest paved road in the Europe. As the well maintained road ends at 2530 m, this climb is too high even for professionals. Not so steep from the beginning, but the 40 km long climb with the high point at 3357 m, bad quality of road in the final 10 kilometers, no oxygen, wind, and plenty of cold... makes this an incredibly hard climb. The Vuelta has ventured part of the way up but never higher than 2550 metres.

From Cenes de la Vega: Average grade: 6.6 %, Length: 39.44 km, Height start: 740 m, Height top: 3357 m, Elevation: 2497 m, Photo by Bordeleau France

 

9. Mont Ventoux

Mont Ventoux

The 'Beast of Provence' is a legendary climb of Tour de France. Eddy Merckx rode himself to the brink of collapse while winning the stage. He received oxygen, recovered, and won the Tour. The fastest ascent belongs to Iban Mayo with 23.10 kmh. I think you're good if you get at leasthalfway to this speed.

From Bedoin: Average grade: 7.6 %, Length: 21.4 km, Height start: 283 m, Height top: 1912 m, Elevation: 1639 m, Photo by Diether

 

10. Trollstigen

Trollstigen
 
The Trollstigen pass is located in Norway. It has an elevation of "only" 850 meters but it's simply beautiful and I definitely had to include a pass from this splendid nordic country.
 
Average grade: 4.4 %, Length: 18 km, Height start: 50 m, Height top: 850 m, Elevation: 800 m, Photo source
 

I am sure, all the experienced climbers will agree to disagree with my choice. So I am looking forward to read about your be(a)st climbs...

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Peter Kortvel's picture

Peter Kortvel

I believe that if everybody rode a bike to work our life would be much better. As a bike lover, I co-founded Bikestein.com to bring people knowledge and inspiration for their everyday bike challenges. From winning the world championships to going more often on bike to work; all of us are trying to push our limits... As a youngster I used to train hard (I even become a champion of Slovakia), luckily, I wasn't crazy enough to choose the hardest profession in the world :) These days, you can find me commuting to work on a bike every morning or riding my road bike in Bratislava or Austria (and I am really missing some nice climbs here...).