Col du Galibier

The pass of the Col du Galibier (2,645 metres) is located in the southern region of the French Dauphiné Alps.

The tunnel at 2,556 meters used to be the only through road until 1976 – when the tunnel was closed for restoration, a loop around the summit, similar to the one over the Bonette, was constructed, reaching the ‘official’ summit of 2,645 meters.

With this loop included, it claims 9th spot in the highest paved European roads list and is listed as 5th highest mountain pass – without it, it’s ranked 11th and 6th respectively.

Like all passes in the area, it’s closed during winter, roughly between October and June.

I cycled up the Lautaret side from Le Clapier on June 9th, 2012 and found the final loop closed from the Valloire side – luckily, I could still cycle up from my end.

When I tackled the northern ascend in 2014, as well as when I combined it with the Lautaret from Briançon in 2017, the road was free of snow, but in 2017, it was freezing cold up there.

I revisited the Galibier from the north during my Tour de France 2021, when I cycled the Marmotte, albeit I started in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

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Col de la Croix de Fer

The Col de la Croix de Fer (2,067 meters) connects the Isère and Savoie regions. The area – on both sides – attracts many cyclists, as there are many famous climbs to be found, besides this one.

In Isère – centered around Bourg-d’Oisans – these include the Lautaret, Les Deux Alps, la Bérarde and “the most famous of them all”, the Alpe d’Huez.

In the Savoie region, centered around Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, you’ll find – among others – the Glandon, Télégraphe / Galibier and the Madeleine.

At the time I published this page, the Croix de Fer had featured in the Tour de France 17 times since 1947, most recently in 2017.

In 2015 it was included in 2 stages: stage 19 via the Col du Glandon from la Chambre and stage 20 from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

The latter stage was the result of an alteration, since the original stage route over the Télégraphe / Galibier was blocked because a landslide had made descending the Lautaret unsafe.

In stage 18, the climb from Rochetaillée was included too, but that took the left turn over the Glandon…

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Col de l’Iseran

While the summit sign reads 2,770 meters, the official summit of the Col de l’Iseran on the maps until recently read 2,764 meters.

At any rate, either makes it the highest paved pass in Europe, although the artificial loop around the Bonette is claimed as such by the French, or at least those in the Ubaye valley.

However, the official pass height of the Bonette is 2,715 meters, so the Iseran, the Stelvio (2,758) and the Agnel (2,744) are higher ‘by nature’…

The Iseran is part of the Route des Grandes Alpes (in French). It connects the valleys of the Isère (Tarentaise) and Arc River (Maurienne) between Val-d’Isère in the north and Bonneval-sur-Arc in the south.

The north side of the pass officially starts at Val-d’Isère, or further down from Bourg-Saint-Maurice. The climb from the south officially starts at Lanslebourg-Mont Cenis, but you could also consider Modane as the starting point.

Post WWII the Iseran was included in the Tour de France 5 times between 1947 and 2007 – in 1996 it was also scheduled, but that stage was rescheduled due to bad weather (snow on both the Iseran and the Galibier).

In 2019, the southern ascend was again included in a stage (19), which was scheduled to finish in Tignes, but that stage eventually got neutralized at the Iseran summit, because of bad weather and a landslide.

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Col Agnel

The Col Agnel / Colle Dell’Agnello is number three on the list of highest paved passes in Europe – the Cime de la Bonette not included – and with 2,744 meters it has also been the Cima Coppi in the Giro d’Italia several times.

It is, however, Europe’s highest international pass, connecting France and Italy.

A not too busy road, where you’re not constantly overtaken – at high speed – by motor bikes or cars. The pass out of the valley on the opposite side – the Izoard – is a lot busier for that matter…

Report on my climb up the Agnel in 2014 here, pictures (“Best Of” gallery of the whole Tour) here.

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Col de la Bonette

With its 2,715 meters, the Col de la Bonette scores a 4th place in the list of paved “passes”.

Not high enough for some, so an additional loop around the top, the “Cime de la Bonette”, was cut out of the rocks and that takes you to 2,802 meters.

Therefor, the French – or at least those in the Ubaye Vallée, I reckon – claim it’s the highest pass of Europe.

But that is really the Iseran, which is 2,770 meters all by itself, without frills.

The Stelvio then comes in close second with 2,758 meters, followed by the Agnel with 2,744 meters…

Report on my 2014 trip up both ends here.

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