Mountain valleys of Piemonte: Part 2 The Valle Stura

Published on:  | Last updated: 29 March 2017

This section of the tour takes you into the Valle Stura and on to the Colle delle Maddalena (Col de Vars in French). It follows the peaceful Itinerario Cicloturistico della Valle Stura as far as Vinadio.

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Vallle Stura distances
Borgo-San Dalmazzo - Vinadio 28 kms
Vinadio - Colle della Maddalena 32 kms
Colle della Maddalena - Borgo-San Dalmazzo 60kms
Total121 kms
Cyclists on the Valle Stura cycleway ('Itinerario Cicloturistico della Valle Stura')

Cyclists on the Valle Stura cycleway ('Itinerario Cicloturistico della Valle Stura')

At Vinadio there's the huge Forte Neghino . It is one of a number of forts, and barracks built in the second half of the 19th century to defend Italy's land borders. As well as the forts there's a network of military roads - some of them extraordinary feats of engin­eering. The fort at Vinadio (like the others in the area) never saw any military action.

After Vinadio, if you don't have a mountain bike, you have to take to the main road. There are quite a few of lorries on this stretch of road - although the numbers aren't huge. I counted about a dozen lorries an hour (both direc­tions). It felt like that there were more lorries heading towards the Colle in the morning and more coming back in the evening.

The road climbs from Vinadio (904m) to the Colle Maddalena (1996m) 32 kilometres further on. The main climb is over the 17 kilometres between Pietraporzio (1246m) and the Colle Maddalena.

The Valle Stura - the road to the Colle della Maddelena

The Valle Stura - the road to the Colle della Maddelena

This climb has a place of honour in the history of Italian cycling. It was here in the 1949 Giro d'Italia that Fausto Coppi broke away and lead the race for 190 kilometres before arriving almost 12 minutes ahead of his rival Gino Bartali. (Bartali had suffered a couple of punctures though).

Information panel on the climb to the Colle della Maddelena recording Fausto Coppi's breakaway in the 1949 Giro d'Italia

Here l'Airone (The Heron) took flight - inform­ation panel on the climb to the Colle della Maddelena recording Fausto Coppi's breakaway in the 1949 Giro d'Italia

Along the way you'll see an inform­ation panel commem­or­ating the event. It records how on that afternoon radio commentator Mario Ferretti opened his broadcast with the words:

“ Un uomo solo è al comando, la sua maglia è bianco­celeste, il suo nome è Fausto Coppi ”

(A lone man is in command, his shirt is sky blue and white, his name is Fausto Coppi.)

The caption to the picture reads

“ Qui l'AIRONE apri le ali, librandosi nel volo di 192 km che lo avrebbe consegnato alla leggenda del ciclismo, per renderlo IMMORTALE ”

(Here the HERON opened his wings and soared in the flight of 192 kilometres which would earn him a place in the legends of cycling and make him IMMORTALE - capitals in the original)

If you look at the picture you'll see how rough the mountain roads were (at the time they would have been unsur­faced).

Here's a short (3:06) video about Fausto Coppi's legendary victory in the Cuneo Pinerolo stage of the 1949 Giro d'Italia, when Coppi made a solo breakaway over a 254-kilometre stage.

The commentary is in Italian with subtitles in English (click the subtitles button to turn them on). You'll need to have Flash enabled to see the subtitles, if you don't have Flash here's a quick summary:

“ 10 June 1949 - the 17th stage of the Giro d'Italia, from Cuneo to Pinerolo 254 kms. Five cols (Maddelena, Vars, Izoard, Montgenèvre and Sestrière).

Before the race the Direttore Sportivo of the Bianchi team had asked Coppi what supplies he should prepare for the gregari. Coppi's reply was "pane, salami e lanternino" (bread, salami and lights) - meaning that the gregari would have a long day in front of them.

Coppi had stopped to oil his chain when Bartali passed by together with another Tuscan, Primo Volpi. Coppi immedi­ately sets off in pursuit and overhauls them, setting a pace that no one can match. The road to the Colle della Maddelena is a a 'calvario' of mud and beaten earth.

A journ­alist from L'Équipe is quoted recounting how accom­panied Coppi to a French village (possibly Barcellonette) and stopped for a meal at a trattoria, had a full meal starting with antipasti and ending with coffee, smoked a cigarette, asked for the bill and paid. Coming out of the trattoria the rider in sixth position was only just passing.

Coppi finished the stage 11:52 ahead of Bartali. The Giro was his. ”

This is an extract from a longer video. If you want to see the whole thing go to: youtube.com: I Miti del Ciclismo: Fausto Coppi

The road on the French side also has a shortish section that is off-limits to bikes. The section of the road was closed to bikes several years ago on safety grounds after rock falls. If you look on Google Streetview there are a couple of signs and that's about it, and I saw cyclists coming and going in both direc­tions.

At the top there's a memorial to Fausto Coppi but otherwise there's not much to keep you. Fortunately there's a bar and ristorante at the lake a little way before the top.

Coming back you could turn off at Vinadio and follow the Valle Stura cycle route - although you could also opt for the main road as the downhill gradient should give you enough speed to make the lorries easier to deal with.

Options

There's an inter­esting road that takes you from Demonte (780m) Via the Vallone di Arma to the Colle d'Esischie (2370). As the distance is 24.5 kilometres, the average gradient is fairly gentle. You could then descend the Valle Maira to Demonte or there's a more challenging climb to the Colle di Sampeyre profile on climbbybike.com. I have included this variant in the maps and gps downloads.

Cyclists descending from the Colle della Maddelena

Cyclists descending from the Colle della Maddelena

More information

Places to stay

Hotels etc

The Bagni di Vinadio seems to have the biggest selection of places to stay: hotels at Bagni di Vinadio

You might also find these links useful:

Find and book places to stay with Booking.com

Booking.com pages for places on this section of the route: | Gaiola.

About these links

If you use these links to book accom­mod­ation Booking.com will pay me a small part of their commission. This helps support the costs of producing this site.

I use Booking.com to find and book places to stay when there are no campsites in the area. The large majority of hotels and many hostels are now on ‘Booking’. I like it because it means that I can get almost-instant confirm­ation. The rating system is also a reliable guide to the quality of the accom­mod­ation.

I’ve never had a problem finding places to keep my bike —even if it’s a cupboard or store room. I always use the ‘special requests’ field on the booking form to tell the hotel that I’m travelling with a bike, which gives them the oppor­tunity to let me know if there’s a problem.

Many properties offer free cancel­lation but it’s a good idea to check the condi­tions as these vary from property to property.

Hostels and rifugi

There are two hostels:

  • Al Tenibres at Pietraporzio (the same people operate the campsite) Update: the campsite is still listed by Google (Phone: +39 0171 96602) but I haven't been able to confirm whether the hostel still exists, so please phone to check
  • Ostello del Pelerin at Gaiola near Borgo San Dalmazzo (part of the Village Stiera)

  Map:  FT-maps-piemonte-valleys-hostelss show hostels map in overlay    |    FT-maps-piemonte-valleys-hostelss show hostels map in new window   

Campsites

I stayed at the Camping Demonte, which had the bonus of a swimming pool. There are also campsites at:

  • Gaiola near Borgo San Dalmazzo: Village Stiera
  • Vinadio: Camping dei Forti (+39 333 3848164 or +39 0171 959354)
  • Bagni di Vinadio Camping Rio Strepeis (operated by the Albergo Nasi) Update: the website isn't working, so please phone to confirm (according to Google the hotel's phone number is +39 0171 95834).
  • Bersezio (the Argentera phone: +39 0171 96735 (listing on eurocampings.co.uk)
  • Pietraporzio - the Cento Sentieri (+39 0171 96602 or +39 329 8176214).

  Map of campsites along the route:  MVP-campsites-map-show map in overlay    |    MVP-campsites-map-show map in new window   

Transport and services

Memorial to Fausto Coppi on the Colle della Maddelena

Memorial to Fausto Coppi on the Colle della Maddelena ('Un uomo solo al comando … il suo nome: Fausto Coppi' - 'A lone man in command … his name: Fausto Coppi')

Articles in this series:


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