The Stelvio Pass (2757 m) in northern Italy is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps. The Stelvio lost its status as the highest Alpine mountain pass to the Col de l’Iseran (2764 m) in 1937.
Located only 200 meters from the Swiss border, the road from Switzerland to the Stelvio Pass leads over the Umbrail Pass, the highest paved mountain pass in Switzerland (2501 m).
History of the Stelvio Pass
The original road was built in 1820–25 under Francis I, Emperor of Austria. When the Habsburg Empire gained control of the Lombardy (after Napoleon’s defeat and the Congress of Vienna in 1815), the Stelvio Pass connected the South Tyrol with the Veltlin in Lombardia in Italy. The engineer Carlo Donegani was ennobled Nobile di Monte Stelvio.
During World War I in 1914–18, Italian and Austrian-Hungarian troops fought a mountain warfare that involved the border region around the Stelvio Pass between Italy, Austria, and Switzerland. Soldiers lost their lives in combat, or due to avalanche or rockfall accidents in the high alpine environment.
Cycling the Stelvio Pass
The serpentines on the Northeast of the Stelvio Pass make it one of the most notorious and most famous climbs among cyclists. The 48 hairpin turns cover an elevation gain of more than 1800 meters. The average gradient is around 8%, but the second half of the ascent is steeper than the first. The climb from Bormio in the Southwest still has more than 1500 m elevation gain. Both sides featured in the Giro d’Italia several times.
In May, when the Giro is held, there is often snow on the Pass. The freezing temperatures make the descent a nightmare – as if the climb wasn’t grueling enough.