Start/Finish: SAN MARTINO IN BADIA
CLIMB: PASSO DELLE ERBE (1987M)
A hidden gem in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are one of the most popular destinations for road cyclists. And for good reasons: its landscapes studded with towering peaks are breathtaking, and some of the most prestigious pages in the history of the Giro d'Italia have been written on its roads. What's more, the gastronomy and warm hospitality of the locals make the Dolomites the ideal place to spend a cycling vacation.
There's no shortage of prestigious climbs in the Dolomites: Passo Pordoi, Passo Giau, Passo Fedaia, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and many others will be a treat for climbers. Other passes may not be as well known, but they're just as worth a climb. Among them: the Passo delle Erbe. Or Würzjoch in German. Or Ju de Börz in Ladin. Welcome to South Tyrol.
Luca and I tackled it from Ostaria Posta, a charming bike hotel at the gateway to the famous Alta Badia region. From here, there are two options for reaching the foot of the pass. The first is via the south and the Passo Gardena; the second heads north into the Val Pusteria.
It's the latter that forms part of the loop described here. It's easier, despite the first ascent, which starts after just a few kilometers. For over 25 km, it also follows a magnificent cycle path away from the horrendous traffic that clogs the Val Pusteria strada statale.
The fantastic bike path in Val Pusteria
When we reached Bressanone, we decided to stop for a bite to eat in this typical South Tyrolean town. After an excellent pizza, we set off to tackle the Passo delle Erbe. We chose to start climbing straight out of the town. It's worth noting we could have stayed on the bike path by the river for 10km and gone up from Chiusa (Klausen), another popular route to Passo delle Erbe which makes sense if you're coming from Passo Gardena / Ortisei.
Several experts of the region also recommended the climb from Bressanone via Luson/Lüsen, which seems even quieter and more beautiful. An incentive to go back and test all the Passo delle Erbe variants!
But first, pizza
The climb is long (almost 30 km) and uneven. At first, you're still in a populated area as you rise above the valley. Then you go deeper into the mountains, on a narrower road with a short descent just after Plancios where you join the route coming from Chiusa. This is also where you finally come face to face with the vertiginous cliffs of the Dolomites' first peaks.
The last few kilometers before the summit are not the most difficult, but they are the most beautiful. In particular, you can admire the majestic Sass de Putia - or Peitlerkofel in German, or Sas de Pütia in Ladin. No matter what language you speak, you will be speechless when you see its rocky peaks towering above the green pastures.
Sass de Putia aka Peitlerkofel aka Sas de Pütia
We did this loop in autumn, the best time of the year for riding in the Dolomites. The high season has passed and traffic is generally bearable. The scenery is also at its most beautiful.
The only issue is that it's colder, and this becomes a problem at the altitude of the pass (1987m). Leaving just before sunset, we had to race against the near-polar night that engulfed us shortly after returning to the warm hospitality of our hotel.
Time to head down
The best time of the year to ride this loop is September/October, after the high tourism season.
Stop for pizza in Bressanone (Brixen), the oldest town in the province of South Tyrol.
There are several other routes up Passo delle Erbe:
- from San Martino (east side), with some steep gradients > 11%
- from Chiusa / Klausen, best if you're coming from Passo Gardena
- from Gudon, in my opinion the best option coming from Passo Gardena. I rode it a long time ago with Dan and it is presented in this video by our good friend Igor Tavella
- from Bressanone via Luson / Lüsen.
You've been warned
Take the bike path to avoid the traffic in Val Pusteria
Coming into Bressanone
Yep, that's Passo delle Erbe
Just before the top
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