Sometimes referred to as the beauty and the beast, the Passo Giau is an extremely harsh and difficult test but is considered by many to be the most picturesque mountain pass in the Dolomites range.
The Giau pass stands at 2,236 metres above sea level and boasts no fewer than 29 hairpin bends to reach it. It’s a relentless challenge of around 9% gradient over 10 kilometres.
The climb links the valleys of Ampezzo and Livinallongo and was the last mountain pass to be built in the area. Could this explain why it has not yet achieved the notoriety you would associate with the Passo Pordoi for example?
The ascent from Selva di Cadore is the sixth pass on the Maratona dles Dolomites granfondo. You reach the Giau with 88 kilometres and 2,500 metres of elevation already in your legs!
Considering its aesthetic appeal and its degree of difficulty, it is surprising that it has only ever been used a handful of times in the Giro d’Italia.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Highlights of the Passo Giau
The Passo Giau is quite simply one of the most picturesque and stunningly beautiful climbs anywhere in the world.
If you relish a challenge and a ‘proper’ Grand Tour style climb, then make sure the Passo Giau is on your must-do list for this region.
Passo Giau route info
Starting outside the Val Fiorentina bar in the tiny commune of Selva di Cadore, take the right-hand fork at the magnificent Chiesa di San Lorenzo onto the SP251. Make the most of the first half a kilometre of downhill because that’s all you will get until you crest the Giau.
As you turn right onto the SP638 you will soon see the marker to signify the official start of the climb.
During the first few kilometres you are surrounded by high sided mountains and dense fir and spruce trees as you grind your way forwards alongside the river Codalonga. The Giau is similar to other climbs in the Dolomites in so much as the roads have been designed and engineered to ascend at a constant gradient – on the Giau it just happens to be a pretty constant 9%!
This is the period of the climb where you need to conserve as much energy as possible. Depending how many kilometres you have in your legs at this point will determine how well you are able to tackle the final merciless push to the top.
By the time you turn out of hairpin number 18 (tornante
18) about 7 kilometres into the climb you start to realise what it’s actually like climbing in the high mountains. The trees have given way to the classic green pastures of the Dolomites and the view of the enormous rocky peak that is the Nuvolau Alto is simply stunning.
On a long climb it’s nice to have a point of reference at some point so that you know how far you are away from the top – so when you see the Refugio Fedare on your left at tornante
21 you will know that you only have 2.5 kilometres to go. This is where you can push if there is anything left in the legs.
The gradient doesn’t ease, and the switchbacks come thick and fast, but when you get to the Ristorante da Aurelio you can see the tops of the wooden buildings at the summit and that’s when you know you are entering the last kilometre.
But it’s all worth it as the views from the top are simply breathtaking. In the summer months the summit will be busy with tourists, but at least you can have a relaxing drink in the café before you consider your descent.
Val Fiorentina Bar at the start of the climb in Selva di Cadore.
Petrol Station after 0.5 kilometres.
Refugio Fedare which is 2.5 kilometres from the summit.
Ristorante da Aurelio at 1 kilometre from the top.
Berghotel Passo Giau at the summit.
Corvara is always a good option as you can access most of the Dolomite climbs from there.
Alternatively, there is a good selection of hotels and apartments in Arabba where you are well placed for the Passo Giau.
Check out our Dolomites guide for more information.
For general tips on riding in the Dolomites, check out our separate article: tips for cycling in the Dolomites.
It’s best to ride the Giau early in the mornings in the summer as many tourists in cars and motorcycles tend to use the road later during the day.
There are water fountains at kilometre 5 and 6 on the climb. Consider using the refugios on the second half of the climb to get food and water, especially during the hot summer months.
In Mountains by Michael Blann, there’s a section written by Mautizio Fondriest which captures a moment from the 1989 Giro d’Italia on the Giau.
Fondriest writes “I was riding through my home region and I was World Champion. I knew the roads and I was determined to do well in front of the Italian crowd. The Giau came in the middle of a 131km stage… It was raining as we started the climb, but as we got higher the rain got more intense and quickly turned to sleet, and then snow. The clouds were low, the skies moody, and it was so dark that it looked like we were racing at night. As we topped the climb I was in the lead, exactly where I wanted to be.”
Other useful information
Maratona dles Dolomites climb number 6 (Arabba/Selva di Cadore to Pocol)
Don’t miss our main guide to cycling in the Dolomites – you’ll find loads of information to help you plan your trip and links to all our other Dolomites cycling guides, including Passo Sella, Gardena, Pordoi, Campolongo, Falzarego/Valparola, and Fedaia.
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