For an avid cyclist, cycling Passo dello Stelvio from Prato is a must and is likely to be the highlight of a trip to the Italian Alps.
The Stelvio-Prato side is “the one” to do if you’re limited on time/energy. It’s the side that’s most steeped in Giro d’Italia history and it’s the side everyone associates with the Stelvio, due to “that” photo of the 48 hairpins cascading down the valley side.
But be warned – it’s a beast of a climb: 25 kilometres of gruelling 8% average gradients with little let up over 1,800+m of vertical ascent. The 2,758m summit will leave your lungs gasping for air and your legs burning. The weather too can be ferocious.
Don’t underestimate this climb – it’s one of the toughest out there!
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Stelvio (Prato): highlights
There’s an overwhelming sense of achievement when you reach the top having conquered those seriously hard, iconic 48 hairpins.
Once you’ve regained control of your breathing, take the time to savour the view (check here to find out where to get the best viewpoint over the hairpins).
1. Prato allo Stelvio to Trafoi: 0-10 km
The climb starts in Prato allo Stelvio (918 m). The first 10 kilometres between Prato and Trafoi are the easiest of the entire climb, with gradients averaging around 5-6%.
Look out for the house with a garden full of carved and painted figures and totem poles. They’re a bit creepy and we found ourselves riding a bit faster to get away!
There are a few hairpins before Trafoi, but all things considered, this section is relatively straight. Take the time to enjoy the gentler slopes, the pine-forested valley and noisy, tumbling river.
Just before Trafoi, you’ll have completed 10km of the climb – the intimidating reality is that 1,000m+ of vertical gain remains to be climbed over the forthcoming 15km.
2. Trafoi to Berghotel Franzenshöhe: 10-18.5 km
You leave Trafoi behind you with a slight sense of trepidation. Most of the climb’s 48 bends are still to be defeated and lie above you on gradients that become increasingly challenging. The average gradient for the remaining climb sits just above 8%. It’s time to dig in.
With around 10km to go, approaching 2,000m above sea level, you break the treeline. By this time, you’ll be ready for a new view to take your mind off the pain in your legs – the vista across the craggy grey valley to the snow capped peaks above is worth the wait.
At around 16km, the road hits 10% for a painful kilometre.
Up above you you’ll see the impressive looking Berghotel Franzenshöhe and, above that, the wall of hairpins snaking their way to the summit.
3. Berghotel Franzenshöhe to summit (the final hairpins): 18.5-24.5 km
You can’t help but be impressed yet cowed by the feat of engineering that rears up above you.
This final part of the climb will test you to the max: you’re tired, likely running low on fuel and almost certainly feeling the effects of the reduced oxygen in the air. It’s mind boggling to consider the Giro d’Italia pros climbing up to these heights and still having the mental and physical energy to attack.
It’s an awesome feeling to see the hairpin signs slip into single digits. The final hairpins are super tight and cruelly steep, at just under 10% for the final kilometre.
The summit sign creeps into view and a sense of relief and achievement floods in.
There are a number of cafes and bars in Prato allo Stelvio at the start.
Likewise the small villages of Gomagoi (at kilometre 6) and Trafoi (at kilometre 8) have refreshments available.
Finally, there’s Berghotel Franzenshöhe at kilometre 18 and lots of options at the summit.
Like many cyclists visiting this area, we based ourselves in Bormio.
Bormio is not well placed for the start of this climb in Prato allo Stelvio, but unless the Prato climb is the only objective of your visit, we’d still recommend making Bormio your base. We got to Prato by climbing the Stelvio and Umbrail Pass first (on this loop), but you could always get a lift over to the start.
You can find out more about where we stayed in Bormio, as well as other accommodation in Bormio and Prato in our article which shares the best Bormio/Stelvio bike hotels.
Also bear in mind that, if it’s sunny, this side is exposed to the afternoon sun.
Talking of the descent, keep a little something in the tank for this. Whichever route you descend, it’s technical and potentially dangerous (if you’re descending to Bormio – check this guide for photos of the tunnels).
If you’re with family, they may like to spend some time checking out the medieval walled town of Glorenza, a few kilometres from Prato allo Stelvio (it’s just off the route). We didn’t get a chance to visit, but it sounds nice!
Have you climbed the Passo allo Stelvio from Prato dello Stelvio?
We’d love to hear from you – comment below!
Don’t miss our other guides to rides in the area: see the related rides section above or check these: Stelvio (from Bormio), Umbrail Pass loop, Bernina Pass loop, Mortirolo and Gavia loop and Cancano lake.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling Bormio and other articles on Italy, below.
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