Tende Pass – Col de Tende

The Col de Tende culminates at an altitude of 1,871 meters on the border between France and Italy. It is located in the Alpes Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and connects the town of Tende in France to the town of Cuneo in Italy. Linking the Roya valley to the south and the Vermenagna valley to the north, the Col de Tende is less known to cyclists who prefer to climb other passes such as the road passes of Petit Saint Bernard, Mont Cenis, Echelle, Montgenèvre, Agnel, Larche or Lombarde.

The French side of the Col de Tende is not fully asphalted, which means that the last few kilometers before the summit are not recommended for road bikes. Mountain biking will be more suitable on this route.

Summer and winter activities

In winter, the Casterino area is a real white paradise. Snowshoe hiking, cross-country skiing, tobogganing, dog sledding, the “Riserva bianca” resort of Limone, which is 30 minutes from Tende, is a family resort with slopes for all levels.

In summer, the Roya valley is a real pleasure. In this setting of high peaks, forests and mountain pastures, on the French-Italian border, it is possible to practice canyoning or rafting in the waters of La Roya, a river that has its source at the Col de Tende and whose mouth is in the Ligurian Sea. In this region, you can take the opportunity to visit Breil sur Roya, La Brigue, Saorge, Sospel, Tende…

The Col de Tende by bike

The riders of the Tour de France took the Col de Tende road twice to the tunnel, each time on the Italian side. The first in 1952 during the 12th stage linking Sestrières to Monaco, where the Frenchman Jean Robic crossed the winning line, and the second in 1961 during the stage linking Turin to Antibes Juan les Pins, where the Italian Imerio Massignan was the winner of this 11th stage.

The ascent of the Col de Tende by bike can be done at the departure of the Roya valley from Breil sur Roya. It will take 20 kilometers of road before reaching the summit with 500 meters of difference in altitude. Starting from Tende, two paths are located at the level of the small road between the Pont de Caramagne and the beginning of the old road. Count approximately more than 17 kilometers with an average slope of 6.5%.

You can also start from the Italian side, from Limone Piemonte. This itinerary is a little shorter, the distance to cover being more than 13 kilometers, but just as intense with an average slope of 6.5%.

A bit of History…

The pass separates on one side the Maritime Alps, the Mercantour Argentera massif, from the Ligurian Alps. It plays a strategic role in the History of France. Since Roman times, it has been used by the road linking Turin to Nice. In 404, part of Alaric’s army defeated by Stilicon at the battle of Pollentia used it to reach Gaul. It was also used by the Franks returning from the battle of Asti, fought against the Lombards in 663. Several years later, the road over the Col de Tende is called the “strata salis”, or salt road. The place then became a source of income for the accounts of Tende and the Lascaris of Ventimiglia who signed a treaty in 1279 with the town of Cuneo to ensure the surveillance and maintenance of the road and thus promote trade.

The Central Fort and the defensive barracks were built between 1877 and 1880. The following year the construction of fortifications began as part of the defense system set up to protect Piedmont from enemy assaults.

In the course of history, the road over the Col de Tende became an important artery of the Savoy States and a route often used by invading armies that came to cross the Alps’ mountain range. It was also a major road passage in the Western Alps between the Mediterranean ports of Nice, Villefranche sur Mer, Menton and Piedmont.

An exceptional heritage

The Col de Tende, as well as the 6 forts: Fort Central, Fort de la Marguerie, Fort Tabourde, Fort Pernante, Fort de la Giaure and Fort Pépin, are now in French territory. Hiking enthusiasts will be able to make the loop starting from the Col de Tende and passing through the Forts Central, Tabourde and Pépin to visit them.

It is at the passage of the pass, at 1,871 meters of altitude, that was discovered in 1994 the archaeological site of the pass of Tende where were found, in the rubble of road works, ancient coins and ceramic shards. You can learn more about it during a visit to the Museum of the Wonders of Tende.

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