Trans Euro Trail Italy: section 1 & 2

To explore this Italian TET section I have decided to set up camp in Bardonecchia, a quiet village in the Vale di Susa, with about 3000 inhabitants.

It’s right at the end of the Fréjus tunnel. It’s easy to reach and there are a number of hotels to choose from. 

I will stay at the outskirts of the small town, in Hotel Europa, a nice and cosy hotel with a large parking spot where I can leave my van. 

It’s about noon when I arrive which leaves me time enough to do some riding.

The region around Bardonecchia is a huge playground for off road bikes, with a high number of unpaved sections. 

And the TET section 1 and 2 gives you the opportunity to make some neighbourhood loops. 

That’s what I’m about to do. I head to Savoulx, which is about 10km from Bardonecchia, where I pick up section 2 of the TET and drive the steep mountain road in the direction of Monte Jafferau.

Instant fun! In front of me I find a great gravel road with some rocks and stones, but no tricky or hard sections at all. 

Half way up there, the road is closed. There is a sign and fence saying that it’s not allowed to ride further. 

Too bad, I have to turn back. I’m at a junction of section 1 and 2. I decide to follow the track of section 1 which leads me further south.

I passthecosy and lively village of Oulx and a few kilometres further up, the road climbs up again and the asphalt makes places for gravel and stones.

A lot of stones!  I’m not really used to ride these  stony sections, but the lightweight Honda CRF450l with the Bridgestone E50 tyres prove to be a big help.

My GPS is not willing to cooperate. From time to time the track disappears from the screen.

I decide to follow the paths I’m riding; after some steep climbs I arriva at a point I recognise: the Strada Dell’ Asietta,  a beautiful scenic gravel road that guides you - most of the time - on top of the mountains.

The total length of the gravel part is app. 35km; the eight passes that you will encounter are between 2.200m and 2.585m high.

I was here before, but I can never get enough of this great place!

At some stages I encounter more rocks and stones than on my previous ride, but all-in all this mountain path is not very demanding and gives you the opportunity to enjoy the marvellous views.

While riding the Strade Dell’ Asietta the clouds become denser and creep up over the mountaintops. A mystical atmosphere!

This section is a rather popular road with adv bikes and 4x4 cars; since it is not always that wide to pass a 4WD car, you need to be careful.

As I experienced myself. Upon challenging a blind corner a little bit too enthusiastic I found myself eye to eye with a Landrover Defender.

The few spare centimetres between the car and the steep slope on my right side gave me the chills.

Enough to become a little less audacious. And ride slower.

Back on the tarmac road in one piece, I ride back via Colle de Finestre (which is not in the TET).

I follow a part of section 2 in the direction of Bardonecchia, but this is a complete paved part of the route.

The next day I decide to continue on section 1 leading me further South.

Which is an asphalt road at first. With the mountain views, the nice villages and all the beautiful surroundings it never becomes boring. Soon enough the tarmac makes place for gravel again.

The paths are leading me and my bike up and down the mountains. The weather is great, the bike is doing fine and however there are a lot of stones and rocks, the road is never too demanding to turn it an enjoyable ride.

The track leads you over the most narrow and picturesque roads in this region.

They keep winding up and down the mountains and the speed is low.

Don’t expect to do more than 200-250 kms a day if you want to enjoy the ride & make some time to eat and drink and rest for a moment.

Just as I find myself riding one of the several dusty and rocky steep downhills I feel like I am ready to take on the Dakar rally, when suddenly an older couple with a 20 year old Fiat Panda 4x4 bumps slowly over the road and crawls uphill at 5 km/h. There goes my ego.

My self-confidence gets another dent just south of Rucas when I turn the bike on a trail, which is getting downhill.

At first the gravel road is easy going as it is also used by trucks to reach the marble quarry a bit further.

From there on the path is more steep downhill and covered with stones in all forms and sizes.

This will be a bumpy ride for the next kilometres!

I need my hands, feet and all my other body parts to keep the bike and myself upright. And of course, just now, my GPS is not willing to cooperate. Again!

Which makes the navigation more complicated and forces me to make some U turns. It’s hot, very humid and the clouds are getting darker.

I presume that this is adventurous enough for my solo ride. I haven’t seen a living soul for a long time!

If I should encounter severe technical issues or an injury, I will have to resolve everything myself.

When I reach the next asphalt section I decide to leave the Trans Euro track and take a break.

I park the bike on the village square and take some time out on a terrace.  Over the mountains I see the clouds are getting more threatening, there is a thunderstorm coming up.

`I don’t want to be alone on a technical mountain trail with this kind of weather. I decide to end this part of the TET for today. 

Bardonecchia is about a 2hrs drive from where I am right now.

I fill up the tank of my Honda and head back north under a dark and cloudy sky. 

A few hours later I overlook this great adventurous day with a pizza and a bottle of water.

It was a tiring and hot day full of impressions and some challenges. 

But I’ve enjoyed (almost) every single minute of it!  I keep my basecamp in Bardonecchia as there are still a lot of tracks to ride in this region. This is a crossroads between section 1 & 2 and leaves me full of opportunities to combine them.

This is another way of exploring the TET with the advantage of riding without luggage. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do today.

I start this bright and sunny day with a second try to drive up to Monte Jafferau. A mountain with the highest peak 2.805 m above sea level.

There are two peaks: Testa del Ban (2.652m) and the summit itself, Jafferau (2.805m). The road to the pass is called Via dei Saraceni.

The gravel road to the top, also known as Strada militare Fenil-Pramand-Föens-Jafferau and Strada militare 79, includes several hairpins and tunnels.

This dirt track unfolds for over 20 km, almost entirely over 2.000 meters above the sea level. Just for 4x4. It's one of the highest mountain roads in Europe.

I ride up the mountains into the direction of Gleise. A little bit further the track starts with an easygoing gravel road that directs me to Fort Foens. Part of the Alpine wall,an Italian system of fortifications build along the 1,851 km of Italy's northern frontier.

The route continues in an easy way further on.

The surroundings are wonderful and I just can’t get enough of this beautiful nature and the mountain views.

The road turns and continues over a mountain ridge further up. In the distance I can see the top of Monte Jafferau and its fortifications.

The last kilometre to the summit is a bit more challenging, this is a fairly rocky section and the climb is getting steeper. 

But the effort is rewarding.  Because the views, once on top the Jafferau, are stunning!  It feels like you’re on top of the world.

Before driving back downwards, I take the time to   eat and drink.  You have several roads that go back down.

I decide not to follow the TET track and to choose for an alternative route.

The reason for this is that I definitely want to ride the Galleria dei Saraceni, which recently reopened after being deemed unsafe since 2013.

A 900-meter long tunnel excavated in U-shape, unique in all west Alps. 

After the first 50 meters there is a lot of water on the ground.  It’s deeper than I thought. 

So, be careful.  What follows is a ride in complete darkness.

There is absolutely no light in the tunnel and due to its U-shape you don’t see the exit. 

A very special experience not suited for those with claustrophobia. The road continues downhill until you reach Salbertrand. 

A small village on the SS24 between Bardonecchia & Susa.   Another great ride that is awaiting me is the Colle del Sommeiler.

This road is also part of section 1 of the TET.  The road is a dead end.  You can ride it up but you’ll have to come down the same way.

The 30 km long road starts in Bardonecchia and takes you via a small winding tarmac road to Rochemolles, where the paved road ends and the not asphalted part starts. The first section is easy going, before you reach the Rifugio Scarfiotti.  

From this point the real work starts.

For the next 9 kms you’ll have to conquer 800 altimeters.  

A series of hairpins take you higher up in the mountains. 

About halfway up there is a high plateau where you can get some rest before the ultimate climb.

The road becomes steeper and surely more demanding.

Big rocks and stones, narrow curves and sporadic snow form a guarantee for a technical ride up to the summit of this highest passable road in the Alps. 

At the top there is a small lake and the views are stunning! The highest point is about 3000m above sea level.

It’s a pleasure to drive this road with a light enduro bike like the Honda CRF450. 

Going downhill is going rather smoothly and a little bit faster.  At the high plateau I can choose to take the small bridge over the mountain stream or ride trough it.

Being a real experienced enduro rider, I choose this last option. I stop for a photo of the bike in the water before continuing the water crossing.  

As I am this real experienced enduro rider I start the bike and hit the throttle …the front wheel bumps on a big rock lying under water and before I can do anythig I’m lying flat out in the water.

This water is cold!!! My foot is stuck under the bike… water is running in my boots and my pants… I can’t lift the bike but I can push it a bit further which creates more space so I can get my foot back from underneath it. I have to laugh with myself; at the same time there is a lesson here: these roads can be dangerous when driving alone.

With wet clothes ride back to Rifigio Scarfiotti where I stop for a drink and a chat with some other off road bikers.

It’s a nice and pleasant manner to end this day and my exploration of this section of the Italian Trans Euro Trail.

It has been a great adventure and an extremely beautiful ride. It has been a great experience that I only can recommend to everyone with a suitable bike.

For sure I’m coming back to this region to do some more riding and enjoy this marvellous part of Europe!

 

See our other episodes about the Trans Euro Trail


To know more about TET go to:

www.transeurotrail.org

www.facebook.com/transeurotrail
 

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