Col de Tende (or Colle di Tenda) is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 1.870m (6,135ft) above the sea level, located in the Alps, on the border between France and Italy. In 7km this terrific road includes more than 48 hairpin turns. There are forts along the ridge line in both directions.
The first part of the road is asphalted, but then turns into gravel and sand in a bumpy section full of hairpins half-way up. The pass separates the Maritime Alps from the Ligurian Alps. It connects Nice and Tende in Alpes-Maritimes with Cuneo in Piedmont. At the wheel of your hire car, this route will see you negotiate a quite thrilling route through a series of tunnels and cuttings across the Maritime Alps and into France.
The road over the pass is closed in winters. At the summit there are extensive fortifications from the 19th century, which were built by the Italians. The pass was bypassed by a tunnel, called Col de Tende Road Tunnel, which was inaugurated in 1882. It’s a 3.182m long tunnel and was the first long tunnel under a major alpine pass.
The gravel sections are often very loose. The pass is considered the southernmost of the great Alpine passes. The highest section of the pass is wholly within France. It’s reputed to be one of the most ancient roads in Europe, laid down by the Phoenicians and later used by the Greeks who had colonised Marseille and, after them, the Romans. The historical importance of this crossing, resulting in a immensely fortified ridgeline. The ruins of these fortifications remain. In a way this is like a visit in a museum, but without the crowds or fees that are often connected with such a visit. Starting from Breil sur Roya, the ascent of this pass is 29 km long, with an elevation gain of 989 meters. The average percentage is 3.4 %. The climb starts very gradually to climb and it is never very steep even on the last part.
2019 Update: Coming from the Italian village of Limone Piemonte you can reach the top as usual. Unfortunately directly at the border with France there is a strict driving ban - even though that there is no police to check that. On 2017 there was a landslide on the French side which made it impossible to pass the road by cars or heavy motorcycles. This landslide does not block the street anymore.
Unfortunately on 2019 there is another problem. This road was passed by one of the first long mountain tunnels in the Alps. This tunnel has just one traffic lane so there is a traffic light on each end to enable a one way traffic which changes every 15 minutes. This is going to change because currently they are digging a second tunnel. The construction works are ongoing on both sides of the mountain and of course there is a building area on both sides. On the French side the old road crossing the pass ends in this building area and it is not predictable if the end of the road is not blocked by any building material of construction machines. Even if not there is a high fence around the building area with a door with is closed at minimum of the weekend. So chances are currently good that you have made this fantastic road and immediately, at the end, you have to turn around and drive back the whole distance and cross the mountain via the tunnel anyway.
Road suggested by: Michael Spannlang