Road trip guide: Conquering the Italian Via dei Saraceni
Via dei Saraceni is a road that has tested the nerves of numerous drivers, offering one of the most spectacular drives in Italy. Situated in the southwestern part of the Alps, this dirt track extends for over 20 km, reaching heights of over 2,000 meters above sea level, making it one of the highest roads in Europe, accessible exclusively for 4x4 vehicles.
Constructed in 1886, the unpaved track, also known as Strada militare Fenil-Pramand-Föens-Jafferau and Strada militare 79, features numerous hairpin turns and tunnels. It gradually ascends the hillside from east to west, providing breathtaking views along the way.
The road is winding and, in certain sections, only wide enough for a single vehicle, lacking guardrails. Notably, the Galleria del Seguret, or Galleria dei Saraceni, stands out as one of the most spectacular parts of the road. This 825-meter-long, U-shaped tunnel is unlit, muddy, and filled with deep holes of water, creating a challenging passage. The darkness and water-filled holes make powerful flashlights a necessity for those traversing on bikes or horseback.
Via dei Saraceni traverses several mountain passes, including Colletto Pramand (2,087m above sea level), Monte Jafferau (2,805m above sea level), and Monte Seguret (2,204m above sea level). The road, open from May to October, poses difficulties, particularly during wet or dark conditions. A short rocky section up to Forte Foens demands experience or good paddling.
The route follows among several forts, with a slope of less than 12% and a width of approximately 3 meters. Some rocky sections, though not overly challenging, can be difficult for most cars, especially in adverse weather conditions.
One remarkable feature is the short Galleria Chanteloube, constructed entirely in concrete and beautiful cut stone. The tunnel's roof transforms into a waterfall for the Rio Chanteloube when snow melts, adding to the road's unique charm.
Due to its remote location, elevation gain, and passage through desolate areas, preparation is crucial when driving on Via dei Saraceni. The road is accessible to off-road vehicles, and transit is allowed. Adequate water supply is essential, particularly in the summer when natural sources dry up. After rain, road conditions can be challenging, and thunderstorm activity may quickly transform unpaved sections into four-wheel-drive conditions or render them impassable. Additionally, the trail is prone to rockfalls, adding an element of complexity in certain areas.