Once upon a time, all roads were gravel roads, and the vast majority of cycle races used them. So although it feels like modern day gravel cycling has hit the big time recently, it holds its roots in the early days of the sport. If you are an avid gravel grinder or just looking for some inspiration, there is a plethora of trails to discover on the continent. Mostly overshadowed by their tarmac counterparts, we’re going to redress the balance by shining a light on these often hidden corners of Europe.
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Mali Alan Pass
Found in Croatia, the Mali Alan Pass is a 30km gravel road that winds up all the way from the sea to the peak of a 1,044m-high mountain. The climb is a true marvel and the baked white rocks of the land offer moonscape-like vistas across the Croatian wilderness. It is well worth tackling on a gravel-specific bike as the surface is loose and heavy.
Set against a background of the Swiss Alps, Gornergrat is one of the most magical days in the saddle you could ever wish for. At 3,135m-high, it is the tallest climb on this list and one of the highest rideable roads in Europe. Climbing from Zermatt in the shadow of the Matterhorn, the road is a true alpine paradise and winds all the way up to the Kulm Hotel and Observatory. Gravel, altitude, forests, glacial lakes and peaks – Switzerland has it all.
Like Gornergrat, Mont Chaberton is another gravel road that climbs to over 3,000 metres. Starting in Italy, the trail is an old military route used by Italian soldiers during WW2 to get to a now abandoned fort high in the French Alps. It peaks at the very top of the mountain and offers awe-inspiring 360-degree views across the Alps and the dramatic outpost. With narrow sections, steep cliffs and eye-watering gradients, this one might even need a gravel e-bike.
Not so much one road but a collection of climbs, Tyrol in Austria offers some of the best gravel experiences in Europe. The best of the riding can be found in the Karwendel National Park which is an absolute feast of gravel routes and beautiful landscapes. It is basically the perfect destination for a cycling holiday.
The other Stelvio
The Passo dello Stelvio is one of The 10 Toughest Climbs In Cycling, but did you know you can make it even more of a challenge by getting there by gravel? The route starts in Bormio and follows several unpaved climbs before descending the highest gravel road in Switzerland, the Umbrailpass. From there, the trail crosses some paved roads and finishes on the 2,843m Cima Garibaldi with its direct views over one of cycling’s most famous passes. Then it’s the simple task of descending the 48 hairpins to finish the day.
It wouldn’t be a list of the best gravel routes Europe has to offer without mentioning the white roads of the Strade Bianche. Everywhere you go in Tuscany and neighbouring Umbria there are miles upon miles of cedar-lined white gravel roads that cut through vineyards and link together romantic hilltop towns and villages. With an agreeable climate, beautiful towns and delicious cuisine, the Tuscan hills are not only a great challenge but also a feast for the senses.
Pic du Midi de Bigorre, Pyrenees
If someone told you that the Col du Tourmalet was the “easy bit” of your ride, you would rightly be very concerned. However, that is exactly the case when climbing Pic du Midi de Bigorre. From the summit of the Tourmalet, there is a steep gravel road that leads to the observatory high up above. It’s tough going, but if you climb to the peak via the Col de Sencours and Col de Laquets, you will be rewarded with a staggering Pyrenean panorama.
You don’t have to go to the continent to find great gravel riding. The forest lined trail from Clatteringshaws to Glentrool in Galloway is a 56km round trip that takes you through the best of the Scottish wilderness. A relatively unexplored part of the country, this gravel road will soon satisfy your need for new trails.
One of the oldest roads in the UK, dating back almost 4,000 years, the Ridgeway is a 74km trail connecting Goring and Averbury. It offers some of the best countryside views you could ever hope for in England, and is packed full of great riding thanks to a combined 1,000m of climbing on a dusty but entirely manageable surface.
South Downs Way
Another ancient trail, the South Downs Way is a haven for gravel riders in the south of England. Connecting the highest points on the South Downs, the way has a total of 857m of elevation, but packs in steeper gradients than the Ridgeway. It’s tough in the sun when the rays reflect off the chalk surface back at the rider, but it’s well worth the effort.
Why not plan your next adventure around one of these epic gravel routes? Whether it’s on the continent or closer to home, there are tons of amazing, picturesque and gruelling gravel trails to search out all over Europe. Release the inner cycle-explorer in you and turn off the beaten track.
Whichever gravel adventure you choose and wherever you end up travelling, make sure your bike is covered in case anything happens. We offer comprehensive speciality cover for you and your bike during travel.