Pico de Veleta: Europe's Highest Road Climb

Pico de Veleta from Granada
Climbing the Pico de Veleta is one of the great cycling challenges in Europe. The mountain is the third highest peak in Spain, and also the highest paved road in Europe. It perhaps lacks the fame of Col du Tourmalet, Ventoux or Alpe d'Huez; but Veleta is longer and tougher than all of them.

Veleta is in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Andalucia, with the climb beginning in the city of Granada. The summit is at 3395 metres, and the total altitude gained during the climb is nearly 2,700m - more than twice the ascent of Tourmalet!
Pico de Veleta from Monachil

Alternative Route

The main road to Veleta takes the A395 all the way up to the service point at 2700m, after which the road becomes narrower and is closed to traffic. This side is 43km long and averages 6.5% gradient, and is a relatively steady climb, with no real difficulties apart from its great length.

It is also the worst way to climb Veleta though. There can be a lot of traffic at times on the lower slopes, and there are three superb alternatives, all of which we highly recommend.

The first of the three alternatives begins in the village of Monachil, and only joins up with the main road in the second half of the climb. It is an irregular ascent with double digit gradients for long periods, but with fantastic views to compensate!

Pico de Veleta quiet route
Another great option is the climb on back roads from Guejar Sierra. This is an incredibly picturesque route along traffic free roads, with fine views throughout of the Sierra Nevada National Park. Like the route from Monachil though, there are some steep gradients early on in the climb, which can take a lot out of you, so make sure not to go too hard here.

The third good option is the climb via Haza Llanas. This is the favoured route of the Vuelta a España, and is another pleasant route on really quiet roads. This is also the toughest climb of them all though, with gradients in excess of 20% on the long steep sections that form the first part of the ascent.

Pico de Veleta via Haza Llanas

When to do it?

We don't recommend trying to climb Veleta in the height of summer - it is a beast of a climb, whichever route you choose, and most of the time it is simply too hot to be enjoyable.

From October through to May it is nice to climb, although for much of that period the upper part of the road is closed because of snow. The road is cleared throughout the year up to 2,700m altitude though, so you can still get a great ride in.

This basically leaves June and September as the best months to tackle Veleta. The road is quiet, the top is usually free from snow and the daytime temperatures may not be scorchingly hot. In fact, make sure you take a jacket with you, whenever you decide to do the climb, because descending from 3,400m is never going to be warm!
Snow on Veleta

In any case, if you are in Granada or the nearby area, we recommend riding in the Sierra Nevada National Park, and climbing part of Veleta, whatever time of year. It is a beautiful area and is special to be able to climb Europe's highest paved road.

Our Seville to Granada and Historic Andalucia cycling holidays both finish in Granada, and it is possible to extend the tour to include a ride up to Veleta if you wish!

Check out details below of these holidays, or return to our Guides & Articles or mountain profiles to find out about what to do and see in this fascinating part of the world!

Alhambra Palace - Granada
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Guided Cycling Holiday
Length: 8 Days
Level: Difficulty Easy to Medium
Price: €1,880 EUR
*Bike Hire Included

Andalucia Sunflower Fields
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Self-Guided Cycling Holiday
Length: 8 Days
Level: Difficulty Medium to Challenging
Price: from €1,590 EUR
*Bike Hire Included