A great road on both sides of the tunnel though the French side is slightly better. If you can, filter to the front of the queue for the tunnel then enjoy an open road with very little traffic when you get to the other side.
In June 2013 I rode from Sospel to Aosta via Tende and took the old pass.
This is much more fun than the tunnel!
Don't let the horror stories scare you away from it.
For me it was my first off road experience, apart from an occasional forest lane,
and I rode it on a Tiger 800, fully packed and on dedicated road tyres.
No real problems. Two days earlier a friend of mine and his brother,
rode it on a Bonnie and a 50 year old Norton commander.
So it's definitely doable for pretty much any bike.
I included a video. Skip to 4.40 for the off road bit.
Be careful on the French side at the bottom of the pass ramp, last time I was there; two radar traps before the road goes back over to Italy. They want their fine in cash of course.... while i emptied my saddlebags looking for yet more money, at least 5 more people stopped...
Note to Brutus66 and Ron1340:
Brutus66, the road you mention is the actual Colle di Tenda road that was in use before the opening of the tunnel in year 1882 (yes, 1882!). Riding it is probably better from north to south, taking it on the Italian side some 100 m before the tunnel entrance. If you dare to experience a twice-as-much spectacular road, which we call the Via del Sale (Salt Route), go up the above mentioned Colle di Tenda road and, near the very top, take the only road going eastwards. Its an old unpaved and rough military road that follows the - unmarked - Italian-French border all the way down to the seaside. Be aware that completing the whole of it requires good off-road riding skills. I did it some ten years ago on a Gilera RC600 and I judge the Colla di Marta section too demanding to be done with my heavier current ride (Cagiva Gran Canyon). This said, I recommend to try at least the first section as far as you can go before turning back. Only feasible during summer months.
Ron1340, I received your private message and Im going to reply to you. If I find time, I may publish on this website some itineraries of interest and let you know.
One of the most spectacular passes I have ever riden, the Col Du Tende. Spectacular views, great corners and so on. It was extremely quiet when I rode the route in mid summer. In fact we have found nobody (!!!) on the whole route, this was amazing. Im sure I will get to ride the old Col Du Tende like Brutus did on a more suitable off road bike.
Driving through the tunnel towards the coast we lost our GPS signal. Upon exiting, the GPS fired up again and I noticed a radical series of S-turns on the display to the east. At the first left hairpin after the tunnel we found a road leading to this mysterious road. Up we went. At first the road is paved but quickly deteriorates. The road ascends at what Im guessing is a 20 degree angle. There are very few safe places to stop, let alone turn around. The view, if you have the nerve to take your eyes off the road is spectacular. I was riding a 1200 GS and consider myself to be an experienced rider but this road asked for every bit of that experience and still left me feeling overmatched. It goes on endlessly with no respite all the way to the top where there is an old abandoned fort. I researched this pass and discovered it to be the original Col de Tende. This may be the most challenging road I have ever been on and my heart is in my throat as I recall that day. Do not do this road without a riding partner or if you are not a very accomplished rider. There is no traffic and no one to help if you run into trouble. Good Luck!
I live in Torino, Italy, and I often go to Nice, France. Needless to say, this is my preferred route to reach Nice and I rode it enough times back and forth to know it by heart. Great place to be. The area is blessed with other awesome routes, drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need info.
Used this a a different way to get up to Gap from Ventimiglia - a great tight twisty road up to the Col, the surface could have been better in places but who cares? After negotiating the tunnel the roads on the Italian side are in much better condition & wider as they feed th ski resorts. We continued on down to Borgo san Dalmazzo for a lunch break before heading off up to Gap over the Col de Larche ( SS20 / D900 )
I have only ridden the part from the borders to La Giandola.
The road runs in Gorges de Saorge with great corners and
excellent road surface. At the France - Italy borders,
there is an old and too close tunnel in which
(sometimes) traffic is controlled by traffic lights.
We had to wait 15min for the green light, but after
the tunnel the road was completely empty and we enjoyed a fast
and bumpy run down to La Giandola.
A nice route. Cuneo is a very beautiful town and well worth a visit.
Sospel, which John also mentions, is in the middle of Monte Carlo Rally territory and there are some great roads to explore in the area.
This road winds through a spectacular gorge, some fast sweepy sections and a great set of hairpins. watch out for the 'tunnel du tende, a long, dark, narrow and bumpy tunnel with artics coming down the middle of the road at you. Apart from that, a blinder of a road and a great way to get to the Med, or even better, turn off at Breil and take the D2204 to Sospel and Nice.
The tunnel the col on the Italian side of the Col de Tende