From North to South, cycling the dams

From North to South, cycling the dams

Masterpieces of engineering, symbols of their local areas, spectacular hidden natural landscapes. Enel Green Power’s dams in Italy are largely unknown treasures that can be discovered by following the routes set out in a new guide.

Together with Il Sole 24 Ore, our Group presents “Cycling the Dams”, a nature and cultural project that aims not only to present the technical specifications of the infrastructure and its sustainability credentials, but also the most picturesque trails to follow to reach the dams, their links with local history and the Giro d’Italia, sports activities that can be enjoyed nearby with the family and some valuable advice about some of the local delicacies. The website of Italy’s most important financial daily features a special section with descriptions of 12 of the dams that have changed Italy for the better: two in Lombardy (Val Vestino and Campomoro), three in Piedmont (Entracque, Rochemolles and Morasco), and others in Trentino (Fedaia), Abruzzo (Campotosto), Sicily (Ancipa) and Sardinia (Coghinas), with wonderful destinations also in Calabria (Cecita), Molise (Castel San Vincenzo) and Tuscany (the river Serchio axis).

From the Alps to the Apennines and the large Mediterranean islands we pedal through Italy with a star team of Enel top managers, all passionate cyclists, taking on climbs at the most demanding dams, accompanied by the former cyclist and TV commentator Paolo Savoldelli.

The Il Sole 24 Ore section offers profiles of the installations involved in the project, with information on the areas they provide with energy and on how they are reducing CO2 emissions, as well as a number of features describing the local area, tourist trails, the most important historical facts and sports that can be enjoyed in the area with the family. For those with a passion for local cuisine, the gourmet notes also suggest an easy recipe, while the more inquisitive can read the “cycling stories” about a cyclist from the region or an important competitive event.   

And with the launch of a Challenge on Strava, the number one app for runners and cyclists, from 21 July to 21 August everyone will have the opportunity to set new records as they cycle the 12 dams.  


12 reasons to take to the saddle 

Each of the dams offers marvels and curiosities, so it’s best to start from the installations that are closest to home, the largest ones or the locations that retain living records of past achievements. If you can’t decide, a few tips will put you on the right track. With Enel, there’s no shortage of energy to power a journey of discovery through Italy.

Ponte Cola 

The Ponte Cola dam in Val Vestina was built along what was once the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. With a height of 125 metres and a capacity of 52 million cubic metres of water, this impressive colossus of engineering channels the water downstream to the Enel Green Power plant at Gargano (Brescia) located directly on Lake Garda. Because of its size, the reservoir has been referred to as “the Norwegian Fjord above Lake Garda.”


Alpe Gera and Campo Moro

The two artificial reservoirs of Alpe Gera and Campo Moro in Valmalenco store the waters from the imposing Alpine glaciers of Scerscen, Fellaria and Disgrazia, a spectacular natural setting. Their production is so considerable that they make Valmalenco and the entire Sondrio province Italy’s largest producer of hydroelectric energy (on average around 12% of national demand). 



Entracque is the location of Italy’s largest hydroelectric installation, built entirely inside the mountain, an enterprise involving the excavation of millions of cubic metres of rock. Its overall power is the equivalent of the peak energy demand of the province of Turin. It manages the waters of Lake Rovina, located at an altitude of over 1,500 metres in the important wildlife reserve of the Parco Alpi Marittime. Producing around 5 GWh per year, the plant reduces CO2 emissions into the atmosphere by the equivalent of 2,000 tonnes.



The Rochemolles dam in the province of Turin was built by the Italian State Railway company between 1924 and 1930 to create a reservoir to regulate energy produced by the Bardonecchia hydroelectric power plant. This in turn was used to generate the energy needed to power the electrification of the Frejus railway linking Turin to the French town of Modane through the Val Susa and the Frejus tunnel. The dam is situated near the Colle del Sommelier (2,993 metres) on the border between the two countries and is the site of one of Europe’s highest roads.



At the opening of the Valle di Gries looms the Morasco dam, the waters from which feed the famous River Toce waterfall downstream. With a drop of 143 metres, it is considered one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the entire Alpine region. The flow increases in size at fixed times, usually between June and September, with water flowing at a rate of 6 to 8 cubic metres a second. Cycling fans remember the waterfall as the setting for the last ever breakaway climb by Italian cyclist Marco Pantani “the pirate”, winner of both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 1998.



Formed by two barriers, the Fedaia basin is known as the Pearl of the Dolomites because it occupies a large stretch of the plain at the foot of the glacier of Marmolada, the highest of the Dolomite Mountains, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Malga Ciapela power plant hosts intriguing abstract mosaics created by the artist Mario Deluigi.



In the early 20th century only a marsh remained to mark the location of the ancient Lake of Campotosto, near Gran Sasso. Three dams constructed in the 1930s and 40s and Enel Green Power’s hydroelectric plants on the River Vomano brought it back to life with a storage capacity of 217 million cubic metres, making it Europe’s second largest man-made reservoir. As well as fulfilling the energy needs of almost 200,000 families, leading to a 318,000-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions, the Abruzzo lake also supplies the Vomano valley irrigation system, contributing to summertime activities with a reserve of around 65 million cubic metres of water. 



To combat drought, central Sicily can draw on “Lake Sartori”, created by Enel Green Power’s Ancipa dam. It is located 944 metres above sea level, in the Parco dei Nebrodi. Existing in harmony with the local woodland vegetation, comprising beech and downy oak trees, it creates an ideal habitat for fungi. The area is, in fact, one of Sicily’s most important mycological sites, but in the 1950s the ready availability of water allowed the region’s agricultural activity to flourish once again. 



A landmark for the entire island of Sardinia, the Coghinas plant is now 90 years old, and places great emphasis on protecting biodiversity. In 2015 a system of eel ladders was installed to encourage reproduction, enabling the eels to move between the artificial lake and the river. It produces 70,000 Megawatts a year, supplying energy to 25,000 families in the province of Olbia-Tempio, with a reduction in CO2 of around 45,000 kilogrammes.  



Lake Cecita is a man-made reservoir created to produce electricity in the Sila massif (Cosenza), supporting local agriculture and producing excellent results. The Sila potato has been awarded the European Commission’s PGI certification, and can rely upon a reserve of 121 million cubic metres of water held in by a 55-metre double-curvature concrete arched dam. The installation lies near Colle dell’Esca, amid Calabria’s steepest, most demanding slopes with 15% ascents. The peak stands at 1,490 metres. 


Castel San Vincenzo 

The man-made reservoir of Lake Castel San Vincenzo was created by damming the Rio Salzera in Molise. The dam feeds the Rocchetta hydroelectric plant. The waters not only satisfy the energy needs of 500 families, but also provide shelter for migratory birds on the Africa-Northern Europe route, and have transformed the region into an area of great tourist interest. Excursions to the Mainarde mountains in the National Park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise depart from Castel San Vincenzo, and there are also visits to the archaeological remains of the town’s abbey, founded in the 7th century by St. Benedict of Nursia and later to become one of the most important in Europe. 



The Serchio drainage basin in the provinces of Lucca and Pistoia is one of Italy’s largest, with 11 dams, three barrages and 23 hydroelectric plants, producing 540 GWh. The Vagli dam has become a very popular destination after the reservoir was emptied in 1994, revealing the “submerged village” of Fabbriche di Careggine. Another of the area’s attractions is the Ponte del Diavolo, which spans the dam in Borgo a Mozzano. Dating back to the 11th century, the bridge inspired a sinister folk legend that has led it to be used as a location for numerous commercials.