Is this the best driving road in Austria?
When planning a road trip through Germany and Austria (as well as the Czech Republic and Poland), I knew I’d be silly to miss out on driving some amazing Alpine roads.
Choosing which roads to drive along the length of the country was difficult because most of the highways slice straight through the mountain and as fun as a 16km tunnel is, I’d rather go up and over.
Pretty much any road you choose in the Alps is going to be glorious but there’s one that really stood out.
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road swerves up and over the Alps, close to Austria’s highest mountain after which it’s named, and then down into the rather delightful town of Heiligenblut. It’s the kind of mountain road that’s closed at the first sight of weather and you have to access the town from the south in the winter as the road is completely closed during the snowy season.
A big part of this Austrian trip revolved around this road so when the clouds started to build and the drizzle set in, I was worried that I was going to miss out on a key part of the adventure.
As we reached the gated barrier dusk had already set in and there were low grey clouds hanging in the sky. The man at the gate told us it was cold and foggy at the top with the chance of ice, so we weren’t to stop as conditions were tricky. Great. I didn’t have high hopes for this bucket list road but we set off after paying 36 EUR for the privilege.
The road was everything you’d imagine from an Alpine pass and I’m sure the views were wonderful as the sun was setting somewhere behind the mountains but we were almost instantly in a cloud. We crept to the top, one of the few cars on the road. The temperature dropped to two degrees at the highest point so we just breezed on through, a little wary of ice.
The road tops out at 2504 metres but as we went up and over, the cloud cover started to clear. We came round one of the switchbacks to begin our descent and the views just opened up before us.
The descent was beautiful and, because I’m a rebel, I couldn’t help but stop to throw a few snowballs. This just goes to show how changeable the weather in the Alps is from one valley to the next.
After our stay in Heiligenblut and a few days of relaxing with hikes, Schnapps and local music, we drove back over the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. This time with amazing visibility.
Ascending above the treeline with mountains well over 3000 metres tall surrounding you is a wonderful sight but the best part is the road itself. Wide lanes, long sweeping bends, mildly terrifying hairpins and gorgeous views from every angle.
My advice would be the visit in late summer in a capable car. This is a road you can have a lot of fun on but it does get busy with bus loads of tourists heading up to the cafe at the top. It was much quieter in early September and we only met a couple of hot hatches and a Ferrari on our first evening pass.
Give yourself time to stop and appreciate the changing terrain and different views from each viewing point you stop at.
A little bit of weather didn’t ruin my enjoyment of this fantastic road, it only strengthened my need to come back and tackle it in my Abarth.
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