If you’ve seen The Sound Of Music, there’s a good chance you’ve seen landscapes similar to those of the Grossglockner pass in Austria.
And if the sound of an engine revving as you power through corner after corner of tremendous alpine road is like music to your ears, then you’re going to love it.
Officially known as the Glossglockner High Alpine Road, this picturesque and stunningly twisty 48 kilometre stretch of tarmac is close to the borders of Germany, Italy and Slovenia.
We approached from Munich, and after an hour or so of fast-moving autobahn driving, we exited near Bad Feilnbach towards Austria onto a pretty, but often slow moving, stretch of road that moseyed through several buzzing towns.
After 45 minutes or so of driving through valley after valley with waterfalls and streams on either side, you will reach Fusch, and soon after, the start of the Glockner High Alpine Road.
The road came in to existence during the Great Depression, after construction began in 1930. It was a precious source of employment in Austria at the time, and 3200 brave workers helped blow the rock away to pave a tourist-friendly route that was completed five years later.
Revheads have long known the brilliance of this corner-rich romp of road, and not long after the path was opened in 1935, it played host to the First International Glockner Race. It was won by Italian driver Mario Tadini, who piloted his Alfa Romeo P3 up the 1600-metre climb in just 14 minutes 42 seconds – an average speed of 79km/h.
Today, the road is only open during certain hours of the day, when the weather permits, and you’ll have to pay a toll of 33 euros for a day pass or 50 euros for a 30-day pass into the Hohe Tauern National Park. If you have the time, go for the longer option because you’ll want to spend some time exploring the sights … and doing the hill-climb half a dozen times, too, of course.
The tolls work well as somewhat of a staggered starting system, and as soon as you’re through the gate you start to climb. Beware, though – the road is popular with day-trippers, cyclists and motorcyclists, and there are many narrow sections that aren’t suited to spirited driving. Our advice would be to arrive early in the morning when the road is quietest.
The valley falls away on the passenger’s side of the car, and nervous co-drivers may find themselves imprinting their nails into the dashboard as there are no guard rails to stop you plummeting down the crevasse if things turn pear-shaped. Instead, there are relatively small blocks of stone spaced out along the edges of the road – they look like they’d stop you if you hit one, but we wouldn’t recommend trying.
The time of year that you visit will determine what the landscape looks like. We went in spring, and as the road wound its way higher up the mountain, the landscape turned from green grass and tall trees to white snow with jagged, rocky outcrops lining either side of the valley.
The road twists on upwards, ascending further through a dozen elbow-like blind hairpins before eventually reaching the summit.
Once you reach the summit, it would be a huge disadvantage if you didn’t stop in at the amazing Restaurant Fuschertorl – a fantastic, working example of how to do kitsch interior decorating, Austrian-style.
If you’re squeamish, take note: you may be shocked by the number of stuffed animals on show in this souvenir-shop-cum-cafe. There are rabbits with crutches and bandages, deer heads, and marmots – furry, beaver-like creatures that look like menacing, giant guinea pigs – particularly when standing on their hind feet. Keep an eye out on the road and there’s a good chance you’ll see one of these furry fellas near a stream or in the woods.
There’s an outdoor dining area with views that seem to stretch forever when the weather is clear, but be warned – it can become cold and cloudy quickly. Well, that’s to be expected at 2430 metres above sea level – about 200 metres higher than Australia’s tallest mountain (Mt Kosciuszko, 2228 metres).
The cafe may seem high, but the mountains within view tower above it – Gross Wiesbachhorn is 3564 metres, and the peak after which the region is named, Grossglockner, stands at 3798m. At the road’s highest point, it reaches 2571 metres above sea level.
Explore the summit and you’ll find an observatory that allows you to check out the taller peaks and get a glimpse at the Pasterze Glacier. There are also many walks and tours to be taken.
Go down the other side of the mountain and you’re greeted with a road just as enticing as your ascent.
Corner after corner, this is a road for the enthusiast. And the best bit is that unlike many of the more famous mountain passes in Europe, such as the Italian-Swiss Stelvio Pass, this one isn’t clogged with campervans and dawdlers.
The official pamphlet for the area suggests you select a low gear and use your car’s engine to brake as you descend, as your brakes may fade under use. We can back that claim as being 100 per cent accurate.
As you leave on the southern side of the range, be sure to take a quick gander through the quaint village of Heiligenblut, which has several gasthauses and cafes.
From here, the options are to continue towards the Italian and Slovenian borders, or simply turn around and do it all again.The details
Where: Glossglockner High Alpine Road
How long: 48 kilometres
Allow: Take a few days to see everything the national park has to offer. Heck, you might even be tempted to get out of your car.
Worth a stop: Restaurant Fuschertorl. The perfect place to recharge with some traditional Austrian fare.
We drove: Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance
Ideal car: Something nimble, that steers well and has some grunt. The place is begging to be tackled in a convertible in warmer weather, too.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.