Famously once hailed as ‘the greatest driving road in the world’ by BBC Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and Co. in 2008, the reputation of the Stelvio Pass clearly precedes it. This northern Italian mountain pass has reached legendary status and many motoring and cycling enthusiasts flock to the pass during the summer months to experience the thrill of travelling on one of Europe’s most spectacular roads. 48 hairpin bends snake their way up to the summit of 2757 m, making the Stelvio Pass the highest paved road in the Eastern European Alps and definitely one for the bucket list!
Why you should drive the Stelvio Pass:
It begins in beautiful alpine forest
No matter which side of the pass you begin your drive on (either from the south-east or the north-west), the picturesque scenery begins immediately. The road initially gently coils up the hillside, framed on either side by verdant, lanky pines.
Wave at cute, little villages on your ascent
During the initial stage of the ascent, you’ll find a couple of pretty little villages nestled neatly in the valley. Perhaps a place for a picnic or a drink on your way up?
Its scenery is some of the most dramatic in Europe
The Stelvio Pass literally takes you up over the Alps. With snow-capped, towering mountains looming over you and the alpine tussock valley below, it’s impossible not to feel awestruck!
The photo opportunities are endless
Even though the Stelvio Pass is only just over 24 kilometres, be sure to allow half a day to complete the drive. You will not want to rush and will feel the need to pull over every few minutes for another spectacular photo opportunity!
Negotiate 48 switchbacks
The journey becomes a rhythmic motion of accelerating, braking and turning as you negotiate the stairway of 48 switchbacks of the pass. Signage marks each one and it makes for a fun game of counting each one of these hairy, 180 degree bends down!
The elevation gain is rapid
An elevation of over 1800 metres is gained rapidly on the ascent to the summit. You’ll notice your ears pop during your journey as your car works hard to power you up the steep mountainside.
There’s a concrete barrier for safety
The narrow road clings to the mountainside with a steep drop to the valley floor below. Luckily, concrete barriers on the more aggressive, west side of the pass offer protection, allowing your eyes to be captivated by the snow-capped peaks instead of glued to the edge of the road!
It is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps
With the highest elevation point at 2757 m, the Stelvio Pass is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps. The rapid ascent combined with the high elevation will have you noticing the thinner oxygen in the air at the summit. At this elevation you may feel the effects of the altitude and it’s common to feel a slight shortness of breath. A true adventure!
The narrow tunnels
This road has literally been carved into the mountainside and on the eastern side of the pass, you will pass through a series of narrow tunnels cut out of the rock, often wide enough for only a single car.
If you get on the road early, you might have it all to yourself
The Stelvio Pass’ iconic status means that it is also one of the most popular drives in Europe. If you want to beat the traffic, avoid the busiest summer months of July and August. If you get on the road by 7am, you might just have this magnificent playground all to yourself.
There’s a WWI memorial
After you’ve reached the summit travelling east, you descend slowly at first into a flat plain. There is a WWI memorial you can stop at to pay your respects to the Italian soldiers that lost their lives defending this unforgiving landscape in WWI.
If you approach from the east, the beautiful town of Bormio awaits
After negotiating the last of the switchbacks and tunnels, the delightful, small town of Bormio appears in the lush valley below, nestled at the foot of four mountain passes. This picturesque, medieval town is little-known to tourists except those interested in the Stelvio Pass or skiing in the wintertime. Bormio is famous for its hot springs and adventure activities and is an ideal place to base yourself for a few days after your drive. It’s straight out of a postcard, isn’t it?
The Stelvio Pass is open from June to September, although can be closed due to snow at any time. Check the official Stelvio Pass site for updates.