Thursday, July 16, 2009

Road trip: The Grossglockner

About The Route:

Best time to Go: Weekdays during May, June, September and October

Places To Stop: Tourist kiosks and restaurants at the passes peak, as well as the Grossglockner lookout just above, Grossglockner Glacier, Celtic monument, Hot Springs

Total Distance:  48 km

Altitude: 757m - 2,428m, 2504 at the lookout

Starting Point: Begin in Lienz, Austria. Head north on highway #107 or “The Grossglocknerstrasse,” over the Grossglockner mountain, and on to Bruck, Austria

Road Type: High speed flowing Alpine Pass with a good smooth road surface

Warnings: Watch for Hikers, Marmots and Sheep. Also expect a 28 Euro Toll charge. Open between May and October and only between 6am and 9:30pm, check road conditions before leaving.

Additional info: 



Welcome to the first installment of our search for great driving roads of the world. As an automotive enthusiast I believe that a great car is only as good as the road you drive it on. So in an effort to find these great roads I’ve traveled to Europe and enlisted the help of Test Drive Engineers form several manufacturers to guide me to some of the worlds most spectacular stretches of tarmac. Who better than the skilled test drivers who’s sole purpose is to find chanlenging and rewarding roads that will take a car to its absolute limits, to guide us to their favourite playgrounds. We begin this first installment by talking to Andreas Proebstle, the Chassis Testing Project Manager for the Panamera at Porsche. Mr, Proebstle recalled that given the oppritunetly, he would jump into a Boxster with his wife, and head for the Alps. Alpine passes such as the Grossglockner, a route he uses regularly in testing the Panamera. Funny name yes, but this heavenly strip of tarmac that reaches over Austria’s tallest Alp turned out to be one of the finest bit of driving pleasure I have ever had the pleasure to encounter. Given a free weekend Andreas hinted that the Boxster would be his personal favourite car for this route, given its open top design, its great balance and fun to drive attitude that makes it an ideal holiday car. So, with Mr. Proebstle’s recomondations in hand, off I went to find out just what the Gross, as I will call it, is all about.



For those who have seen Top Gears search for the worlds greatest driving road, you’ll remember that the good James May insisted on going to Austria, only to be out voted by Jeremy and Hamster to name the Stelvio as their greatest road. Well its too bad they never made it across the border as the Gross out-shone the Stelvio with a much more playful and high-speed route.


Traveling north from Lienz, Austria, hwy #107 leads towards the Grossglockner National Park. The whole region is sacred to the Austrians as several mythes and tails can be mixed in with the scenic beauty of this protected park. The run up the 107 is a much more pleasurable experience than most roads leading to alpine passes. Speeds where kept high in the 80 km/h range, and there are not many villages to slow you down.


I won’t get into all the fairy tales, but I will give a quick history lesson. Austria’s defeat in the First World War brought about a devastating economic downturn. In an effort to increase motorized tourism and trade, plans were made to build a three meter wide roadway over the ancient Celt and Roman trail through the Hochtor Alp range. While the ancient trail has been in use for over four thousand years, the roadway was completed in 1935, with a international hill climb race celebrating the road opening. The event was a hit and was run two more times before the onset of the Second World War.


Today, this impressive pass now hosts flocks of auto and moto enthusiasts hell bent to take on one of the greatest Alpine passes, along side several car manufacturers who use the challenging nature of the road to test performance and safety systems. The business starts at the toll booth at the base of the main climb. Here you must part with 28 Euro’s for the pleasure of tearing through their sacred park. Soon after I realized it was a small price to pay for such a glorious road. The first section traverses the base of the mountain, with substantial drops off the left side, however, the road is smooth and wide, by European Alpine pass standards anyway, allowing drivers to reach higher speeds, challenging the tires grip. As I began to gain altitude, the fast winding road started to challenge me even further by throwing in some hairpins. Not massive amounts like Stelvio or Furka, but just enough to give the Gross an even variety of challenging terrain. As my altitude rose, along with my speed, tires began to cry of overuse, brakes were being strained entering corners, while the back end was beginning to loose the fight coming out. Adrenaline had now filled my blood, and sweat was began to saturate, as I flung the car around one of only a few blind corners to see the road filled with sheep. Most passes have electric fences to keep livestock off the dangerous roads, but not with the Gross.


After weaving through the fluff, who seemed quite interested in my car, I was off again. Only to find fog was forming at the higher altitudes, but no problem, I’ve driven in fog before, just have to be a little more cautious. Then a group of hikers appeared out of the haze. Then again another group of hikers stealthly appeared. Something isn’t right here, soon the scattered groups became an onslot of humanity, casually parting to allow me through. The thousands of hikers, all with Nordic sticks in hand, had turned my extacy into a monotonous knightmare. Slowly I crawled against the wave of people, over the peak and half way down what was an equally glorious down slope. Fog and hikers ruining what was the greatest road I had ever seen, let alone driven. With a tight schedule demanding a hasty retreat, I will have to wait for another day to properly tackle the Gross.

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