Explore them with caution
This issue will cover some hair-raising and simply not safe roads and tracks, most accompanied by breathtaking scenery (that is, if you’ll be able to take your eyes off the road).
1. Stelvio Pass Road – redefining switchbacks
Height – 2757 meters
Location – in the Italian Alps, near Bormio and Sulden, 75 km from Bolzano, close to Swiss border. (The road connects the Valtellina with the upper Adige valley and Merano)
Claim to fame – “the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, after the Col de l’Iseran (2770 m)”
This road might not be as risky as the deadly routes in Bolivia, but it is certainly breathtaking. The tour books advise that the toughest and most spectacular climbing is from the Prato side, Bormio side approach is more tame. With 48 hairpins, this road is regarded as one of the finest continuous hairpin routes in the Alps.
(image credit: Emiliano De Angeli)
The road itself is a marvel of engineering skill; the exhilarating serpentine sections ask to be driven by experienced motorists for their own sakes. All in all, this could be the most magnificent road pass in Europe.
“On the southern side the road worms its way up the immensely deep Braulio ravine, clinging from side to side and tunneling frequently, between towering rock walls, to the more open basin at the 4th Cantoniera, where the Umbrail Pass comes in from the left. From the junction to the summit is little more than a mile, the road winding more gently up 900 ft. of shaly slope, but still relatively viewless.
From the summit, where the famous Ortler view is suddenly revealed, the Trafoi windings lead down in face of superb views of peaks and glaciers to Trafoi, just below the tree line. The rest of the road, falling along the Trafoibach to the Adige levels in the main valley, is a pleasant descent with fine views ahead of the Zillertal (Austrian) peaks in the main Alpine chain.”
— Hugh Merrick, “The Great Motor Highways of the Alps”, 1958
(image credit: Michiel)
There are other spectacular hairpin-climb passes in the Alps. Brian Wilson has some good bike touring shots:
This one is Grimsel Pass near Gletsch, Switzerland. Furka pass is also visible in the upper left of the picture.
Coming down from Furka Pass:
Old road over Saint Gothard Pass, Switzerland – still open to the public.
(images credit: Brian Wilson)
Some will say that the hairpin road passes of Europe are quite safe to drive on. That may be so, but we think that the altitude, rockfall, snow and other unexpected road hazards (like inexperienced tourist drivers) make these routes “a little bit” more dangerous than your typical trip for groceries.
Italian Alps are rife with exhilarating switchback roads. Here is one at Fraele, near Isolaccia in Lombardy.
(images credit: Emiliano De Angeli)
The Italian side of the Splugen Pass, with breathtaking vertical grades at every turn.
(image credit: Brian Wilson)
Slovenian Mountain Roads are even narrower, and less maintained, but no less spectacular. Witness Mangrt Mountain Road, with Brian Wilson’s friend trying to navigate through snow. The road is a dead end, but traveled for the sheer scenery (click to enlarge):
Snow is not a problem, in this case anyway:
(images credit: Brian Wilson)
This is the original series, as it was started on DRB in November, 2006. Articles are written by Avi Abrams