Stelvio Pass may be the most stunning road in the world
With over 60 hairpin turns, this road is a motorist’s dream come true...
Originally built in the 1800s to connect portions of the Austrian Empire, Stelvio Pass is the highest paved way through the Eastern Alps, rising to over 9,000 ft above sea level at its highest point. The road’s route has remained almost unchanged since the 1800s, even as it was home to fierce battles in the snow and ice during World War I. Today the Italian road is known as a driver’s paradise with at least 60 hairpin turns. The road is so awesome Top Gear even named it the “Greatest Driving Road in the World.”
Although closed during the winter, the Stelvio Pass becomes a playground from June till September with cyclists, motorcyclists, car enthusiasts, and more flocking to the pass for the thrill of its hairpins and switchbacks. Of the 60 (or 75 depending who you ask) hairpins, 48 on the northern portion are numbered with stones and seem to be the trickiest of the route. In fact, legendary Stirling Moss even went off the pass on this part of the road in a vintage car rally in the 1990s.
Stelvio Pass isn’t a road you drive for speed, obviously, but for the thrill of the radical elevation changes and the excitement of turns so tight even supercars like the Audi R8 have to take some of the turns at 15 MPH. Most car travelers are lucky to break 60 MPH at any point on the pass, but just because you’re at low speed doesn’t mean the road isn’t terrifying. Jerry Garrett writes:
Down is worse than up. Up looks scarier, as you climb and climb, seemingly straight up. In some places the angles of the switchbacks are so acute, the next turn above seems built out over the one you are on. Plus, going down, you carry more speed. (The dreaded “snowball” effect.) It becomes harder and harder to slow down. Brake! Brake! Harder! Going up, the hill scrubs your speed off, even if you don’t brake.
Don’t take his word for it, though, watch this biker head down the pass for a good feel of what we’re talking about here…
Of course, as soon as Top Gear announced it as the “Greatest Driving Road,” people started complaining… Other roads were suggested and debated, and even Top Gear themselves took a step back and said maybe the Transfăgărășan Highway in Romania was a better driving road.
Again, we turn to Jerry Garrett for his thoughts after his trip on the road for the New York Times:
What about the road? Does anything else compare? Racing up 14,110-foot Pikes Peak seems scarier, especially before much of the road was paved, because the drop-offs can be thousands of feet straight down. Yet the total climb is only about 5,000 feet. Driving Italy’s sinuous Amalfi Coast road is marvelously scenic and many miles longer, but the Stelvio, with its high altitude, is quite literally breathtaking…
So I’d say the Passo dello Stelvio more than lived up to its hype. But is it truly the greatest driving road in this or any other world? Perhaps, but just in case it isn’t, I’m happy to keep looking.
So the verdict may still be out on whether it’s the “greatest,” and probably will be forever, but in the meantime, no one can argue it’s at least one of the greatest drives in the world. Come on, just look at these pictures…
So we’ve talked about the Atlantic Ocean Road and Stelvio Pass as being “bucket list” quality roads, but here are some awesome and breathtaking roads for you right here in the US of A…
This was originally written for Roadtrippers, a great resource for anyone interested in travel.
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