The travel wonders of the Austrian Alps including Austria’s highest mountain is undoubtedly one of Europe’s finest drives. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Hochalpenstrasse) was one of the first roads purpose built for tourism, constructed as a government employment project during the harsh economic years between the two world wars. This 48 kilometre road with its 36 hairpin bends traverses lush farmland and the Hohe Tauern National Park featuring stunning alpine views of snow-capped mountains.
At the start of the drive, roadside farming works made from hay greet the drivers and cyclists. The road is a sightseer's paradisewith bays every few hundred metres where the vehicle can be stopped to enjoy the panoramic views while information boards highlight the mountain names, the history of the road and the flora and fauna of the region.
Notwithstanding the breathtaking scenery at every turn, four locations stand beyond all others. Firstly, the spur road to Edleweiss-Spitze, packed with cars on the tiny peak (and highpoint of the drive at 2,571 metres), overlooks the zig-zagging road up the alpine valley, white patches of snow pockmarking the verdant landscape. Over thirty 3,000 metres peaks are visible from this scenic amphitheatre. Consider the extraordinary engineering effort in the 1930s that shaped this panoramic thoroughfare.
At Hochtor, an excellent half-hour walk over a mountain crest reveals further alpine views and highlights an ancient trade route used by Celts and Romans several thousand years ago.
The second spur road leads to the four-storey visitor’s centre at Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Hohe. Dramatically sited below the towering Grossglockner peak (3,798 metres) and near the foot of the sweeping Pasterze Glacier, the centre contains exhibits, a small cinema, a cafe and a room to absorb the staggering vista. Inquisitive marmots scout around the rocks and grassy fields, busying themselves with their lives and encouraging visitors to provide some free food with their fun-filled antics.
As the road descends off the mountain tops into the valley below, the road weaves in the picturesque village of Heiligenblut. This cute village features a needle-spired church that contains a vial of Christ’s blood and a small cemetery with manicured lawns, colourful blooms and a superb mountain backdrop.
The high alpine tollroad of Grossglockner offers mountain scenery at its most dramatic, every turn highlighting snow-capped peaks and emerald green valleys. Designed for tourists, it is a comfortable drive (or challenging cycle) with lots of places to stop, walk and simply enjoy the fresh alpine air and stunning panoramas.
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Map: Grossglockner High Alpine Road