Driving the mighty Grossglockner

Motoring Editor Barry Green drives the highest surfaced road in Austria.

A 100km-round journey doesn’t often constitute an epic road trip – but it does when it’s the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, at 2504 metres, the highest surfaced road in Austria.

In the imposing shadow of the country’s tallest mountain, the mighty 3798 metre Grossglockner, this wondrous stretch of tarmac zig-zags its way from Heiligenblut in the south to Fusch in the north.

The Grossglockner has it all: a diversity of landscapes, from gently rolling pasture and scented alpine forest to craggy mountain faces and imposing ice of eternal glaciers. And, unlike a lot of European mountain passes, it is relatively wide, with plenty of passing opportunities, which is just as well given its popularity as one of the world’s great scenic drives.

History and a sense of occasion pervades the Grossglockner. To traverse its 48km length is to drive in the mule tracks of Romans crossing the Alps and follow the footsteps of earlier humanity as far back as 5000 years ago.

In comparatively recent times, the 1930s, the road would close for the day and the still, crisp mountain air reverberate to the roar of Silver Arrow’s – huge, supercharged Mercedes and Auto Union racing cars – hurtling, one at a time, towards the summit at Franz Josefs Höhe in a fevered battle for fastest time of the day.

Grossglockner

Porsche test drivers in the 1940s used the Grossglockner to great effect in travelling from the family estate in Zell am See to a converted sawmill in Gmund that served as the famous German sports car marque’s first factory.

It goes without saying, then, that with 36 hairpins and smooth hot-mix bitumen that has replaced the original cobblestones, this is a road made in heaven for driving and riding (cycle and motorcycle) enthusiasts.

Accordingly, as recent visitors, we came loaded (figuratively speaking) with a Renault Clio R.S. 220 Trophy.

Despite the extremely inclement weather and road conditions, the little French hot hatch was in its element, never more so than on the high-altitude run between Hochtor and Fuscher Torl. On reaching the pass summit, the inscription at the entrance to the 311m-long Hochtor tunnel – ‘In te Domine sperav’ (In thee, O Lord, I have placed my hope) – seems quite fitting.

The Grossglockner is a toll road, with a day pass costing 36 Euros (about $60 Aust.) for a private car and 26 (about $40 Aust.) for a motorcycle. It is open during daylight hours only, from early May to early November, weather permitting.

Little wonder the authorities place a value on such a monumental asset.

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