Stelvio Pass, Italy

When you’re born in a country as flat as Australia and end up moving halfway across the world to even flatter Berlin, rugged, misty, alpine landscapes inevitably begin calling to you. Those soaring, jagged peaks serve as powerful reminders of just how small we are in this big, wide world. Inhaling the crisp, mountain air quickly returns the clarity of perspective that can so easily be lost in the fog of busy city life. Yes, mountain adventures are good for the soul.

Famously hailed as ‘the best road in the world’ by BBC Top Gear’s Clarkson and Co. in 2008, the reputation of the Stelvio Pass clearly precedes it and this northern Italian mountain pass has reached legendary status. 48 switchbacks slice upwards into the mountain, covering an elevation gain of 1800 metres, peaking finally at the summit at 2757 metres, making the Stelvio Pass the highest paved road in Eastern Europe.

We began our ascent with the most delightful little alpine picnic in the tiny village of Trafoi after which the road began to narrow and the first of the hairy switchbacks begin.

Stelvio Pass, Italy

Stelvio Pass, Italy

Stelvio Pass road, Italy

Stelvio Pass road, Italy

Stelvio Pass hairpin

The journey became rhythmic in the repeated motions of accelerating, braking and turning sharply. Necks craned out the windows, one eye was captivated by the snow-capped peaks looming ever closer; the other staring fixedly on that low concrete barrier hugging the cliff side.

Gazing back across the granite slopes and Alpine tussock of the valley, those switchbacks sharply reaching up the mountain now strangely resembled the innocent scrawl of a child playing with grey marker.

Stelvio Pass valley, Italy

Stelvio Pass, valley

Stelvio Pass valley, Italy

Safely reaching the summit at 2757 metres, the air was noticeably thinner and, having ascended quite rapidly, the effects of the altitude were felt: a slightly quickened heartbeat and shortness of breath. Clear views are not guaranteed as Alpine weather changes very rapidly. Expect the mist to roll in and the temperature to drop; the perfect conditions to warm up with a hot chocolate before attempting the descent.

Alpine summit

Beginning the descent, the route quickly levelled out into a rough plateau where a memorial to the fallen soldiers of WWI who fought in this unforgiving terrain stands.

WWI Memorial, Stelvio Pass

The descent into Bormio is far gentler than the aggressive ascent and we happily rolled down the coiled serpent of tarmac into the lush valley below.

Stelvio Pass, descent

Stelvio Pass descent

Friends on the Stelvio Pass

Mountain tunnel, Italy

Bormio valley, Italy

Oh, Bormio. It’s straight out of a postcard isn’t it? We stayed overnight at the most delightful little bed and breakfast on a working dairy farm. Stay tuned for the review of Agriturismo Rini, coming soon.

Waking frightfully early the next morning, it was back over the Stelvio Pass, heading north in the opposite direction back to Austria. The beauty of that glowing, morning light striking the peaks quickly shook us awake. What a start to the last day of our mini European road trip.

Car on the Stelvio Pass, Italy

Stelvio Pass, morning ascent

Stelvio Pass plateau

Mountain flower, Stelvio Pass

Stelvio Pass pine tree

Stelvio Pass descent

Verdant pines closing in on us once more, we officially crossed the border into Liechtenstein. Arrivederci, Italia. Molto bene!

What is the most spectacular road you have driven on? Share your experiences below!