Grossglockner High Alpine Road is an experience that is better absorbed rather than rushed. Use its purpose-built sidings to pull over and admire the snow-capped peaks of Austria’s highest mountains or stop at one of the numerous cafés, rest huts, restaurants and small hotels along the way. The Restaurant Fuschertoerl, for example, has a carnival atmosphere on sunny days. It’s a great place to rest and admire the view from its 2,400m mountaintop terrace.
But back to the drive itself. Approaching from the north through the picturesque village of Fusch and then pausing at the Grossglockner tollgates, the billiard table smooth tarmac of this iconic road snakes its way back across a valley wall before starting to climb through a series of well-spaced switchback turns. Once this initial climb is done, the road opens up and shifts into a flowing tempo across the mountain-scape.
Before long you’ll come to the road’s highpoint: the tunnel at Edelweissspitze. As you traverse the mountain-top plain above the vegetation line and through a series of high-visibility open sweepers, the occasional tighter turn will keep you on your toes.
The decent towards the village of Heiligenblut and on to Lienz rolls across a couple of lower peaks, giving the road a sense of moderate undulation without sacrificing the driving rhythm as it clings to hillsides through a series of light twists. All too soon, a decision has to be made at the roundabout: turn left to Heiligenblut or right to Kaiser Franz Josefs Glacier? Take our advice and head up to the glacier. The road is another 8km of pure bliss that’s surprisingly open and fast, with a finale well worth the extra time needed to get there.Our advice at the end of a great pass or alpine road is to turn around and do it the other way, particularly if it’s a toll road. Grossglockner is no exception. As this route is best taken at a leisurely pace, you may want to exit at the tollgates, visit the scenic village of Heiligenblut and consider overnighting in Lienz or elsewhere in the region. If you do decide this way, consider buying a 30-day toll rather than the single trip version, as the 30 day-er is less than the price of two single trips. If you’re so excited you forget to buy the monthly version on your first trip, you’re able to make up the difference (cash only) at the tollgate the next day by showing your previous day’s ticket.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, the trip south to north is even better!