Travelling high in the Austrian Alps.

triangular shaped Grossglockner mountain partly covered with snow and blue clear sky in the background

Austria’s Grossglockner High Alpine Road- The name says it all. You drive in one of the Alps’ highest mountain ranges. But what hides behind the name is the “Journey which is more beautiful than the destination.” As of now, the road Abu Simbel reminded me of this phrase. Now Austria’s high alpine road adds to that list. Nothing else could have been a better place than Grossglockner to celebrate mom’s 58th birthday. So let me take you on a winding road trip where a part of my heart is lost to this alpine beauty in Austria.

Index:

Is Grossglockner High Alpine Road worth it?

Let me tell you a top-most secret and a religious reason why you must take this trip. Ever since I began travelling with my mom (by age 6), she always slept during the journey. Be it the winding roads to Kedarnath or a tuk-tuk ride in busy Bangkok. She sleeps throughout the journey.

But my lady was wide awake throughout High Alpine road.

She couldn’t take her eyes off even for a minute (She slept in the evening after we exited the high alpine road )- This day and route are etched in the history book of our family forever as “The only route where Gayathri didn’t fall asleep because it was beyond scenic.” It isn’t just the 40km of the journey that is fascinating. Changing flora and meadows from Salzburg to the endpoint keeps you enthralled throughout.

There were mountains, glaciers on mountains, and goats and sheep grazing on the hill. We even had a minute traffic jam mid-way through the high alpine road by sheeps-crossing. You can sit and indulge in kaleidoscopic flora if only those giant cows grazing nearby isn’t angry at you for invading their privacy. You may even see marmots jumping around and running away from you if you are lucky!

What is the prettiest part of Austria?

It is hard for me to pinpoint a place. But my mom is confident that Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the most beautiful place in Austria. I almost agree with her – I love Schafberg’s train journey and hilltop equally.

Why is it the prettiest?

No war ends a war, and the impact of it is nasty. So in 1935, after WW1, this scenic road was built to overcome the high unemployment issues of the First Austrian republic and generate revenue through tourism. A magnificent place once accessible only to experienced mountaineers opened up to regular tourists like us.

Each of the 36 hairpin bends keeps a stunning view with them. It is weird to know that you are immersing yourself in the majestic beauty because of something as brutal as WWI. But, be it the view or history, Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a bundle of fascination and untouched zeal. The colour palette turns to pastel at times. And gets poppy with natural alpine plants and flowers.

Whether it is a short walk or a serious hike, biking or driving -you can make it a leisurely drive following the glaciers and mountains with flowers pass by. Or make it a full-blown adventurous trip here. 

Things to know before driving to Grossglockner High Alpine Road

What is the highest road in Austria?

The Grossglockner High Alpine Road leads up to 2,500 metres above sea level and makes it the highest road in Austria. The road stretches for around 48km with 36 hairpin bends.

Due to snowfall and rain, the road is open only from early May to early November. Therefore, the entrance timings vary with months. Check their official website for the latest updates.

The last entrance is 45 minutes before the night lock. There are entry fees (38 Euros) per vehicle which you must pay at the high alpine road entrance toll gate.

Where does Grossglockner High Alpine Road start?

The road leads from Fusch-Ferleiten to Heiligenblut in the Carinthia region.

Is Grossglockner road safe?

It is safe if you drive cautiously and do not get into any racing mood. The roads are well maintained. But that excitement of reaching the top may encourage you to speed up. So driving by the cliffside overlooking wooshing waterfalls and glaciers is safe if you remain under speed limits. If you have never seen your brakes smoking, you will see here.

Austria’s high alpine road is considered “Mecca for European bikers”, So you must be ready to drive beside a group of bikers. I even saw Vespa scooter riders going up at their own pace.

How do I get to Grossglockner from Salzburg?

The best way is to drive from Salzburg to High alpine road by car. You find plenty of car rental shops in Salzburg. If you want to add a bit of adventure to comfortable car driving, get your bicycles along! Once you park your car at the top, you can go cycling around.

But driving in the high mountains requires a certain kind of skill. If you are like me, who is used to left-lane driving and will be going on your first road trip in Austria, you should not drive by yourself. Rent a car with an experienced driver.

Headsup: This isn’t a paid post.

When I was certain that I wanted to go on Austria’s serpentine road, I came across Edelweiss Tours Salzburg. I was hesitant to book the tour as it was expensive and the budget was over the roof. Somehow I trusted my instinct and booked a private tour from Salzburg to Grossglockner High Alpine tour. This is the best decision I have ever made! We saw many cars broken down on our way near the endpoint. The steep curves do need expert driving and a well-equipped vehicle. So we could enjoy our journey peacefully without bothering about how to drive up. Mr Shiva, who drove us, stopped at multiple viewpoints, and we learned much about Austria.

How long does it take to reach Grossglockner from Salzburg?

We started from Salzburg at 8.30 and reached the top by 2. This includes multiple stops at villages to see cows, llamas and pretty lakes. We even stopped for a little chocolate break. So by car, from Salzburg, if you drive non-stop (which you shouldn’t do – Stop as much as you can), you reach Franz Joseph Hohe (the endpoint of the high alpine road) in less than 4 hours.

What are the best cities to stay at in Grossglockner?

Well, I made a day trip from Salzburg. The views and hiking trails seemed to be amazing for an overnight stay. Heiligenblut or Fusch would be an ideal place for overnight stay, so that you are just 30 to 45 minutes drive away from the Grosslockner mountain. You find cabins and single huts along the HIgh Alpine road. Prior booking is a must because these are limited options.

The Unforgettable Journey

My best friend turned 58 that day. She began to travel outside India at 54. It is better to be late than never, right? So we sat in Shiva’s car at 8.30 at Hofwirt in Salzburg. It is funny going on a road trip in Schengen countries – You will never know when you cross between two nations!

Reaching Zell Am See from Salzburg is faster if you go via Germany’s Walserberg and re-enter Austria, Shiva says. Also, unlike the Netherlands and Belgium, we could see at least two buildings denoting the border between German-Austria. Those once used to be passport stamping offices for farmers. 

The fertile land stretches throughout. So the rolls of dried grass were stacked, and alien-looking agro-machines were everywhere. We travelled by the Salzach almost for an hour until Siva stopped at the small town of Lofer ( Like a swear word). The number of pretty pensions in smaller towns makes it clear that Austria depends highly on tourism.

Pit Stop-1

Does Austria have good chocolate?

Suppose you have this doubt like I had and don’t like Austria’s popular chocolates, you come to Berger stores – Trust me, you will walk with a mouthful and bagful of tasty chocolates. So after a devouring break, we continued the journey to High Alpine Road.

The trip was so scenic that every place felt like a viewpoint. Austria is full of resort towns. For some reason, international tourists prefer Switzerland over Austria for a nature break.

Otherwise, these charming towns would be flooded with people. With very few people, domestic travellers hit the hiking trails away from the crowd. We thought only Hallstatt gets cluttered with tourists until we reached Zell Am See!

Pit Stop 2

Is Zell am See Worth seeing?

When Siva stopped at Zell am See, like most tourists were awed by its lake. A few steps away was the town centre. The famous casino hotel was swamped with tourists.

Like what they call a “cloud burst”, it was a “crowd burst” here. The crowd was behaving as maniacally as Hallstatt. Shouting, screaming, and selfie sticks. White swans were gliding on the lake. But the swan-themed plastic peddles boats overpowered them. The tacky shops and loud tourists scared us, and we returned to the car!

Pit Stop 3

The epitome of Austrian gardens and flower boxes at Fusch.

Probably 45 minutes before we reached the High Alpine road toll gate, we saw a beautiful wooden post with flowers of the most vibrant colours! We had been admiring Austrian’s sense of gardening. But what we saw near Fusch is beyond what we could think of.

A few minutes walk behind that flower post was a house ( I don’t know what building it is exactly) with a big hole from which an exquisite wave of flowers came out! This thing isn’t visible on the main road. So, spend a few minutes around the park around Hotel Post and have some fresh cappuccino in any of these pretty home-run cafes. This place contrasts Zell am See – Surrounded by mountains and pensions with way too few people.

Pit Stop 4

Erlebnisweg Waterfall

As soon as we crossed Fusch, the number of bikers increased. The glaciers appeared and were partly covered with moving clouds. The green pastures with cows stood as a playground for nature lovers. 

We could hear the whooshing sound from a distance. There was the first waterfalls we saw during our Austria trip! It was so tall that we couldn’t see all parts of it. The Erlebnisweg waterfalls, fed by snow mostly, looked fantastic even in summer. The snow-capped mountains and glaciers surrounding it showed hiking trails in between them.

After all, we are mortals with a fixed duration for vacation. So mom and I stood and watched the cascading waterfalls from afar. Meantime a Llama and pony emerged from the cabin at a pasture. So our focus shifted from waterfalls to talking gibberish to the cute fellas.

The Grossglockner High Alpine road journey begins from here.

It is funny how drastically flora changes within a few metres. The meadows were gone as we climbed up. There were more blue flowers initially and yellow later. The snow-capped mountains kept playing hide and seek behind the cloud. We stopped at two turns when Siva explained how heartbreaking it is to see the glaciers that were full a few years ago melting rapidly now.

The bottle green mountains, barren light brown mountains, and white snow with the background of pale blue sky and light grey clouds looked like a painting. The small huts and moving cows dotted the mountains like tiny ants. I usually talk too much out of excitement in these kinds of magical places. But, by now, I thought I had reached the most beautiful spot in Austria, and it left me speechless.

The winding roads became winder.

The higher the road, the steeper it became. The ribbons were folded more intensely, it felt. Many “smoking” cars were parked with car bonnets open to cool them down. We had many seen many cyclers at the bottom. But only one or two exhausted yet enthusiastic cyclers sweating like pigs were dragging their bicycles up. The bikers didn’t seem to have problems; they just continued to vroom. And we went on a slow pace to borrow as much time as possible to relish the sight.

After being in Vienna, I now know the Austrians’ fascination with museums. They love to showcase and preserve almost everything. So 5 turns below Edelweisshutte, they had a small museum to showcase the region’s geology.

Pit Stop 4

Edelweisshutte

When you google Grossglockner High Alpine Road, the first image is a road that looks like a serpentine going down across the mountains with snowcapped mountains in the background. If you think you have had the best views en route Fusch, you will be proved wrong here – Because, at the altitude of 2571m, you get the sight of more than 30 peaks at once along with 10 hairpin bends of the road!

There were a lot of people here- Many were sitting by the cliff reading a book. The lucky tourists who stayed in cabins were devouring some local delicacies. The rest of us grabbed an ice candy and admired the view. We could spot some lakes and even Pongau village – All thanks to clouds for clearing the view.

The two tunnel road.

From the Edelweisshutte, you see two tunnels at different heights. It is obvious to dream of going there, and so did we. This time, the mountains were replaced with valleys. Small lakes dotted the path. Thanks to the sunny day, snowploughs were resting that day, and we were floating in joy.

Pitstop 5

We heard the cowbell loudly and saw gigantic cows grazing; we couldn’t help but scream! We love cows, and seeing them in such an exotic location made us merrier. Though this was an unannounced stop, Siva paused for a few minutes until we had our fair interaction with the cows.

We were about to give them a pat and massage on their back until one of them signalled that it was about to charge at us! Soon, we moved away and continued the journey.

The villages in the valley

The journey got even more charming. The bright green valley was dotted with sloping roofs at its foot. My mom decided she would buy a property there until she realized how expensive these alpine villages are! Nevertheless, if you have that kind of money, consider settling there – It is that tranquil.

Austria’s public facilities always surprised us. From efficient transport accessible for all to drinking water spouts, we had been admiring (and jealous) Austria’s quality of life. The winding roads in the hills where it snows are always unpredictable. Landslides and snowfalls are common. So they have built an almost 500m long gallery a kilometre before the end of the road for tourists to take shelter in case of excessive snowfall or landslide!

Pitstop 6

Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Hohe

The journey ends at the viewpoint named after Austria’s king Frans Joseph. Here, you meet the Grossglockner, whose glacial fields meet at your eye level! The place is so magical that an hour spent here can feel like 10 minutes. The bikers look content. Hikers grin here with pride, and people who drove up to mountains like us, feel the worth of every second spent.

The Grossglockner reminded me of the Egyptian pyramids. The snow looked very cyan to me. He even had a heart-shaped crater beneath him, and the glacial water had turned muddy. A place like this surely reminds you how tiny of a creature you are in front of glorious nature.

Lunch with a view and music of Crow’s!

I wasn’t expecting any great food here – The restaurant was built for visitors. But the variety of the cakes and even vegetarian dishes surprised my mind and tastebuds both. Käsespätzle and hot spaghetti are what we both needed most. The open terrace gives you a splendid view of the mountain. Even if you have come here alone, the crows will be waiting to join you at the lunch table! Surprisingly, the crows with yellow beaks added pleasant music instead of irritating noise!

The Pleasant Surprise by Marmots

Siva, an avid trekker, explained how cute the marmots are. I was literally praying to see one. So we stood by the valley near the parking lot and tried our luck. I may not have been the luckiest, but definitely not the one to be cursed – Two little marmots came out of their small cave and wandered in the pasture for a few minutes!

The Departure.

We knew; we saw a tiny part of the High Alpine road. But, whatever we saw was paradise. After one last stop somewhere random to observe flowers even more closely, we began to go down the road. I should not blink because I would miss the scenery- I thought. The valley villages, which my mom thought she would make a home, passed by. The cows whom we met in the morning had gone home. The melting glaciers touched by fog stood smiling and warned us they would vanish in the next ten years with rising global warming.

Contemplating the journey

I am more than glad to be on Grossglockner High Alpine Road on my mother’s special day. The place reminded us of Kedarnath. Magnificent yet humble places like this are everyone’s dream. But these dreams cause our climate a lot! Being at the top of Kedarnath brought us immense joy. So did Grossglockner. We went by helicopter for the first and went by car for the latter.

How does Travelling affect the environment?

  • So, am I contributing to climate change – Yes.
  • Does it mean I have to stop travelling – No, and I WON’T.
  • Then, am I going to climb all the hills from now on to reduce my carbon footprint – I may climb some, but I must get fit enough!
  • Even if I get fit enough, I must travel full-time so that I get to wander slowly. So am I ready to quit my job? – Hell, No! I love my job, and I need money.

While ranting all this to Siva, I heard a light snore! My lady had fallen asleep! The radio turned on automatically, and Traffic Message Channel (TMC) announced a slight jam in Salzburg! My lady woke up, looked out the window and spotted Hohenwerfen Castle. The climate conversation turned into how the prince archbishop wore silk shoes and what cake we would eat at Tomaselli once we reached Salzburg!

Coming back home!

Once Siva dropped us at the hotel, we realized the Grossglockner High Alpine Road had stolen a piece of my heart! So now I dream of going on a bike trip with my man someday there!

Yet again, that solution-less topic of Travelling adding to carbon footprint came to the surface. I heard a busker playing “Bella Ciao” on the Salzach bridge and started talking about how beautiful Italian Dolomites would be!

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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