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The Grossglockner Road

The longest and most splendid alpine highway in Europe, and one of the biggest tourist attractions on the continent, Grossglocknerstrasse (Rte. 107) will afford you one of the greatest drives of your life.

The hairpin turns and bends would challenge even Grand Prix drivers. It's believed that this was the same route through the Alps used by the Romans, although this was forgotten until 1930, when engineers building the highway discovered remains of the work their road-building predecessors did some 19 centuries earlier. This engineering feat was finished in 1935. Switzerland and France copied it years later when they built their own alpine highways.

The highway runs for nearly 48km (30 miles), beginning at Bruck an der Grossglocknerstrasse at 757m (2,484 ft.), via Fusch/Grossglocknerstrasse; heading toward Ferleiten, Hochmais, and Fuschtörl through the Hochtortunnel, where the highest point is 2,507m (8,225 ft.); and then to Guttal and Heiligenblut (1,301m/4,268 ft.) in Carinthia. The actual mountain part of the road stretches for some 22km (14 miles), usually at about 1,983m (6,506 ft.). It has a maximum gradient of 12%.

Many visitors opt to drive this spectacular stretch, but because of the high altitudes, the road is passable only from mid-May to mid-November, depending on weather conditions. Always check with some authority about the road conditions before considering such a drive, especially in spring and autumn. The passenger car toll for a round-trip is 28€ ($45) for an 8-day ticket or 8€ ($13) for a 1-day ticket, and is collected at either Ferleiten or Heiligenblut.

You can also take a yellow-sided Austrian Postal Bus from Zell am See. From May to October, the buses depart from in front of the main railway station twice daily at 8:50 and 9:50am. Stopping at about a dozen small villages en route, the buses meander up Grossglockner to its most panoramic point, the Franz-Josefs-Höhe, where passengers can get out and explore for about 2 1/2 hours before boarding the same buses (at 2:45 and 3:45pm, respectively) and returning to Zell am See. A round-trip ticket costs 18€ ($29). For information, call either the tourist office in Zell am See (tel. 06542/7700) or the local bus station (tel. 06542/544412).

Going south from Bruck, you enter the Foscher Valley, where the road winds through beautiful alpine scenery. Six kilometers (4 miles) from the Hochtortunnel on the north side, you can branch off onto Edelweiss-Strasse, going along for about 2km (1 1/2 miles) to the parking lot at the Edelweiss-Spitze (2,572m/8,438 ft.). The stunning view from here encompasses mountains rising 3,048m (10,000-ft.). This is the best vantage point to take in the tremendous mountain and alpine lakes of the Hohe Tauern National Park. Really a massive mountain range, the Hohe Tauern covers 29 towns, 304 separate mountains, and nearly 250 glaciers. At Edelweiss-Spitze is an observation tower, going up to more than 2,577m (8,455 ft.).

One of the interesting detours along the road is to the stone terrace of the Franz-Josefs-Höhe. It's named for the emperor who once had a mansion constructed here in the foothills of the Pasterze Glacier. The stretch from Gletscherstrasse to Franz-Josefs-Höhe (2,370m/7,776 ft.) is some 8km (5 miles) long, branching off near Guttal. This road lies above the Pasterze Glacier, opposite the Grossglockner (3,791m/12,438 ft.). The Pasterze, incidentally, is the largest glacier in the eastern Alps, 9km (5 1/2 miles) long.

If you're traveling in spring and autumn, it might not be possible to take detours to the Edelweiss-Spitze or the Franz-Josefs-Höhe if heavy snow falls. If you do take the side trip to the latter site, avoid arriving there around midday. On a bright, sunny day in summer, the place is literally mobbed. It has an outstanding view of the majestic Grossglockner.

From May to September it's possible to descend from Freiwandeck to Pasterze Glacier by funicular. Service is available every hour daily 8am to 4pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.