Stelvio Pass - Italy
Of course much was made of the Stelvio Pass after Top Gear voted this the best driving road in the world in 2008. A pretty bold claim, and actually in my opinion it’s not the best pass in the Alps to “drive” however, that said, it is a truly stunning road and the wall of 48 switchback turns running up its north face really are a sight to behold, and worth the drive for that part alone.
Unfortunately, due to the Stelvio Pass’s iconic status, it’s one of the busiest of the ultra high passes in the Alps. This means, to get the most out of the drive, you want to be on the road nice and early, plus ideally midweek and outside of the peak months of July and August. I would also recommend that when you drive the Stelvio Pass, you locate yourself in a hotel very close to the pass and drive it before any tourist traffic starts to arrive. I stayed at the Grand Hotel, Bormio.
In my opinion, the Stelvio pass is best approached from the north west side. It’s only by coming from this direction you get to drive up the Stelvio Pass’s famous wall of switchbacks, and from my experience it’s always a lot more fun than heading down. It’s also by approaching from this side you get to run through the heart of the Stelvio National Park itself before starting the ascent – this run takes you through several great stretches of alpine forest and many kilometers of fast/ sweeping roads before arriving at the foot of the pass. Once on the pass, each of the turns are numbered with stones, so at least you get to count your arrival to the top, 48, 47, 46….
Heading back down the Stelvio Pass towards Bormio is still a great drive and there are several superb vantage points to park up and take pictures back down the valley, though once at the foot of the pass you are literally spat out into the centre of Bormio, which is not the most beautiful of places at the best of times.
As an alternative, if you like tight and twisty passes, rather than heading down to Bormio, less than 1 kilometer after starting the ascent, head north and onto the Umbrail Pass, and back into the Swiss National Park, this deserted pass really feels like you are visiting the land that time forgot, then takes you directly into the heart of the Swiss National Park and the beautiful Offenpass. See my other article and video of the Umbrail pass.