Tag Archives: Top Gear

The greatest driving roads in the world!

14 Jul

Well I have finally got around to writing my blog on what was one of my best trips yet, destination – Stelvio Pass, Italy.

I appologise now for the length but there is soo much to tell. This trip was something I had wanted to do ever since I saw the Top Gear episode many years ago back in Australia and when I moved to the UK, I had begun to write a wish list of things to see and do and this was on the top of my list. Not only was it visiting another country and seeing some of the most amazing scenery, but also to drive some of the most challenging and amazing roads in the world. For this adventure I was joined by Troy who I am sure enjoyed it just as much as I did.

Our journey began with a two hour flight to Milan in Italy. This is one of the many airports in Italy and was the most central to where we needed to head to start our driving journey. We landed at the airport about 10 in the morning on a Friday, and picked up our car. I had asked the car hire company for an Alfa Romeo Mito (very Italian) but unfortunately this vehicle was not available so we ended up with a turbo diesel Fiat Bravo (still Italian so all OK). Once we found our way out of the airport, which seems to always be the difficult thing with hiring cars, we headed to our first location, Monte Cervino, Matterhorn, in Italy. Matterhorn is a 4,478 metre high mountain on the boarder of Italy and Switzerland with four straight sides that face the four compass points. Mountain climbers flock to Matterhorn during summer to climb it, but this apparently can come at a cost as 500 deaths have been documented since the first climber in 1865. We were quite fortunate to capture a couple of pics of this extraordinary mountain through the clouds that were blowing through rapidly. As much as I am sure Troy would have loved to climb Matterhorn, we unfortunately didn’t, instead we sat at a pub at the bottom of the mountain in Breuil- Cervinia, one of the many ski villages surrounding Matterhorn. While we sat and enjoyed lunch it was quite surreal to be so close to the mountains and not freeze to death and also be in a ski village that had very little visitors. We could only imagine how much of a buzzing place it would be during the ski season.

After lunch we headed for our first pass, ‘Great Saint Bernard Pass’. This third highest pass in Switzerland at 2,469 meters high, it starts in Italy and ends in Switzerland. Troy had a field day on this pass and thoroughly enjoyed driving it. The roads were nice and wide with at least two lanes which allowed for some exciting driving. Along the pass we saw some amazing sights like chunks of snow blocking roads and running rivers of freezing cold blue water. The pass is steeped in history – in 1800 Napoleon’s army used the pass to enter Italy and the Great St Bernard Hospice was founded in 1049 which later became famous for its use of St. Bernard dogs in rescue operations. If the pass is not your cup of tea due to travel sickness (one of the main reasons Troy and I were taking this trip without our wives), then don’t be afraid as there is a tunnel that travels under the mountain and has done since 1964.

After taking photos of the lake at the very top we headed back down the mountain to find some accommodation. This task ended up being more frustrating as we realised that booking beforehand may have been easier and we would have been prepared for the expensive accommodation. Note to everyone: Switzerland is expensive at the best of times, let alone travelling through towns that are ski villages that house mainly chalets. After trying a few towns we eventually found a hotel in Fiesch at checked in at 10pm. After a day of driving we wanted some good tucker so we went on the hunt. Further note: during summer time the ski villages are quiet therefore less food places are open. For dinner we ate Chicken Schnitzel on a bread roll for 8 Swiss Franks – which is a lot of money. After our ‘delicious’ dinner we headed off to bed to rest up for a very big day two.

We slept in till eight and then had a lovely breakfast as part of the accommodation before hitting the road for what was a long day, but we needed to get to Bormio that night. Today we did five passes in total starting with Furkapass (2,436m high). We saw Furkapass on the map but did not intend on driving it as it was out of our way as we wanted to travel on the Nufenen Pass instead. While we were stopped in a little town where all the houses were made of timber, our eyes were distracted by an Audi car club so we thought “lets follow them as they will know where to go”. Little did we know that as we were trying to catch up to them we missed the turnoff for Nufenenpass and therefore this is how we ended up driving the Furkapass. This did add about an extra 1.5 hours driving time but was so worth it and we could never get bored of the scenery. Furkapass is not as historical as Great Saint Bernard, but it was however used for a location in the James Bond film ‘Goldfinger’. When we reached the top of the pass and stopped off at a tourist shop we realised that we may be lost as we didn’t recognise any names on the signs so we then returned to our refedex to see where we were. At this time the weather had really set in and was becoming very hard to see with fog and rain so decided to turn around and head back down and look for the correct sign to point us in the right direction.

Once at the bottom of the Furkapass we saw the turn off for Nufenen and realised it was right next to where we stopped to take photos in the small town, damn Audi’s. Once on the correct road we headed onto the Nufenenpass (2,478 metres) which again was amazing to drive and the scenery just kept getting better with snowcapped Alps, the greenest grass you have ever seen and running rapids of turquoise water beside the road. The Nufenen was a pass that we Googled and was listed in the top 10 best roads in the world and to be honest, it certainly was, but to us, all these roads were amazing and were just as great as each other and this was only the third pass.

Continuing our momentum we went onto San Bernardino Pass which was yet again a great drive but at the top we had a chance to get out and stretch our legs and have a little break. San Bernardino Pass, 2,065 metres high, is still in Switzerland and at the top of the pass was a large lake, ‘Lago Moesola‘, surrounded by large polished glacial rocks. As we pulled up we could see Inukshuk’s (rock piled on top of each other) everywhere so we couldn’t help ourselves but make one as well and for it to be the tallest one too. Inukshuk translates to mean ‘stone man that points the way’ and was meant to symbolise that someone has been here before and you are heading in the right direction. Once we completed our Inukshuk and took many more photos we hit the road again heading towards Bormio passing through the Splugenpass (2,113 metres), (crossing back to Italy), Passo Dell’Aprica (1,181 metres) and Passo Di Gavia (2,621 metres).

The Passo Di Gavia was by far the most scariest of all the passes as we challenged this one on dusk, in the clouds/fog, raining quite heavily, driving on a road only wide enough for one car and the fact only a little white painted rock on the side of the road would stop us from going off the cliff. Putting all these thoughts aside, Troy happened to mention that landslides occur when it rains, which did not help me feel more comfortable to drive in (thanks Troy). Once we reached the top, the clouds has managed to dispurse a little so we could at least get a quick photo with the sign, check out the frozen lake then jump back in the car before the rain started again. Even though it was two degrees Celsius, we still got out in shorts and shirt to mark the occasion. Descending from the top of the pass entered us straight into Bormio which is where we stayed for night two, which thankfully we had booked the night before in Fiesch. Tonight we were lucky enough to catch a pizza and pasta restaurant sill open where we enjoyed some great Italian food before getting shut eye preparing ourselves for the piece de résistance the following morning.

Our final day we rose at 7am to make an early start on the Stelvio pass as the traffic can become quite busy, and well, we came all this way to have the road to ourselves haha. After breakfast we hit the road which was about 7.30ish and headed straight to Stelvio. Just as we have seen over the past two days, the scenery was very similar with giant waterfalls cascading off the cliffs, green grass and patches of snow, but this time it felt different as I was really looking forward to driving what is considered the best road in the world by Top Gear, and I believe them.

We entered the pass from a different direction then the guys in Top Gear but this did not take away the excitement and revelation of seeing the switchbacks first hand instead of on the TV. At the top of Stelvio (2,757 metres, the highest paved pass in the Eastern Alps) there was a hotel and also skiers doing cross country skiing so we got out for a walk and to check it out. We think that it had snowed a little that night as some of the cars looked to have fresh snow on their windscreens. Once we finished having a look around and getting our photo with the Stelvio Pass sign, we continued heading along the pass to which we finally reached the switchbacks of Stelvio. Looking down on the switchbacks was amazing because at first we couldn’t really see them for all the low lying cloud so we drove down one switchback which brought us out of the clouds and wala, Stelvio in all its switchback glory. I was so excited that I can only imagine my mouth was so wide open with excitement that you could pass me off as one of the clowns you put ping pong balls into the mouth at a fair. We pulled up on one of the switchbacks and got out of the car and started taking photos, to the disgruntlement of some fellow drivers coming up who thought we were blocking the road. We stopped here on the road for about 10 minutes to get photos of us with the pass before driving down the switchbacks to witness the pass from a different angle.

Located at the bottom of the main pass, there was a hotel in which we stopped and parked the car so we could get out and just admire what we had come down. We spent about 15 minutes here taking photos and watching others drive up the pass as the traffic had started to get busier, mainly with motor bikes. For those bikies out there, even I wish I could have done it on a motor bike as it would have been AMAZING!!!!!!!!!! (Sorry scoot, but you would not have been powerful enough to go up there fast). After chilling out by the pass we then had to head off and make our way back to Milan to spend our last night in Italy. We counted on the way down (Northern Side) 48 switchbacks that you need to tackle in order to get to the top of Stelvio but to drive the whole of Stelvio this involves about 60 switchbacks in total.

As it was still quite early in the morning and we had all day to get to Milan, we drove two more passes, Passo Delle Palade (1,518 metres and used in the Tour of Italy bike ride) and Passo Della Mendola (1,362 metres) on our route to Lago Di Garda, (Lake Garda). This is the largest lake in Italy and is surrounded by mountainess terrain which formed from glaciers from the last ice age. When we arrived to Lake Garda we both became quite tired so we stopped for a quick look around in a town at the top end of the lake called Nago Troble where we chilled by the beach eating our Gelatos, well trying too. The temperature was not very hot but the gelatos did seem to melt quickly and Troy in particular did suffer with this, especially his shirt and shorts. We spent one hour in Nago Troble and then began the journey back to Milan as it was still about a 2.5 hour drive but did take longer due to traffic. Once back in Milan we checked into our accommodation to get some sleep before flying out early the next morning to meet the other halves in Greece.

Sorry for the long blog, but this adventure was truly a once in a lifetime trip for me. The scenery is something you see in magazines and something that my photos cannot do justice. I would love to drive the passes and Alps for months on end because they truly are amazing and you never get bored of the sights. So in total, we did 10 passes with the lowest being 1,181 metres high and the highest being Stelvio at 2,757 metres. A truly amazing trip that I would certainly love to do again and can highly recommend to fellow car or bike enthusiasts. I have attached link to Google maps that Troy has created which shows where we went, as much as we could remember anyway.

Until the next driving story!

Matt

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