PASSO DELLO STELVIO・STILFERSJOCH ・SS38
STELVIO PASS | ITALY
In 2008 the tv series TopGear drove the Stelvio Pass in their episode named: "in search of driving heaven". On their journey in three supercars (an Aston Martin, Porsche and Lamborghini) they drove a number of other exciting alpine passes and scenic roads in France and Switzerland before they crossed the border into Italy and found (totally by accident - of course) the Stelvio Pass. Jeremy Clarkson praised the Stelvio as “the greatest driving road in the world” and made the Stelvio famous.
We love the Stelvio Pass, but we would't go as far and call the Stelvio the world's best driving road. However, without a doubt since 2008 the Stelvio is surely the most famous driving road in the world. With visitors from all over the planet trying to kick driving the Stelvio off their bucket-list; be it in in supercars, on motorbikes or bicycles.
47 kilometres / 29 Miles
2,757 m (9,045 ft) above sea level
between Bormio and Prato A. S. in Italy
Check out the Swiss Alps & Stelvio Pass Driving Tour to enjoy effortless navigation with a pre-programmed GPS.
The truth is; the 47 kilometres long alpine pass between the town of Bormio and the village Prato dello Stelvio is not exactly a beauty - at first you will drive through thick wood before the landscape opens up and you will be mostly surrounded by rocks. Only a few small green bushes and some grass is breaking this slightly unreal landscape.
BUT it is a masterpiece of road engineering - and often referred to as "queen of the pass roads" Surely with a very high 2757 meters above sea level you can also call it a bit of a drama queen. The road is among the highest driving roads in the world and numbers out most roads by the sheer endless number of switchbacks. Not exactly endless to be honest; its 48 switchbacks. Or maybe its 46 of them. All over the internet people seem to count differently and the total number of switchbacks varies between 46 and 48. That backs our theory that the Stelvio requires your full attention when driving the road.
The "Stilfser Joch" - so its German name is also the only non-winter ski resort in the Alps. Almost guaranteed is some snow on top of the pass, even during summers. The road itself is kept clear of snow and only open during summer month between June and October. We recommend approaching the Stelvio from the north west side to fully experience the famous wall of switchbacks and have the chance to take an iconic photo on the pass. Those who have driven it often want to return, and those who have not should get the opportunity to experience it.
The passage between the Alta Valtellina and the Vinschgau has been in use since the Bronze Age. Engineer Carlo Donegani builded the “Passa di Stelvio” in the early 19th century, the road connected the Austrian province Lombardy (today Italy) with the rest of the empire. A connection route from Vienna to Milan is what the Emperor of Austria, Franz Joseph I, then wanted. Since the beginning of the 20th century the pass remains closed during winters; that was before in use as a passage since the Bronze Age all year round. Today it combines a high Alpine pass driving adventure of the north with Italian flair of the south.
On the Stelvio Pass you can hit a lot of traffic and that can be an annoying experience especially when you drive a fast car. But let's face it, the Stelvio is pretty popular and almost never you will have the road to yourself. For that reason we recommend to get up relatively early to hit the road before everyone else. Cyclists, motorists and even camper-van drivers are your competitors for the best driving experience over the Stelvio Pass and should still having their breakfast while you hit the road. Watching the sunrise over the Stelvio is of course only for purists, but an experience you will never forget.
If you then also avoid weekends and bank holidays you have a fair chance for a similar driving experience like the guys at Top Gear (who had the road closed for their shooting).
It's those harsh 48 switchbacks why we advise that the Stelvio Pass should only be driven by experienced or at least confident drivers. The Stelvio can be super exhausting if you never drove in the Alps before. Especially if the first attempt is in a supercar.
Obviously the pass itself will be closed for snow during the cold season and usually remains open from June till October. The pass is also closed to traffic during the "Stelvio Santini Bike Race" in early June and for the Stelvio Bike Day on the last Saturday of August or first Saturday of September. If you drive it early or late in the season you might experience winter landscapes at higher altitudes, sometimes even walls of snow framing the road.
Constantly updated opening status information on the Stelvio Pass is available online.
The Stelvio Pass is a modern-time legend; latest since TopGear called it the best road of the world in 2008. And most probably the alpine pass is on your bucket-list too. BUT the Stelvio can also become your enemy. Here is what you need to know to experience the Stelvio Pass ins the best possible way.
Firstly — Take your time to master the tight road with its many switchbacks. The sharp hairpins of the Stelvio Pass are certainly among the most challenging in the world. Secondly — Make sure you drive the right car. We've seen caravans trying to turn on the pass after realising it was a bad idea to tackle the road in such a monstrous vehicle. Thirdly — We recommend to drive it very early in the morning before caravans and cyclists take over. As a matter of fact: since it was featured on the BBC tv series it got famous, thousands of driving enthusiast want to kick it off their bucket list every summer. Not sure if TopGear thought, that everyone could simply close down the road and drive it in absolute privacy.
In our option and especially considering how close the Stelvio Pass is to the numerous excellent alpine passes of Switzerland it is surely NOT the best driving road in the world. But we can agree with TopGear's claim that it can be "the cherry on top of a cake" — if you like a challenge.