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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
In the middle August, on one Saturday afternoon, I was watching some episodes from my archive of Top Gear when I come (for the millionth time) to the fantastic episode with the roadtrip: Davos-Stelvio, "The Greatest Driving Road In The World" And I got an idea....

I though about visiting Stelvio long before, but bored by this year’s hot summer I thought, why not, let’s go to cool down in the Alps. As with most impulsive decisions, I didn’t plan it much in advance.

I spent an hour over google maps planning a route, quickly booked one night stay in Davos, washed the car, called my boss and took a day off on Monday, bought a box of sandwiches and ice tea, charged my camera, laptop and cell phone and around midnight I got off heading Vienna-Salzburg-Munich-Innsbruck.....the Alps :)
Roads were empty and even though I didn’t rush but rather enjoyed my mp3 collection, around 6am I filled up in Innsbruck and at 9am I was in Italy, on the border with Switzerland. I spent there about 20 min as the strictly looking customs officer just didn’t (want) understand that purpose of my visit was „just to drive across the Alps“. But after taking all my documents and letting me wait for a long time he came back and let me pass. The lesson? Swiss don’t have sense of humor....I think in the future I always travel to Switzerland on “business trips“ :)

But at this time I was already in Müstair, village just behind the Stelvio where a much less know Alpine pass begins – Passo dell’Umbrail. It leads to the top of Stelvio as well, it is just used very rarely and I was going to learn why very soon...

The pass is really narrow, wide enough for just 1 car. First third is just a great set of 180degree turns. It is VERY steep, I used only 1st and 2nd gear for the first kilometers and the clutch really started to smell...I have never gone to 1st to take a corner so many times...

The road suddenly ended. Well, not the road, just tarmac. Yes, Umbrail is one of the last unpaved alpine passes and the middle third is just gravel. As rallying wasn’t on the plan and I would easily destroy my paint with chips very soon, I continued in the 2nd gear at about 25km/h for the next few kms when I eventually come back to tarmac. The last third of Umbrail is the best. You are already in the open alpine country, the road is steep but wide enough and most important, you can meet only maybe 1-2 cars or bikers in all the area...

The top of Umbrail is just 2-3km from the top of Stelvio and you are crossing from Swiss back to Italy. Curiously there is not a single person here and you can cross freely so I really don’t get the point of having a controlled border in the village bellow...







From there I headed to Stelvio to have a look. I arrived there, parked the car and went to take the „famous shots“ .










I wasn’t planning to drive down and back up in the heavy Sunday touristic traffic; this was the plan for Monday morning. Instead, I headed down with the southern route, down to Bormio.



This route is very nice if you have luck on empty road. In my case it was medium full, (30/70 cars/bikers) meaning I could drive really fast but with caution and respect to the unknown road. It was very nice experience to be able to keep up with bikes and even overtake some of them. This road doest suite those, the corners are too tight for a bike and a car with good brakes can easily overbrake them. The short straights meant they could quickly catch me with their power advantage over my small 1,6 TS but they didn’t have enough space to overtake me as they already had to start braking to take the next pin. Eventually I let the aggressive ones pass as I was really scared to see in the mirror some of them making their best to stop behind me with locked rear wheel and flying tail..... crazy Germans, stay on autobahn....

The road from Bormio to Livigno is nice but full of traffic and it hasn’t much sense to overtake. Better stay calm, enjoy the country and let the car and brakes cool down.

Livigno is really picturesque town in the Alps, clean, nice, and welcoming but I try to avoid places where I see 1000 cars on the parking and a zillion tourists.... So I headed further, back from Italy to Switzerland around the Livigno lake that had the most incredible color :)



 

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Discussion Starter #2
Crossing to Switzerland means driving through a 4km long tunnel that is alternately opened in one direction and the other in 30 min intervals. It is a 4km long very narrow tube, with wet walls cut in rock and driving through there at 100km/h must be pretty similar to the sensation of a bullet leaving the gun. I have a great video from here, I hope to upload it someday...

And yes, the tunnel ends at The Swiss border where you are searched again...

First I had respect to drive fast in Swiss having heard much about their police and strict rules but when I caught a guy in Opel Speedster I couldn’t resist joining his „enthusiastic“drive.

I was closing Davos now, just one pass to cross. Flüela pass. I didn’t expect much from it, just to drive my last 25 km....oh how wrong was I... This was going to be the peak of my trip. This is a place to come. Wide. Open. New tarmac. There is enough places for building a straight road, but it seems the constructers made a lots of corners just for their sake. No tight pins, just fast opened corners, one following the other. Real drivers heaven. In front of Davos I even turned back, drove again to the top and back to Davos. Amazing...











Davos? No idea... Haven’t slept the night before at all and driven 900km (300 in Alps) I just fell asleep...

Monday morning was really cold and extremely quite. No people, no traffic.... At 7am I headed to Flüela again. I spent there 2 hours, just driving, taking pictures and enjoying the country.





I have met maybe one or two cars in that time, but a lot of deer and rock whistlers :) My exhaust must be really quiet as they were not scared and didn’t run away.... I would never think I could close such a shy animal at 5m with a car idling nearby. Even animals feel safe in Switzerland...



I headed back to Müstair and up the Umbraill pass to Stelvio again. What an experience. Except the gravel part, this place and road can take your breath away....

Stelvio. What should I say? As a piece of road building it is incredible. Mind-blowing. I was lucky to have the very best weather. It is a legendary place; all your friends will envy you having been there. Is it a drivers place? Well...... The last time when the road was empty was probably when shooting Top Gear. It is REALLY narrow. On many places two cars can’t pass side by side. There is no chance to see inside the corner and you have to stop to have a look. Well you can storm into it, but there is 80 percent chance something is coming in the opposite direction. In a corner one direction has to wait letting pass the opposite. Caravan or a bus(!!!) has often to reverse in the corner (some super sports as well :) ). Bikers drive very wide in corners as their turning circle is just too big. A lot of cyclists there. Basically, if you can’t arrange police to close the pass just for you fast driving is impossible. Making stops, enjoying the view and taking pictures is much better way to enjoy Stelvio.



Driving from Stelvio down to Meran and Bolzano I planned to go home through the Dolomites, a region I know well, even Grossglockner was on the list but at the end I gave up this plan because of time reasons. However instead of taking the direct boring highway I took the Italian and Austrian country roads in the direction home what wasn’t really quick, but much more fun. On this trip, the road was the destination anyway…



Good bye Italy, Good bye Switzerland... see you soon :)
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Few of my observations from the Alps during summer season:
  • Doesn’t matter what car you have if it has more than 100bhp. Straights are too short; bends are too tight and narrow. Lamborghini or Viper must feel really miserably here.
  • Check your brakes...
  • Most cars are equal here. If your car has 200bhp, it is really difficult to overtake a 150bhp one...... I think you must have at least 150bhp advantage to be able to use some of the short straights; otherwise you are quickly out of driving rhythm and just wait for your chance.....
  • Handling is more important than power, MX5, Elise, small roadsters, Cayman, GTAs, Z4...these are the cars to come here.
  • Check your brakes...
  • Respect the others, 85 percent of the traffic are families on vacation and cyclists, drive fast only when you see where you are going.
  • Careful with bikers....most of them don’t come from Nordschleife, but from an office in Munich or Bolzano... They just „want“ to be fast. I don’t have problems to give way to the fast ones, but I expect the same respect from the „fast“ ones.
  • You can predict the driving of a skilled driver, but you can never expect what an amateur does... Can you be sure who is in front of you?
  • And really check your brakes again! :)
  • Well, better check your entire car, such a trip can stress each component to its limit and something can fail (tire, brakes, clutch, oil starvation, suspension component, head gasket).......think about this and have enough money to solve such a situation abroad...
  • Don’t drive into the mountains with almost empty tank. The consumption will be much above usual and you might find difficult to fill up at 8000ft :)
  • Did I mention checking the brakes?
 
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I drove Stelvio in the opposite direction, Bormio to Glorenza, and I found a very different road to you.

On the South side of the pass the hairpins are more open, and the roads do not have the massive concrete slabs down the side of them blocking your view. You can therefore see perfectly what is on the other side of each hairpin, and there is no such problem with having to come to a halt at every corner.

Going up the south side was heavenly. I would agree that going back down the north side was all about the scenery. Having heard your story, and that of another person who did it in that direction, I would have to advise anyone doing the Stelvio to do it going north.
I think maybe I was very lucky with traffic too, I met almost nothing coming the other way on the way up, and didn't have my path blocked by anything in front of me at all.

Also have to say, I don't think I would have chosen to do the Umbrail, from how you describe it. And I certainly wouldn't have done it again the next day!
 

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Discussion Starter #6
I drove Stelvio in the opposite direction, Bormio to Glorenza, and I found a very different road to you.

On the South side of the pass the hairpins are more open, and the roads do not have the massive concrete slabs down the side of them blocking your view. You can therefore see perfectly what is on the other side of each hairpin, and there is no such problem with having to come to a halt at every corner.

Going up the south side was heavenly. I would agree that going back down the north side was all about the scenery. Having heard your story, and that of another person who did it in that direction, I would have to advise anyone doing the Stelvio to do it going north.
I think maybe I was very lucky with traffic too, I met almost nothing coming the other way on the way up, and didn't have my path blocked by anything in front of me at all.

Also have to say, I don't think I would have chosen to do the Umbrail, from how you describe it. And I certainly wouldn't have done it again the next day!
I think the experience of each person from Stelvio may be strongly influenced by the weather and traffic at the time he was there. But even with light traffic I would be scared to drive quickly down the north of stelvio as you really don't see where you are cornering.

Umbrail - me personally I love it. I have a 9 min video from the village to the top and it includes even the slow, middle gravel part. Actually it was good for cooling the car down a bit..

I am going to find out how to upload videos to youtube as I never did this before and maybe I will post some links.
 

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I would certainly agree about the way down. I didn't go anything approaching fast (ignoring that I broke down half way down anyway).
In terms of driving, it's all about the way up. That's where you can open it up a bit, knowing that gravity is your friend, not your enemy, when you need to slow down. That's where the extra strain on the engine means it makes a truly glorious noise as you open it up out of the hairpins.
Going up is a driving experience. Going down is about the scenery.
 

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(ignoring that I broke down half way down anyway)
What happened?:eek:


Going up is a driving experience. Going down is about the scenery.
This is probably the right approach. I was a little disappointed by going down as the traffic was equally heavy on both Sunday and Monday morning so I never went up the Stelvio.
 

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The alternator packed up. Thankfully I'd done enough to realise that I'd already had the best of the driving experience, so I wasn't too upset. Got recovered to Glorenza, and had to spend a night in a very nice hotel there, and a day sitting on their balcony while we waited for the car to be fixed. There's a thread about it on here somewhere.
 

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:thumbs: Wow, amazing, amazing photos and excellent report Gotcha.

Also your comment about being 'bored' with your hot summer in croatia....Wish we had that in England :(
 

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Also your comment about being 'bored' with your hot summer in croatia....Wish we had that in England :(
In Slovakia :) some 700 km to the north :) Almost the same temperatures as Croatia, but no sea :cry:
 

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Fantastic photos, I sooo want to go !!!
 

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Wow! Just... wow!

Amazing photos. I've always wanted to do the Stelvio Pass, and this just makes me want to go more. I love the way you just decided on impulse to go, that's one of the problems of being an island here... you've got nowhere else to go.
 

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Ooooooooops!!! Sorry for my ignorance!

Thanks again for a wonderful report. Please post future epic journeys.

Oh and your car looks fantastic.
No problem:)

I was thinking about Toscana for the next trip, or Lago di Garda and Alfa museum in Milan... but I will wait for spring when the countryside is green and not brown after the summer :)
 

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No problem:)

I was thinking about Toscana for the next trip, or Lago di Garda and Alfa museum in Milan... but I will wait for spring when the countryside is green and not brown after the summer :)
Alfa museum, Alfa Museum!!!!! Yes, do you trip to there please!! Would love to see the photos through Italy and from the Museum..
 

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Thanks for the great pictures and report.
It's nice to read about some others experiences quite similar to my own.
I understand your slight frustration about the north-east side of the Stelvio, but August/September is propably the worst time in terms of traffic. An early morning or evening in June or October can offer nearly deserted roads - with a bit of luck.
The gravel on the Umbrail I actually didn't find that bad as long as it's dry. Far worse are freshly repaired pieces of tarmac (especially on the north/east side of the Stelvio in June) where all the little pieces stick to your tires and are then sprayed around in the wheel arches.
And I didn' quite enjoy the south road from Stelvio pass to Bormio (but maybe I should try it again). Aren't there some narrow tunnels, where two cars don't fit side by side? Reversing in a dark tunnel is pretty much the most frightening thing for me.

BTW: The Alfa Museum is closed till December 2009!
 

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Andreas, you're dead right about the tunnels, but luckily we didn't meet anything coming the other way in the narrowest ones.

And in the ones which were straight enough for you to see there was nothing coming...
There can't be many better sounds than an Alfa V6 reverberating back at you when you're going uphill in 2nd gear through a tunnel. :D
 

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:wow: absolutely stunning!

sounds like you enjoyed yourself there mate :thumbs:
 
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