the world's most spectacular roads

Passo dello Stelvio

Passo dello Stelvio

The Stelvio Pass is a high mountain pass at an elevation of 2.757 m (9,045 feet)  above the sea level, located in the Ortler Alps in Italy between Stilfs in South Tyrol and Bormio in the province of Sondrio. It's one of the top#50 highest mountain roads in Europe. The road itself is a marvel of engineering skill; the exhilarating serpentine sections ask to be driven by experienced drivers for their own sakes. All in all, this could be the most magnificent road pass in Europe. It's one of the most scenic drives in the world.

The road over the pass, known as Stilfser Joch in German, connects the Valtellina with the upper Adige valley and Merano and is particularly challenging to drive due to the presence of 48 hairpin bends, with the road becoming exceedingly narrow at some points, and some very steep inclines. The toughest and most spectacular climbing is from the Prato side; Bormio side approach is more tame. It’s one of the most magnificent road pass in Europe. Several accidents have already taken place in this high-altitude road, especially among people who underrate the difficulty involved in traversing its zigzag path. Local drivers have been described as 'homicidal'. It's possibly the most historic of all climbs ever used in pro cycling, a giant in every sense (length, elevation gain, gradient and the elevation at the top). 

The road over the pass, Strada Statale 38, is the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps, after the Col de l'Iseran (2770 masl) which sits 13 metres higher. The tour books advise that the toughest and most spectacular climbing is from the Prato side, Bormio side approach is more tame. The route takes you down the rest of the way with little more than a small barrier keeping you from tumbling to oblivion. Featuring hair-raising 180-degree corners, just one wrong move and you could find yourself going over the low concrete barrier and down the side of the Alps.

• Length: 21.5 km.
• Departure altitude: 1225 m
• Arrival altitude: 2758 m
• Elevation gain: 1533 meters
• Average gradient: 7.60%
• Maximum gradient: 14.00%


This road is very exciting and sometimes very exposed and unsecured driveway in innumerable twists and turns. On the southern side the road worms its way up the immensely deep Braulio ravine, clinging from side to side and tunneling frequently, between towering rock walls, to the more open basin at the 4th Cantoniera, where the Umbrail Pass comes in from the left. From the junction to the summit is little more than a mile, the road winding more gently up 900 ft. of shaly slope, but still relatively viewless. Viewed from the air, the Passo dello Stelvio looks evil and yet totally alluring. Its elevation means it’s open during summer only and even then anyone attempting it may find themselves snaking their way up through walls of snow. Starting from Prato on the Northern side, it boasts a vertical gain of 1,808m and 48 hairpin bends, all of them numbered on a stone by the road. 


The pass has been climbed by the Giro d’Italia bycicle race several times. There are 2 routes to reach the summit. Starting from Prato, the ascent is 24.3 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is 1808 heightmeters. The average percentage is 7.4 %. And starting from Bormio, the ascent is 21.5 km long. Over this distance, the elevation gain is1533 heightmeters. The average percentage is 7.1 %. Steeped in pink history, the Passo dello Stelvio is arguably the most mythical of the Giro's major climbs.  The 30 miles of snaking, high-altitude tarmac have seen some of the greatest battles of the Giro d’Italia. This is a climb that is romanticised by journalists and rich in history but when ridden it’s more grim treatment than a treat. It's one of the highest mountain roads of the country.


Exercise extreme caution when passing on-coming traffic, over-taking and around corners. From the summit, where the famous Ortler view is suddenly revealed, the Trafoi windings lead down in face of superb views of peaks and glaciers to Trafoi, just below the tree line. The rest of the road, falling along the Trafoibach to the Adige levels in the main valley, is a pleasant descent with fine views ahead of the Zillertal (Austrian) peaks in the main Alpine chain. The legendary Fausto Coppi, nicknamed Il Campionissimo (Champion of champions), said after cycling it that he “felt he was going to die” during the climb. It's fair to assume you'll feel worse.


Nestled between the imposing peaks of the Ortles-Cevedale chain, the road encompasses miles of stunning views through twisty hair pin corners, high elevations and steep grades. It needs very little introduction. From Prato its 48 bends carve their way up the mountain in what appears to be an endless road towards heaven, constantly switching back and forth the higher you climb. 


This road is usually open from June to September, but it can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow. The original road was built in 1820-25 by the Austrian Empire to connect the former Austrian province of Lombardia with the rest of Austria, covering a climb of 1871 m. Since then, the route has changed very little. After 1919, with the expansion of Italy, the pass lost its strategic importance. Its sixty hairpin turns, 48 of them on the northern side numbered with stones, are a challenge to motorists.



The drive is definitely worth it. There are many excellent photo opportunities here. Don’t forget your camera! The Stelvio’s height can mean that it’s a wildly unpredictable and somewhat volatile mountain where the weather can turn in an instant, so be prepared. There’s little wonder why the Stelvio is one of the most photographed roads in the world. No less than 48 hairpin bends on its eastern face make it an icon like no other. Beware that this is one of the last Alpine passes to open to traffic each year, and it’s not unknown for the road to stay closed until July if there’s been a late fall of snow. 

Why it's dangerous:

* Extreme switchback hairpin bends
* Bad weather



At the parking area of the Stelvio’s cable car station there’s a small and hidden gravel road climbing up to Passo delle Platigliole. It’s a 4x4 road climbing up within a lunar landscape. Apart from two short bad sections (with a gradient of 25%) you can otherwise ride this road, ending at 3.018m (9,901 ft) above the sea level where the snow, skiers and glacier starts. There are 3 hotels at this point.



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