Austria′s highest Road in the Alps
Großglockner Hochalpenstraße is the road leading to the highest mountain of Austria, Mount Großglockner. It is among the most popular tourist destinations of the country and attracts ten thousands of visitors every year. Only Schloss Schönbrunn, the Imperial summer palace in Vienna is more popular measured by the amount of visitors it attracts. The Großglockner Hochalpenstraße Road is the highest road of Austria and runs through one of Austria′s most scenic Alpine landscapes. The name-giving peak is 3798 metres high and comes with an attached glacier called "Pasterze".
Impressions from the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße
To make things even better, the Großglockner is not only the highest mountain of Austria, but probably also the easiest to access - at least of those mountains that are higher than 3000 metres ("Dreitausender"). The Hochalpenstraße Road (meaning "high Alpine road") takes thousands of busses, cars and motorbikes up to alpine terrain - in altitudes that have to be attacked with excessive hiking activities elsewhere.
The scenery of the road and its surroundings is sheer beauty: here you will find the stereotypical images of dramatic mountain ranges, cows and glaciers reaching out towards the valley. No wonder that this classic road is considered to be a legendary route for all sorts of vehicle-aficionados, particularly bikers.
The Großglockner Hochalpenstraße Road was constructed between 1930 and 1935. The main ideas were to fight the unemployment that was a very serious problem in the years of the depression, and to boost tourism. This was particularly important for the region: Skiing tourism wasn′t the well-developed industry that it is today and the entire region of Southern Salzburg had sparse grounds to offer to agriculture and an underdeveloped infrastructure for the few towns and villages. It was mostly due to the Landeshauptmann (governor) Franz Rehrl and some other mad visionaries that the project was started. Rehrl is still seen as a father of the province type of figure by many conservatives not only in Salzburg.
Alps: Among the Best Things to See in Austria
The Großglockner Hochalpenstraße runs in within the Nationalpark Hohe Tauern, and you could be lucky enough to observe a herd of ibex, chamois or more likely marmots at the Franz-Josefs-Höhe. There are plenty of signposts and little museums that are included in the road toll. Here you can learn more about the endeavours of the construction, the history and folk culture of the region and the sensitive ecosystem of the Alps with its characteristic flora and fauna.
These exhibition elements make the ride over the Großglockner Hochalpenstraße Road an experience that rivals theme parks without distracting from the scenery, the main attraction. A major museum and visitor centre is at a large platform overlooking the Pasterze Glacier. The Pasterze is the longest glacier of Austria. From here you can either go to the Salzburg side of the mountain or into the opposite direction towards Heiligenblut in Carinthia.
"High"-lights of the Hochalpenstraße
The highest point that you can access by car is by the Edelweißspitze at 2,362 metres (Edelweiß is an Alpine flower, featuring in "The Sound of Music" as the main theme of a tacky song); from its peak, one can see up to 37 mountains higher than 3.000 metres alongside a staggering 19 glaciers. The road is generally open from May to November, depending on the snow situation. The best time of the year to ride it is during the summer.
Keep in mind that you enter high alpine terrain: even if you go in August, leaving the valleys of Salzburg or Carinthia at a boiling 30 degrees Celsius or more, snowfall in the higher altitudes of the Hochalpenstraße is not too unlikely. As always in high altitudes in the Alps, bring a warm jacket and proper, solid shoes. Be careful with the sun, light has a very high UV content in the Alps and sun blockers might be necessary. The road toll office in the valley will inform you about any possible obstacles, so there is no real safety issue involved.
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