One of the best days of this trip. Had a very relaxed day – short distance to drive. But instead time to enjoy the scenery. Stop whenever I wanted to because I had plenty of time to do it. Park the car. Sit down for an hour up on Umbrail Pass and watch my dog play in the snow. Choose the same photo spot on Stelvio as last year and once again just sit down on a rock, breathe in the fresh air, watch cars drive by (…or mainly vans, no sports cars, haha), and enjoy the amazing scenery.
Jalopnik wrote a nice article a while ago with great photos, “The ‘World’s Greatest Road’ Actually Sucks, Here Are Four Better Ones“. Inspired by that article I really wanted to do Susten Pass and Gotthard Pass on this trip, but unfortunately they were both covered in snow already. Same problem with some of the other high mountain passes – Furka Pass and San Bernardino Pass. So I had to stick to the ones that were still open, but luckily there was a lot to choose from – much more than I could do during the three days I had left.
Stelvio was actually closed from the Italian side and in the photo above you can see why. However, the kind hotel owner of Pension Astoria in Prato allo Stelvio told me that I should try it from the Swiss side instead. So I did. Drove up to Umbrail Pass from Switzerland – so beautiful with all the snow, I felt like the luckiest person on this planet to be able to be there on that sunny day – and from there continued to the top of Stelvio Pass. It looked very different from last year with all the snow, but just as fantastic as I remembered.
There are some mountain passes you drive once and after that you do no longer feel a desire to absolutely return there another time. Once is enough. Then there are the ones, and in my life I have several, that you feel you must drive again. Stelvio is for me one of these, I think it is a gorgeous road – both as a driving challenge, and because of the landscapes. If I had to do the Top Gear way of thinking – “do I like Stelvio or Transfagarasan more”… I am not sure if I could even choose. They are both very special. There are also many other roads I think could be in this same battle for “worlds greatest driving road”, so I do not necessarily think Stelvio and Transfagarasan are the only good candidates. But two of the strongest, absolutely. At least in Europe.
And although I love some of the Swiss passes too, I have to admit that in general I hate driving in Switzerland because I can never relax in that country. You go 5 km/h too fast and you worry about getting caught, that is what it feels like there. Romania and Italy feel a bit more relaxed. Not encouraging people to break laws but you get the point, it is sometimes hard to enjoy the driving experience in Switzerland if the only thing you have on your mind is how many speeding tickets will they send me just because they love to send them… for any reason they can think of, I have heard horror stories. In Romania they might not bother unless you do something very stupid (and you do not see a lot of police cars there…). And from my experience, they do not take life too seriously in Italy either, as long as you do not cause any danger to other people. Just because I say this I will of course get a ticket from Italy or Romania and zero from Switzerland…
But oh well – I like Stelvio. Umbrail Pass was gorgeous too, much because of the snow of course. And I like the places around Stelvio – Prato allo Stelvio was a small charming village. Livigno is great, for some strange reason I could almost see myself living there if I would ever move to this area of Italy. Now I am not going there however, too cold winters, so a few times a year for Stelvio is enough… Cheap petrol also – V-Power 100 was 1.26€/l, and normal unleaded petrol (Senza Piombo) you got for 1.11€/l. We like.
I also met two Asian women who did a day trip by train from Switzerland to Livigno. One of them told me she had to show the other person Livigno, because if you are lucky you can see this fantastic reflection over Lake Livigno on a windless day. I have to include a photo I took last year – I can only agree, stunning scenery! The first view that opens up when you enter Italy from Tunnel Munt La Schera.
I by the way got a few useful website tips from friends when planning which mountain passes to go to, so here are three websites where you can find up to date mountain pass conditions:
- http://www.alpen-journal.de/alpenservice/alpenpaesse.html (my favourite, updated often)