• Pay the toll for the road, and a sticker to place proudly on your bike
  • The road is 48 kilometres long with 36 hairpin bends and limitless photo opportunities
  • The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, Austria's highest road attracting bikers from all over the world

Some great biking roads are born. Others are made. The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, Austria's highest road at over 2,500 metres, falls squarely into the second category.

In 1924, when the plan for a scenic toll route through the Austrian Alps was first proposed, it must have looked like a quixotic enterprise indeed. Motor vehicles were still a luxury, and Europe was still recovering from the First World War. Would drivers and motorcyclists really beat a path to the Austrian Alps?

Yet the gamble paid off. The mountain pass was an instant hit with both speed demons and tourists, the former enjoying the corners, the latter the views. 

Bikers have had a special fondness for the Grossglockner from the start. The motorcycle itself may have gone from a budget vehicle for the less well off to a luxury toy, but the rider's appreciation for smooth curves, a good lean angle, and an open throttle remains the same.

The Route

Entry has always meant paying a toll, with the money contributing towards the upkeep of the road. The entrance fee buys you 48 kilometres of great road, 36 hairpin bends, limitless photo opportunities, and a sticker to place proudly on your bike.

The most common direction to ride the Grossglockner is from north to south, and if you are coming from the UK, you will probably be going in this direction. Of course, there's nothing to stop you going back for the return journey.

Traditionally the Grossglockner begins in the town of Bruck, in the Salzburg region, with several scenic kilometres before you reach the toll booths. At the start of the toll section, you'll find the first of many biker-friendly innovations: a separate lane and barrier for motorbikes, so you don't have to queue among the cars. You'll notice the road surface, grippy and in perfect condition, as soon as you enter.

The road begins to climb almost immediately, and it's not long before you're at an altitude where snow lies on the ground even in midsummer. Up here the mountain air is refreshingly cool. There are plenty of challenging hairpins, but a competent rider has nothing to fear, while smooth, open bends and straight sections give your bike a chance to stretch its legs. 

Although it's tempting to keep going until you have completed the entire route, you will be missing out if you don't make a stop or two in the plentiful laybys to admire the beautiful surroundings of the Hohe Tauern National Park. As well as alpine peaks and deep forests, you might be lucky enough to spot a marmot or elusive chamois.

There's a high probability of encountering some unusual vehicles, too. The route is popular with rallies and group tours as well as solo drivers and riders. You might see the latest sports cars on their way to the fast roads of Italy, a group of vintage scooters, or even a bubble car club. Add in coaches, minibuses and the occasional lorry, and the winding can present some interesting opportunities for overtaking when it opens up into a straight section. 

Once you reach the highest point, you'll start to head back down into the region of Corinthia. The gradients gradually lessen, until you are riding along undulating curves past gleaming lakes, and meadows where wild flowers grow and livestock grazes.

Along the Way

If you plan to spend a leisurely day on the Grossglockner, there's plenty to occupy your time, with hiking, nature and geology trails, and exhibitions covering everything from the ecology of the region to the building of the road. Look out for features like bike parking and helmet safes.

Of greatest interest to motorcyclists, however, is the Biker's Nest. Perched 2,571 metres above sea level, it is the highest point on the route, and it's all yours. Branch off the main road to ascend from the Fuscher Törl on a steep and narrow single track road whose cobbles are treacherous in the wet, and you will reach the Edelweissspitze. Park carefully, as there's nothing but air between your bike and a sheer drop, admire the view, and buy a souvenir or two, before steeling yourself for the hairy descent.

Food and Drink

There are restaurants on the Grossglockner itself, offering local cuisine and views of the road. The Restaurant Fuschertörl boasts an outdoor terrace and souvenir shop as well as quirky alpine decor inside, while the Panoramarestaurant, near the southern end of the Grossglockner in Heiligenblut, has a more substantial menu with hearty dishes of pork and venison. 

For a wider choice, either stop for refreshments before tackling the Grossglockner or hold on until you reach the other side. You'll find everything from rustic inns to contemporary hotels, and from a coffee and cake to a three course meal. Try the town of Zell am See, to the north of the Grossglockner, for lakeside views.

In the Area

For those visiting from outside Austria, the Grossglockner is best experienced as part of a longer motorcycle tour. In this mountainous region, there are plenty of other passes to try. Buy a tour ticket at the Grossglockner for savings on other scenic toll roads, like the Villach Alpine Road and the beautiful lower alpine Nockalmstrasse.

Mountains often mark national boundaries, so crossing over into different countries can be a great way to experience high passes. Going south, you can ride into Italy through the Dolomite Mountains, or into Slovenia's Triglav National Park. A westerly route takes you to Liechtenstein and Switzerland, while Germany lies to the north. How many countries can you visit in one trip?

Planning your Ride

For any motorcycle trip abroad, it's important to bring your insurance and breakdown cover details, as well as your driving licence and V5. You may also need to inform your insurer that you'll be riding outside the UK. 

Packing basic tools, a puncture repair kit, and a set of spare bulbs means that minor problems won't delay you. Carrying spare bulbs is a legal requirement in some European countries. Dehydration can be an issue when riding long days in hot weather, so take water and stop for a drink frequently.

Do remember that the Grossglockner is closed during the winter, and may be shut at other times in the event of unexpected bad weather. Check the official website before you set out. As a general rule, the road opens in May, and the season ends in late October or early November.

Although the road, and its safety barriers, are well maintained, the Grossglockner must be treated with respect. Weather conditions like rain, fog or snow can descend without warning, making surfaces slippery and visibility poor. There are many blind bends and a lot of other vehicles to look out for, not to mention the local wildlife. Ride with care, have fun, and return home safely with tales of your Austrian alpine adventure.