Posted by: Marco | November 13, 2010

Best road trip ever?

It looked innocent enough on the map…a mountain road high in the Swiss Alps. We had decided to cross Switzerland on our way from Alsace to our next stop in northern Italy. It was the most direct route and it would allow us to see the mountainscapes for which the country is famous.

We lunched in Davos, a famous ski town. From there we could either take a 20km tunnel through a Swiss mountain or drive through the pass. According to GoogleMaps, the pass would take us an extra hour. The sky was clear; the roads were mostly dry. We had some time to spare, so we opted for the pass….the Flüelapass.

Up we drove. Up, up, and up. There had been snow in Davos but now the snow was getting deeper. The temperature kept dropping. Shannon and the kids were craning their necks left and right gawking at the stunning mountain scenery. I had my eyes firmly glued to the road. As we climbed higher, the switchbacks became more frequent and tighter. A few tested the turning radius of our rented Renault Scenic. Besides the snow plow ahead of us, we were the only vehicle on the road. As we climbed, it seemed ever more amazing that we could be driving this high in the mountains. We just kept going up.

 

Heading down the Flüelapass

Eventually reached the summit at 2383m (7818 ft) and our guardian angel, the snowplow, turned around. We continued on alone. The road was just as deserted on the other side of the pass. For a short time, the road led us gradually downhill on the opposite side. Stunning vistas surrounded us. The snow was a blinding white, the sky a crisp blue. It was perfect.

 

Then, things got interesting. As we descended, a strange sight appeared. A switchback ahead of us seemed to drop into the abyss. The road turned on itself 180⁰ and plunged fifty feet at an impossible angle. It looked like a rollercoaster, not a road. Cautiously, I approached this corner not believing what I was seeing. We negotiated the tight corner and then faced another just like it. And then another.

The road twisted and turned for kilometres and kilometres. We met a few cars and one crazy guy on a motorcycle. I wished I was driving an Audi AWD with good tires. Our Renault’s tires seemed to slip at the mere mention of ice…this made the occasional wet or icy corner a white-knuckle experience.

I have never experienced vertigo while driving. You know that feeling that you get when you look over the edge of a cliff? I experienced it again and again while driving the Flüelapass. Having substandard tires and a very precious load no doubt contributed to my anxiety.

After what seemed an eternity, we reached the bottom of the Flüelapass and continued our drive towards Maso Corto, our next destination. My nerves were still on edge when Shannon informed me that we would be taking another mountain pass between Austria and Italy (we crossed briefly into Austria). Up we went again, switchback after switchback. This time we were on a forested mountain road. “If we go over the edge, the trees will break the fall,” I morosely told myself.  Finally, we were up and over. The Italian side rewarded us with beautiful views of vineyards and deep alpine valleys.

 

Our road clings to the East wall of the valley!

Next stop: Maso Corto. As we approached Merano, we knew we would have to turn north to drive up the 20km valley that leads to Maso Corto. Shannon and I gazed to the left just before a roundabout and couldn’t believe our eyes. A very, narrow, rocky valley came to an end right at the highway and a tunnel led towards a place called Val Senales. “God, I’m glad we don’t have to drive that”, I said.  It looked like a road engineer’s bad joke. “Val  Senales? I think that’s where we’re going!”, replied Shannon.

 

Sure enough, Val Senales and Maso Corto are the same thing. Around the roundabout, and up through the tunnel we went. Inside the tunnel, the road went up at a ridiculous angle. When it spat us out a kilometre later, we found ourselves on a narrow road literally clinging to the side of a cliff. Up, up, up, we drove. After twenty kilometres of twists, turns, tunnels, switchbacks, waterfalls, and stunning alpine lakes, we arrived in Maso Corto. Exhausted, Shannon had to pry my hands off the steering wheel. I could barely blink; my eyes were so tired from the strain of mountain-driving concentration.

We stepped out of the car into the crisp, cold mountain air of the Maso Corto ski resort….ah, bliss.

Carpe annum,

Marco

Footnote #1:  The Flüelapass is considered by many to be one of the finest driving roads in the world. It is truly a masterwork of road engineering.

Footnote #2:  In the 20km drive up the valley to Maso Corto, we gain over 1500 metres!

Footnote #3: The glacier in Maso Corto is where Ötzi the Iceman was discovered in 1991.

For our pictures of our drive and our current location CLICK HERE.


Responses

  1. WOW… What an adventure. The pictures are beautiful but I would like to have seen the one of Shannon peeling your fingers off the steering wheel. 🙂 Marco your driving adventures have a story of their own. See you in 41 sleeps.

  2. Absolutely stunning pictures! But what a woosey driver! You should be able to drive those roads while drinking a cup of coffee and chatting on your cell phone.

    • I agree…I felt a little woosey. I’m getting older ’cause I get that feeling when Owen and Anique look over a cliff…that little shot of adrenaline. Oh well. It must be a survivor’s instinct.
      Glad you liked the photos…European roads are really short on “lay-bys” or shoulders from which to take photos.
      Marco

  3. Whew, reading the story, we were clinging to the chair. Here we sweep out the weight area, there you count your nine lives. Glad you made it. Magic.


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