Salzburg offers so much more than ‘just a medieval city at the foot of the Alps’. The city can be a great starting point for adventures in the Salzburger Alps, the Salzkammergut with Hallstatt as its famous highlight as well as the German Bavarian Alps. Getting around is easy! You can either go by public transport, hop on an organized tour, or rent a car. This summer, Henk went on a daytrip to one of Europe’s highest roads called the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. This is what he experienced.
In August 2021, my partner and myself stayed several days in Salzburg on a family visit. During our stay we wanted to experience for ourselves what the Austrian Alps are all about. That is why we decided to make a daytrip to both the Grossglockner and the lake town of Zell am See.
In this series of blogs, Henk Schrama talks about his experiences traveling through Europe.
Highly recommended: Grossglockner High Alpine Road
From many different Austria fans, I always learned that Zell am See and the Grossglockner are must-visit highlights of Austria. Now it is my turn to find out if those five-star recommendations are true. We decided to combine both destinations as they are close to each other and can easily be combined during a one-day trip from the comfort of your hotel in Salzburg. The distance from Salzburg is about 100 km and it takes approximately 1 1/2 hours to get to the foot of the Grossglockner mountain.
From the beginning, the trip was magnificent. As soon as you leave the city of Salzburg you drive into the Alps with peaks of well over 2,000 meters (6,500 ft) surrounding the highway. Through many different tunnels the road leads over bridges and through the mountains to the start of the Alpine road. We enjoyed clear blue skies and the weather allowed us to have a great view of all the mountains on our way from Salzburg. Just the drive from Salzburg to the mountain road was worthy of a five-star rating and worthy experience by itself.
On our trip to the region, we started with the Grossglockner and kept Zell am See for the end. The Grossglockner is at 3798 m the highest mountain in Austria. The Pasterze, Austria’s most extended glacier lies on the Grossglockner‘s Eastern slope.
We drove the scenic High Alpine Road (Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse). This mountainpass road is Austria‘s highest and reaches an altitude of 2,504m (8,215 ft). The road is a popular destination in the Alps and only comes second in the list of most visited tourist destinations in Austria, behind Vienna’s Schonbrunn palace.
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The High Alpine Experience
Based on our experience, the road has earned that honorary spot. During our ascent of the mountain road, the view constantly changed. Even though we had high expectations, the mountain road was able to surprise us with surprisingly beautiful views as we were surrounded by green alpine pastures, mountain peaks and seemingly endless waterfalls. Getting behind the driving seat of a car on this road is exciting and highly recommended for the adventurous drivers. For the less adventurous drivers there is also a bus tour that takes you to the top.
On our visit, we entered the pass road in Ferleiten in Salzburgerland. Here is the northern tollbooth.The toll is € 37,50 for a car. From the toll booth, the road follows numbered hairpin curves and leads up to Hochtor Pass. You start at hairpin number 1 and make your way up to number 25 or so. There are simply too many hairpins to count as you make your way up on this exciting road. After you finish the first part of the road, the route continues as we crossed the Alpine divide in a tunnel and runs southwards and passes a branch off which leads to the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Hohe visitor’s centre at 2,369m (7,772 ft).
From the visitor’s centre, you have a panoramic view over the Pasterze glacier. While the glacier has become a bit of a disappointment at the hand of global warming, the area is still breathtaking. On your way to the glacier, we enjoyed the diverse mountains world with its fauna and flora. We saw beautiful alpine flowers and even a group of mountain marmots.
Good to know: A lot of information about the Grossglockner is given in the multimedia guide that can be downloaded for free of charge in the “ Locandy App “ in the App store.
Zell am See experience
After having visited the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Hohe visitor’s centre it was time for us to drive back. The challenge of descending the long windy road had begun. Although the drive itself can challenging, with many warning signs at the side of the road warning you not to break too much and use engine braking instead, we made it down safely. We drove back to the entrance at Ferleiten on our way to our next destination: Zell am See
Zell am See is a beautifully mountain town situated at the Zeller See mountain lake and is surrounded by some of Austria’s highest and most impressive mountains.
The town is a popular tourist destination in both summer and winter. In the winter, the area attracts winter sports enthusiasts as it is home to two major ski areas: Zell am See and the glacier resort of Kaprun. If you are lucky, and it gets cold enough, you could get an opportunity to skate on the lake.
During a summer visit, you can make use of the lake as well. During this time different watersports can be practiced on the lake such as sailing or stand-up paddle boarding.
During our visit, we arrived in Zell am See halfway a warm summer afternoon. We only had time for a short walk along the shore of the lake. It was a lovely walk with constantly changing views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. After that we lingered for a long time on the terrace of the beautiful lakeside Grand Hotel.