Vacation by car: How to get south across the Alps without traffic jams

Bsoon it’s that time again: finally holidays! But before the bathing holiday beyond the Alps comes the journey. Because most of them drive off at the same time, traffic jams and stop-and-go traffic are programmed on the freeways. This annoyance can be avoided or circumvented. All you have to do is leave the Autobahn. We’ve put together six routes that don’t necessarily save you time, but money, are easy on your nerves, and definitely offer fun on the curves and enjoy the panorama.

In the heights of Lake Garda

Italy’s largest lake, located just south of the main ridge of the Alps, lures with Mediterranean flair, surfing and swimming. Wonderful, freeway-free curve fun brings holidaymakers coming from Füssen/Reutte through the impressive Tyrolean Zugspitze region and over the Fernpass (1210 m) to Imst in the Inn Valley.

Continue to Landeck and Nauders over the Reschenpass (1510 m) down to Mals in the sunny Vinschgau in South Tyrol. For fans of altitude and curves, we recommend the Stilfserjoch (2757 m) in the direction of Bormio, the highest mountain pass in the Eastern Alps and the connection from South Tyrol to Lombardy. The narrow road winds its way up to the top of the pass at 2,757 meters in mostly tight serpentines, overcoming an altitude difference of 1,700 meters. That means: curves without end.

The view from above shows how winding the route over the Stelvio Pass is

Source: Getty Images/Martin Deja

Down into the Veltlin there are no fewer than 48 promising hairpin bends. Continuing south, pass number four: the Gavia Pass (2621 m). It connects Bormio with Ponte di Legno in the south over a length of 43 kilometers with a difference in altitude of 1400 meters, including a panoramic view of the glaciers of the Adamello Group. Over the Tonale Pass (1883 m) you continue to Madonna di Campiglio, and soon you are in Riva del Garda on the north shore of Lake Garda.

Read more about Lake Garda:

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Away from the Brenner autobahn to Meran

If you want to avoid the Brenner autobahn on the way to Italy and instead want to enjoy lots of scenic highlights off the road, then this tour is recommended: from Innsbruck through the Sellraintal into the Ötztal and over the Timmelsjoch (2509 m) to South Tyrol.

The starting point is the village of Kematen west of Innsbruck. Kematen can be reached from Munich via the Inntal motorway, which requires a toll, or “pickerlfrei” via Garmisch-Partenkirchen (A95), Mittenwald and the Scharnitz border crossing. The first intermediate stage is Kühtai in the Sellraintal. To the right and left of the gently winding road, a good 2500 meter high peaks rise up.

South Tyrol: View over the Passeier Valley above Moos near Rabenstein

South Tyrol: View over the Passeier Valley above Moos near Rabenstein

Source: pa/Zoonar/Ullrich Gnoth

Then it’s downhill again into the Ötztal, along the Ötztaler Ache to the party stronghold of Sölden and on to Hochgurgl. This is where a treat for experienced curve drivers begins: the ride over the 2509 meter high Timmelsjoch.

It leads over 44 hairpin bends through the Ötztal glacier world to the South Tyrolean vineyards in the Passeier and Adige valleys. The path is garnished with panoramic highlights such as the glacier giants Schalfkogel (3537 m), Karlesspitz (3462 m) and Hochwilde (3480 m), the narrow Passer gorge in the Passeier Valley and the mild climate on the way down to Meran.

Collecting passports to the Upper Adriatic

As a beach holiday destination, the Adriatic continues to be very popular with holidaymakers. Unfortunately, this is often underpinned by traffic jam reports that constantly sound from the radio at the beginning of the holiday. Our tip: behind Munich, take the Inntalautobahn only to Kufstein (toll-free) and then follow the signs to “Felbertauern”. The view of the mighty rock massif of the Wilder Kaiser stretches far.

On the way on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road: Austria's highest mountain, the Grossglockner, can be seen on the horizon

On the way on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road: Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, can be seen on the horizon

Source: Getty Images/imageBROKER RF/imageBROKER/Wolfgang Weinhaeupl

Via Kitzbühel, Jochberg, Pass Thurn it goes to Mittersill. The next station is Lienz, which can be reached either directly via the Felbertauern Tunnel (toll: 11 euros) or a little further east from Bruck via the Grossglockner High Alpine Road (toll: 38 euros). It is the classic among the Alpine passes. Over 48 kilometers it leads with 36 hairpin bends up to an altitude of 2504 meters into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park.

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Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Through a unique mountain world with flowering alpine meadows, fragrant mountain forests and mighty rocks, it curves up to Austria’s highest mountain, the Großglockner (3798 m). From Lienz it goes over the Gailbergsattel (981 m) and the Plöckenpass (1357 m) to Udine and straight as an arrow to the Adriatic Sea.

In curves over the Alps to Slovenia

If you have Croatia or Greece as your destination, you usually drive on the Tauernautobahn, past the Mozart city of Salzburg. However, fans of mountain passes should turn off the autobahn in Radstadt at the latest, as there is a risk of block handling in front of the Tauern and Katschberg tunnels.

Instead, it goes in the direction of the Radtstädter Tauern Pass (1738 m): Even in ancient times, people used today’s Katschbergstraße (B99), which ran from Radstadt im Ennstal over the pass to Tweng and Mauterndorf in Lungau and finally via Sankt Michael im Lungau and the Katschberg Pass (1641 m ) leads to Carinthia. The winter sports resort of Obertauern is right on the pass.

Austria: The Katschbergstraße also passes Mauterndorf with its castle

The Katschbergstraße also leads past Mauterndorf with its castle

Credit: pa/PantherMedia/Richard Semik

The route over the Turracherhöhe (1763 m) offers an attractive alternative to the motorway on the way towards Klagenfurt and Wörthersee. The Turracher Straße (B95), located at the top of the pass on the western shore of Lake Turracher See, connects the Obere Murtal in Styria with the Obere Gurktal in Carinthia and continues via Feldkirchen to Klagenfurt in the south. South of Klagenfurt and the Drau, the Loiblpass (1367 m) leads in steep bends over the Karawanken to the Slovenian Upper Carniola.

On the old pass road to Ticino

The San Bernardino Pass in the canton of Graubünden is another curve highlight that leads through charming mountain landscapes and gorges. In 1967, the nearly seven-kilometer-long San Bernardino Tunnel was opened. However, those who enjoy the landscape prefer to continue on the winding, old pass road between the Hinterrhein and Soazza. Around 60 tight hairpin bends await you on the 26-kilometer route.

At the top of the pass at 2066 meters, a small lake spreads out opposite the hospice. The warmth of Ticino is already blowing in from the south. The descent on the south side is well developed, but narrow. Once you have curved down to Bernardino, you continue downhill, following the old pass road via Pian San Giacomo all the way to Bellinzona.

In the direction of Lago Maggiore, the old pass road takes you past Pian San Giacomo

In the direction of Lago Maggiore, the old pass road takes you past Pian San Giacomo

Source: De Agostini via Getty Images/DE AGOSTINI PICTURE LIBRARY

From there, Lago Maggiore can be reached after a few kilometers. At the northern tip lies Locarno, an elegant and sophisticated town with just such a crowd. However, a large part of the lake is in Italy. So if you drive along the shore, you will come to Bella Italia, the shopping paradise of Milan, on the Autostrada.

A route to the Riviera in France

Here is our tip on the way to southern France: Once you have passed the San Bernardino and taken the motorway to Turin, you should definitely take the country road in the direction of Cuneo: The southernmost of all major Alpine passes, the Colle di Tenda, French Col de Tende ( 1871 m), connects the greater area of ​​Turin and Nice.

The north ramp begins in Vernante and leads via Limone Piemonte in twelve hairpin bends to the top of the pass. Then the descent towards Ventimiglia on the Ligurian Sea is spectacular. 48 hairpin bends, some of which are closely spaced, wind their way breathtakingly towards the deep blue Mediterranean Sea. The southern ramp is only partially paved, the top 16 hairpin bends are gravel, but you can drive under the last section in the tunnel.

At the top of the Colle di Tenda are 19th-century fortresses built by Italians

At the top of the Colle di Tenda are 19th-century fortresses built by Italians

Source: De Agostini via Getty Images/DEA/G. CARFAGNA

Incidentally, not only does the French long-distance hiking trail “Panoramique du Mercantour” (GR 52A) begin directly at the Col de Tende, the Grande Traversata delle Alpi also runs over the pass – for crossing the Alps on foot. Guaranteed traffic jam-free!

-> Motorway fees at a glance:

Austria: Ten-day vignette 9.60 euros, two-month vignette 28.20 euros, annual vignette 93.80 euros.

Switzerland: Motorway vignette 40 Swiss francs (38.52 euros).

Slovenia: Since February 2022, only digital vignettes have been used for the Slovenian toll. If you want to drive on the motorways and expressways in Slovenia, you have to buy the e-vignette (“E-Vinjeta”) digitally, at numerous German-speaking online sales outlets or on the official DARS website Seven-day vignette 15 euros, monthly vignette 30 euros.

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