A thrill in every square metre

There’s nothing quite like taking a car up into the high mountains. Of all the experiences a driver can have, it’s the ultimate test in the greatest of settings. A visual feast but also an aural one. A sensory overload. A buzz like no other. And when it comes to the world’s finest mountain passes, the Großglockner is at the top of most lists. On the Porsche Travel Experience Austrian Alps, participants get to know every thrill-laden square metre along the near-50km pass that makes up the Großglockner High Alpine Road. Just as drivers – including Porsche engineers – have been doing since 1935.

It was in the late 1920s that a plan was first hatched to make the mountains between Bruck in Salzburg state and Heiligenblut in Carinthia accessible. The goal was to open them up, and their valleys, to tourism. As we will discover, we’re very glad that they did. Engineer Franz Wallack was the man tasked with turning a bold vision into reality, one that the Austrian authorities felt would provide a boost to the economy at a time of great financial turmoil. Thousands of people were involved in this phenomenal feat of engineering, which began in August 1930 with the blasting out of rock near Ferleiten before continuing southwards. 

Follow in the footsteps

Almost exactly five years later – on 3 August 1935 – the road was opened for drivers for the first time. The following day, a starting gun was fired for the inaugural Großglockner Grand Prix. Big names in European racing sport – like Italians Carlo Pintacuda and Luigi Villoresi and pioneering English female driver, Eileen Ellison – met on the newly-opened pass for a 14km (8.7 mile), adrenaline-fuelled drive to Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Höhe peak. The roar of high-powered engines along the Großglockner have reverberated around here ever since. Quite simply, on the Porsche Travel Experience Austrian Alps, you are following in the track marks of history. 

Sign saying ‘Großglockner 21km’, covered in stickers
Dream driving destination: the Großglockner High Alpine Road

The adventure begins on the Austrian Porsche Travel Experience 

This history-making aspect of the Großglockner doesn’t end there. In fact, just after the end of the second world war, this part of Austria would have a formative influence on Porsche itself. A couple of years later, several bends further on from the Porsche family home – the Schüttgut estate near Zell am See – in an unprepossessing sawmill in Gmünd, Corinthia, Ferry Porsche built the first 356, aka Number 1. It would be the car that set Porsche on its path to glory. The 356 was driven and tested on the Großglockner, as were many Porsche prototypes that followed it. Today, the Porsche Design Studio still develops its world-leading sports cars at Zell am See.

When you drive the Großglockner on the Porsche Travel Experience Austrian Alps, it doesn’t take long to realise why Porsche manage to engineer their cars to be as connected with the road as they are. We approach the Großglockner from the south. To begin with, we’re initially accompanied by green meadows on both sides, but ahead of you a spectacular, enticing stretch of road snakes above the treeline to over 2,500m in height. Before the real driving begins, we start with a detour to the remains of the Pasterze glacier – the longest in Austria – at the foot of the Großglockner. 

Panoramic view of mountain roads and Alps under grey skies
The Großglockner pass: the most fun you can have in the Austrian Alps that doesn’t involve skis

Reaching new heights

Detour over, our Großglockner quest begins. On a steady pace, we head towards Fuscher Törl, where a few historic, cobbled hairpins take us up to the peak of the Edelweißspitze. At 2,571m, it’s the highest point on the High Alpine Road. You need to concentrate here, not least because the views are so spectacular. From here we cruise down to the toll booth at Ferleiten, signalling journey’s end. From start to finish, it’s a one-of-a-kind panoramic trip of 48km (30 miles), including 36 hairpins and gradients up to 12%. Oh, and the kind of views that will likely be stored in your memory bank forever.

Over the years, the width and the surface of the Großglockner road has been continuously improved, meaning that you can now take most passages in a modern Porsche at good pace. If we had recorded our times driving along the Großglockner on the Porsche Travel Experience Austrian Alps, we wouldn’t have come close to those achieved by the heroes of that first Grand Prix back in 1935. But of course, our excuse is that we want to drink in those sensational views. Because the pull of the Großglockner is unwavering. Up to 270,000 cars and motorbikes cruise through the mountain each year. Countless vintage and classic car fans are overwhelmed, like us, by the intoxicating atmosphere generated by this road. 

Large white house amid mountains, Porsche 911 parked outside
Prielau Castle, Zell am See: a hotel and two Michelin-starred restaurant owned by the Porsche family

Keeping the home fires burning

Soon, we arrive in Zell am See, where Prielau Castle waits for us. For over 40 years, the Porsche family has owned this jewel of a house, which was first mentioned in documents in 1425, and was once the home to Austrian novelist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Today, as well as accommodation, it also houses one of the best restaurants in Austria. 

Young chef cooking over antique stove
At Theresia Bacher’s Rauchkuchl restaurant in Stuhlfelden, food is cooked over an open firePhotography Vivi D’Angelo

But after the endless serpentine stretches and seductive vistas we’ve just encountered, we’re completing our Porsche Travel Experience Austrian Alps adventure along the Großglockner, with a truly authentic Austrian bite to eat. The Rauchkuchl (open-fire kitchen) run by Theresia Bacher in a traditional farmhouse in Pinzgau has played host to top chefs from around the world and many famous guests. Here, meals are cooked over an open fire in the room in which the guests are eating. It’s a unique, thoroughly rustic experience and yet another example of our senses being tickled. And it also fortifies us before we start on the last few kilometres over to Berchtesgaden, and the final stop of our remarkable Alpine tour.

This story is part of the 25 Years of Porsche Travel Experience anniversary series. We take you on a virtual world tour around the globe – with a new, fascinating episode each week. Click here to read all stories.

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ck Porsche 911 on driving on mountain road, on cloudy day