The Stelvio Pass is a unique route. Indeed, it is one of the highest asphalted passes in the Italian Alps, climbing to an altitude of 2758 meters (9048 ft) above sea level. The road borders between Italy and Switzerland.
The pass is located north of Bormio, an ancient Roman spa resort, today a winter sports resort and starting point for hikes. In addition, the road links the Italian province of Bolzano to Valtellina in a series of the most spectacular passages.
This road has also been named as the best road in the world by the famous Top Gear car show.
Where is the Stelvio Pass located?
The Stelvio Pass is the highest road pass in the Italian Alps with an altitude of 2758 meters (9048 ft).
Located north-east of Bormio, in the Stelvio National Park, it is also the second-highest road pass in all of the Alps after the Col de l’Iseran (2764 meters / 9068 ft).
The road is located south of Sulden, 75 kilometers (46 miles) from Bozen. It connects the province of Bolzano to the Valtellina.
The pass, located in Stelvio National Park, sits at the foot of imposing peaks such as the Ortles, Monte Scorluzzo, or Piz Umbrail.
If you want to find accommodations near the Stelvio Pass you can find some in Bormio or in Prato allo Stelvio.
You can situate the road on the map just below:
Enlarge the map
Facts about the Stelvio Pass:
Description of the road:
This highest road pass in the Italian Alps is the second in Europe after the Col de l’Iseran in France. The other side is covered with late snow, the asphalt road that leads to the pass is built like a balcony on the mountainside of a V-shaped valley, and involves no less than 88 winding bends (48 in Tyrol, 40 in Lombardy ) including 46 hairpins! Some sections, sometimes built on concrete buttresses, are narrow and these bends require a lot of concentration.
On the northeast slope, the road is 25 kilometers long and has a gradient of 7.4% (with a max of 10%).
The road allows you to take advantage of the landscapes while being quite technical whether you are by car, motorbike, or bicycle. You have to be agile and maneuverable. 48 of the 80 switchbacks on the northeast approach to the pass are the toughest on the route. The road is quite narrow and the hairpin turns will require some concentration.
The one from Bormio also allows access to the Umbrail pass 3 kilometers before the Stelvio pass and allows you to reach Santa Maria Val Müstair in Graubünden.
Border area with the Müstair valley, Switzerland, the pass is at the foot of a summit called piz da las Trais Linguas, “peak of the three languages” since the linguistic borders between Italian, German, and Romansh meet there.
In high season or on weekends there can be a lot of people on that road. Better choose a weekday or come there earlier in the morning.
The pass is named after the neighboring village of Stelvio. It traces some elements of human activity dating back to the Bronze Age. The ancient traces, however, become more precise around 2000 years BC: terracotta shards, two bronze axes. The road will then be exploited by the Romans and this as much for trade and travel as for its army.
According to historians, this mountain trail will be curiously little used, especially during the medieval period, with trade preferring the neighboring Umbrail pass, which is closer to the trading towns.
It was the Thirty Years’ War that will revive the relevance of this mountain route since the Stelvio pass will be used several times by the competing armies.
In 1795, the town of Bormio on the Italian side planned to enlarge the track to make it a single-track rural road, but economic interests thwarted this project. In 1808, the construction of a 2.70m wide road between Bormio and the pass was studied. But the European political situation in these times of the Napoleonic wars postpones the project.
The Treaty of Vienna in 1815 upsets geopolitical strategies and redraws some borders. Francis I of Austria wants to link Milan, at the time in the Austrian Empire and appoints an expert in mountain road construction, engineer Carlo Donegani. Work began in 1820 and was completed in 1825, which was very short considering the winter interruptions. Nearly 2,000 workers worked on the site during the summers. This site will have cost 2,901,000 Austrian guilders at the time.
With a cumulative length of 700 meters, six tunnels punctuate the route. They turned out to be the most complex sites to build. Against avalanches, nearly 3,500 meters of protective wooden tunnels were built, destroyed by fire from the Lombard insurgents during the Austrian revolution of 1848.
Then used by the post office and then a stagecoach service, the Stelvio road remained open all year long until 1859. Sleighs pulled by horses carried passengers and goods in winter. Cantonal houses then served as a stopover and stables. It took 9 hours to travel the distance of 50 kilometers (31 miles) from Bormio in Italy, to Prato in Switzerland.
Itinerary of the road
The Passo dello Stelvio is accessible from three routes: two are in Italy and one in Switzerland. In Italy, the most famous is the SS38 road, which connects Bormio to Trafoi. On the other side, from Switzerland, the Umbrail pass joins up with the Stelvio pass upstream.
Located in the heart of the Stelvio Natural Park, it links the province of Bolzano, located in the north-east of the country, with that of Valtellina. The pass is at the foot of a summit called “the peak of 3 languages” since it draws the linguistic border between Italian, German and Romansh. The 3 slopes are very demanding to climb, but the most difficult is that of South Tyrol. From Prato allo Stelvio, it started for 24 kilometers (15 miles) with gradual gradients increasing to finally reach 12% on the last kilometer, torture for anyone. On this slope, the 48 turns and the average slope of 7.4% with a maximum of 14% do not allow any relaxation.
You visualize how to get there on this map of the drive:
Stelvio Pass road attraction:
In 1953, the Giro d’Italia, the famous cycling tour of Italy, stopped for the first time at the Stelvio. Fausto Coppi won the pink jersey and his fifth and last Giro. A stele commemorates the event. However, this historic stage has been canceled many times due to snow and weather conditions. Each year, at the end of August, around 8,000 cyclists climb this pass, which is closed to all traffic.
South of the Stelvio Pass is the Livrio Glacier, which stretches from an altitude of around 2,800m to around 3,400m, on which there are several pistes where summer skiing is practiced during the months opening of the collar. It is often chosen as a summer training location by several alpine ski teams.
The slopes are accessible from the parking lot at the pass with a cable car.
In 2017, a marathon took place for the first time at the Stelvio Pass. Since then, the marathon has taken place every year.
In the first episode of the tenth season of Top Gear automotive magazine, the Stelvio road was named as the “most beautiful road in the world”.In fact, the focus was on the route, which allows a sporty driving style in a picturesque landscape.
A preview of the drive:
If you are planning your road trip to the Alps, you should obviously watch this Youtube video to have an idea of this scenic drive:
Don’t forget about the other classic roads nearby as the Maloja Pass.
Is the Stelvio Pass open?
The Stelvio Pass is open from June to September, with a high attendance during the months of July and August. One day a year, the road is exceptionally closed for cyclists to climb the pass (Stelvio Bike Day). You can check if the pass is open here.
You should also be aware that the road can be closed anytime when the access is not cleared of snow.
The Stelvio remains one of the most impressive passes to climb in Europe. No matter your mode of transportation, this route is a must. The narrowness of its course gives even more relief to this ascent and even to its descent. So if you are in the area do not hesitate to make a detour!
Pictures credits: By Raul Taciu raultaciu – https://unsplash.com/photos/4hYTyh64rmkImageGallery, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61867123 / Par Fotograf R. Guler, Chur — Fotografie, Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16370110 / Par I, Kuebi, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2492233 / Par Giorgio Lotti (Mondadori Publishers) —  , Domaine public, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57343817
Discover our other roads in Europe: click here or see our road map!