Bolzano to Pura

Thursday, September 8, 2022 - 19:30

Today was our last day of the trip as we finally completed our journey back to Pura, Switzerland where we set off 58 days ago. As has been fairly common since we got back to Europe last week, rain was a problem for our planned activities today. After pouring all through the night, we woke up to further heavy rain and clouds hanging over the alpine valley where our accommodation was situated. This meant we got straight in the car and drove to a local cafe for breakfast. This was where we got a further taste of the German Italians, who we have found to be quite rude and abrupt throughout our short visit to the Tyrol region. It seems that all the people working in hospitality are 50+, as are the tourists themselves, and we strangely haven't seen any younger people around. We had planned to complete our picture of the region by visiting the city centre of Bolzano this morning, but since it was still pouring heavily after breakfast, we only drove through the city instead. As suspected, it looked more like a city in Switzerland than Italy, perhaps somewhere like Bellinzona in Ticino which also sits in a beautiful alpine setting. It was a shame to not get to look around properly, but it would have been no fun with the four of us getting rather wet and then sitting in the car for 5+ hours. Instead we continued onwards, skipping the direct motorway route to the south of Bolzano, but instead heading West toward the famous Stelvio Pass.

Adding frustration to the heavy rain, the roads were very busy, and surprisingly underdeveloped in that there are no dual carriageways in the region, but single carriageway roads full of lorries, vans and tourists, all driving frustratingly lower than the speed limit. Add to that the huge number of speed cameras, and it wasn't a particularly enjoyable drive to get to the pass. There is however one thing to mention from this part of the drive, which is that this is grape and apple growing territory. Vineyards line the sides of the mountains all around the valleys, and apple orchards line the valley floors all along the side of the roads. These aren't the kind of apple orchards you might expect to see at a country house in the UK, but industrial scale apple growing areas, with special tall and thin trees with a much smaller footprint, which are supported by cables. All the apples on these trees look large and juicy, and there are all different types of apple growing and for sale at nearby farm shops (green, pink and red). It was certainly interesting to see how apples are grown at this scale, and we will have a new appreciation next time we see our Pink Lady apples in M&S are from Italy!

Eventually we got to a village called Spondigna where we turned off into the valley which leads to the pass, and the roads got much quieter and the driving much more pleasant. It was still raining with a lot of fog moving around, but this added a dramatic element to the mountains we could see around us as we drove up through the valley. After about 20 minutes we got to the start of the pass, and the hairpin bends and steep inclines began. I had heard about this road because Top Gear rated it the best driving road in the world a few years back, later downgrading it to second after the Transfăgărășan in Romania, though we have driven that road already. The road itself was in excellent condition, with fresh tarmac and either metal or concrete barriers the whole way up. As expected, the views were spectacular in all directions, though we don't feel we got the full experience given the amount of fog blocking the view back into the valley as we approached the top of the pass. By the time we reached the top the temperature had dropped to just 4 degrees, marking the coldest temperature of the whole trip at 2700m altitude. At the top of the pass there were a few souvenir shops mostly selling cycling gear marked with Stelvio Pass text, which probably explains the number of cyclists we saw climbing the pass in the wind and rain. It looked like a thoroughly miserable activity, though clearly it is a popular thing to do since we even saw a peloton with an escort vehicle marked "Stelvio Pass Bike Tours" at one point.

So was the Stelvio Pass the best or second best driving road in the world? In my opinion, probably not, though it may rank in my top 10. Given how safe the road is to drive and the number of cars around, it definitely lacked the adventure/thrill of some of the remote mountain passes we have driven on other trips like climbing up the Andes near Tilcara, dirt mountain roads near Nizwa in Oman and the mountain passes in Namib-Naukluft National Park in Namibia. Even on this trip we have driven passes with similarly spectacular mountain views and hairpin bends including Llogara Pass in Albania and Vardenyats Pass in Armenia. It was still a fantastic way to end the road trip though, and I'd thoroughly recommend it as a driving experience if you want something fairly close to the UK.

Once over the pass the rain finally started to clear and we could see the mountains in all their glory with fluffy white clouds in otherwise blue skies around them. We still had three hours to go to get back to Pura, with scenic views the whole way as the higher Alps made way for the slightly lower mountains in the north of the Italian Lakes region. The road also took us right around the top of Lake Como, and then onwards to Lake Lugano, both being parts of the respective lakes that we haven't seen before. It all felt very familiar for this last stretch, but it is hard to take the stunning scenery around the Italian/Swiss Lakes for granted even after visiting so many times now.

We finally reached Pura around 6.30pm after fighting through Lugano's rush hour traffic. With a high five and a family hug we celebrated this milestone of making it safely back after such an epic journey! I didn't mention it, but it is also our wedding anniversary today, and we had been a bit concerned about how to make it memorable, though the Stelvio Pass and completion of the trip certainly won't make that an issue. Unfortunately we had a bit of a downer shortly after arriving as we learnt the sad news that the Queen had passed away, making it quite a day of ups and downs in the end, but certainly a day we will never forget for a number of reasons.

Electric Vehicle EV Notes: 

The hotel we stayed in last night had an EV charger and when we arrived happily handed us the RFID card to charge overnight. What they forgot to tell us was that this wasn't a complimentary charger included with the stay as we have experienced throughout the trip, but they charge €0.54/KW on checkout for what you have used. When we checked out they therefore presented us a bill for €12, and when I pointed out that they really should tell people that the charger isn't free, the owner said he has a Tesla himself and "no chargers are free anywhere". This of course is far from the truth, and I listed the countries where we had charged for free at hotels. They didn't seem to get my point, and then decided they didn't speak English anymore (a common tactic when things get a bit tense). I therefore got out my Google Translate and typed "I will pay the charge but you must tell people it isn't free in future", which the man read and then very rudely laughed, looked me up and down, and said "yes of course you will pay". This was indicative of the vibe we got from the German-speaking Italians, so I'm not sure these individuals realised how rude they seemed, or if it is just cultural to treat a customer like this here.

Rest of the day was nice and straightforward:
- BeCharge charger at ENI Petrol Station in Bormio at €0.54/KW, by far the cheapest around.

Miles Driven: 


Eureka! You made it without a hint of a tow lorry the whole way. The images with the mist are far more evocative than bright sunshine. Be interesting to compare phone images with the Nikon ones. Enjoy Pura and safe drive home.

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