Thought the most dangerous roads in the world were oceans and continents away? Think again. Europe has a surprising number of hazardous highways that have caused the deaths of a scarily high number of drivers over the years, making it even more incredible that people actually drive them for fun (because apparently board games and knitting aren’t enough for thrill seekers these days).
Europe doesn’t quite have anything on the scale of Bolivia’s Yungas Road – nicknamed the Death Road for reasons that should be fairly obvious – and that’s not a terrible thing. However, the roads found among its plentiful mountain ranges in particular offer a wide range of opportunities to test your car’s handling, with power steering very much coming into its own as a key vehicle feature in a way that you wouldn’t normally appreciate while doing the daily commute to work. From the Alps in Italy to the fjords of Norway, five of the most dangerous roads on the continent are listed below – although they tend to be better-maintained than their South American counterparts, you’ll still need all of your driving skill and a good set of brakes to negotiate them safely. How many will you dare to tackle?
Despite local folklore, you don’t have to worry about being attacked by trolls while you’re driving the Trollstigen road in the mountains near the Norwegian town of Andalsnes, but there are still 11 hairpin turns that have to be negotiated as you wind your way up or down the mountainside. The road is completely closed during the winter because it’s simply too dangerous to use – even in the summer, bad weather, narrow lanes and potential rockfalls are potential hazards for drivers – so make it a July or August trip if you’re planning to tackle the Trollstigen.
When you do take on the road, though, you can expect to enjoy stunning views of the Kongen, Dronningen and Bispen (King, Queen and Bishop) mountains as well as a variety of natural features like waterfalls, valleys and alpine rivers. If you wish to make the Trollstigen a holiday by itself, there are numerous restaurants to dine in and guesthouses and hotels along the route to stay in. This also means you can refresh yourself at the end of the day and not have to drive the road all in one go, which could make you dangerously tired. With so much to see, why would you want to?
Stelvio Pass (Italy)
With early fifty hairpin turns winding up the side of the Ortler Alps in northern Italy, the Stelvio Pass is one of the highest mountain roads in Europe. It was voted the world’s best driving road by motoring television programme Top Gear in 2008 and, although its title might have been claimed by other roads in the intervening period, it remains a beautiful European drive for any motoring enthusiast.
Although it requires experienced drivers to negotiate its 48 switchback bends, it isn’t as challenging as it looks, especially if you leave it later in the day to tackle – it becomes very busy (with cyclists as well as car drivers) because of its widespread popularity, so it will be difficult to build up any great speed (not that you’d want to go that quickly on it anyway). If your schedule allows it, it might be best to stay in one of the nearby hotels the night before so you can get an early start on the road in the morning and take your time enjoying the spectacular views over the countryside. Just don’t look straight down over the side if you can help it – keep your gaze fixed on the horizon!
Atlantic Ocean Road (Norway)
Another entry from Norway is the Atlantic Ocean Road that connects several small islands, passing Hustadvika, a notoriously dangerous stretch of Norwegian coastline upon which many ships have run aground. The road was actually hit by no fewer than twelve storms during its construction, and cars travelling along it are advised to do so only in good weather, lest high waves cause them to crash – however, this doesn’t tend to stop tourists, who flock to it in the autumn specifically to experience those famous storms.
In good weather, though, it is a spectacular rollercoaster of a road to drive, with several panoramic viewing points and rest areas offering visitors a break from driving – you might even be able to indulge in a few hours of fishing if you’re that way inclined, as the viewing points tend to be popular with local anglers. In terms of marine life, whales and seals are common sights, and diving is a particularly popular activity due to the clarity of the water in the area. All in all, the Atlantic Ocean Road is a rewarding and exciting drive at any time of the year – it just might be an idea to stay away when the clouds begin to turn black!
Kolyma Highway (Russia)
Connecting Magadan and Yakutsk in Siberia, frost, ice and mud are the main hazards presented by the Kolyma Highway. Because of the area’s permafrost, there is no asphalt covering the road, which turns into a mudbath in the summer when the frost melts. This leads to vehicles getting stuck for days on end, but they have no choice – there’s no other route between the two cities. These issues don’t usually lead to death, but they can lead to cars having to be abandoned and lost to the mud. That’s assuming that you fancy braving being attacked by a bear…
The road is known as the Road of Bones throughout Russia because of the high number of gulag prisoners who died building it. There are towns listed on the map, but in many cases they have been completely abandoned, much less in possession of a hotel to spend the night in. The route can be done in four days, but will obviously take longer depending on how often you stop – this is a drive that’s more of an adventure of survival than a sight-seeing tour. Emergency evacuation is possible by helicopter, but carefully conserving fuel and food should see you through as long as you’re sensible.
Grimsel Pass (Switzerland)
The Grimsel Pass links the Goms in Valais with the Hasli Valley in the Bernese Oberland, with the road climbing up through canyons that become ever-narrower the higher one drives, and which play host to power plants and reservoir lakes as well as featuring an outstanding range of natural beauty, including waterfalls and colourful foliage in the summer. Visitors can check out the Grimsel Lake and its dam at the top of the road, combining it with a stay in the Grimsel Hospiz hotel.
One of the less dangerous roads on the list in terms of deaths caused, the Grimsel Pass still offers a challenging drive to anyone wishing to cross it – just make sure you don’t plan a trip for the winter, because the road will be closed as a safety precaution. As a whole, it is fairly wide, and it probably needs to be – the number of hairpin bends and blind curves that the road plays host to will present certain issues in terms of negotiating oncoming traffic. Concentration and care should see you safely through, however. As far as Swiss drives go, this is one of the most spectacular, and certainly worth considering taking if you’re going to be in the area.