Germany to the Brenner Pass

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Germany to the Brenner Pass

There are several possible routes, all converging at Innsbruck:

  1. Coming from west of Garmisch-Partenkirchen or Füssen over the Fernpass.
  2. Coming from east of Garmisch-Partenkirchen over the Scharnitzpass and Seefelder Sattel.
  3. All the way by motorway via Kufstein.

1 and 2 (in their Austrian sections) are described very briefly here. There is next to nothing of historic interest on routes 1 and 2 but scenically they are spectacular. Both these routes are slow. They really don't require much in the way of commentary.

1. The Fernpass  In the Middle Ages, this was the old main road between Germany and Venice. You might come to the Fernpass from Fussen and the Königschlösser, from Oberammergau and Linderhof or from just west of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Coming from Fussen the first town in Austria is Reutte, the capital of the Ausserfern (the district beyond the Fern). From there the road leaves the Lech valley and turns towards the Loisach valley at Lermoos (12 miles). Bypass Lermoos - at this point you are about 3,000 feet up - going under the tunnel before starting the steep and winding climb to the pass. The mountain ranges are the Miemingergebirge to the east and the Wetterstein just above them to the north, both reaching about 9,000 feet. Spectacular views open up on the Sonnenspitze above and the Blindsee below. The top of the pass is 3,967 feet. The descent is wooded and lovely but fairly hair-raising until you reach the Mieming plateau and the Inn valley. Pass Nassereith and Obsteig to join the motorway at Telfs, direction Innsbruck.

If you are coming directly from Linderhof or Oberammergau you join the road just beyond Reutte at the Ehrenberg Cleft (the entrance to the Tirol in the Middle Ages). Before reaching it, you drive alongside the long, shallow and mysteriously beautiful Plansee.

If you're coming from Garmisch-Partenkirchen you cross the border at Griesen and enjoy spectacular views back on to the Wetterstein (where the Zugspitze is) from Lermoos before joining the pass.

2. The Scharnitzpass  This is the most dramatic of the passes, to the east of Garmisch and the Wetterstein massif. The road is closed to caravan traffic. Coaches are OK, depending on how intrepid your driver is feeling. The road has been shallowed to a 1:7 gradient. It used to be 1:4. This is why this pass never attracted the crowds that the Fernpass did over the other side of the Wetterstein. You enter Austria just beyond the very picturesque Bavarian town of Mittenwald. The slope is very gentle until the last short stretch to Seefeld in Tirol at the heart of the "Seefelder Sattel" or Seefeld Saddle. This is a stylish spa town with sulphur springs. It is now better known for cross-country skiing. It was the home of Nordic events in the 1964 and 1976 Innsbruck Olympics and the 1985 World Championships. (There are 125 miles of cross country trails.) At Reith the terrifying descent begins down the slope of the Zirlerberg to the town of Zirl, a drop of 1,650 feet over a distance of about 3 miles. There is only one hairpin bend on this descent. Once down at Zirl take the valley road for the short hop to Innsbruck. Just after Zirl you drive round the Martinswand, a tall cliff which juts out from the Karwendel. The story goes that Emperor Maximilian once fell off this cliff while out hunting and was saved from death by an angel disguised as a peasant.

Innsbruck to the Brenner  This is the most important Alpine pass to Italy, crossing a rare break in the High Alps created by the valley of the river Sill. It has been in use since Roman times. The pass is the lowest in these mountains at an altitude of 4,508 feet. You take the motorway. The Innsbruck-Venice railway below you crosses without recourse to tunnels. After 7 miles, you reach the Europabrücke, a superb piece of engineering passing 620 feet over the Sill valley. (The Austrians are very clever: every other country in Europe paid for building this bridge and only the Austrians reap the benefit of the heavy tolls collected.) After 23 miles of stunning Alpine scenery on both sides, you cross into Italy at the Brenner.


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