Erzherzog Johann Strasse
Maps: Österreich Die Generalkarte #4 & #6 -scale 1:200,000.
This fabulous little drive is not for the faint of heart.
Through the green, sparsely-settled province of Styria the route is named for the beloved Archduke Johann grandson of the Empress Maria Theresa who enjoyed traveling this region in the company of naturalists and archaeologists.
From Salzburg, take Red Road #158 to St. Gilgen and then Bad Ischl. Then go south on pretty #145 past Bad Goisern and Bad Ausee. About 25 kilometers beyond Bad Ausee, turn right (west) on Red Road #308 toward Schladming. Leave this road near Gröbming and go south on the yellow road toward Großsölk, descending a steep grade as you cross the Enns river. You are now driving the Erzherzog Johannstrasse (Archduke Johann Road).
Your destination is Schöder, about 35 kilometers south, and Red Road #96, a few kilometers beyond. This may not seem a great distance, but leave plenty of time, both to enjoy the scenery and to navigate this relatively treacherous track.
The road, which is marked "limitation for cars," is for those who like a little excitement with their driving. Much of it is single lane, particularly through the mountain passes such as the Sölkpass, the drives highest point at some 5,900 feet. Little traffic is encountered, which is fortunate, because for the most part the road has no shoulders or guard rails. Along the way are many chapels and small churches, not necessarily located in the few villages and towns. Our theory is the first people to navigate parts of the road needed some place to pray.
After Großsölk, the road follows a stream, the Großsölkbach, for a few kilometers before continuing its climb toward the summit. Just before the peak, you will climb a steep grade and then make a hard right turn. Approximately one kilometer later, at a hard left turn, is a lovely view over the surrounding mountains. The descent takes you off the yellow road for a final few kilometers on a grey road to Schöder at an elevation of about 2,900 feet.
Although you may be relieved to see relatively flat ground and roads with lane markers, the drive is actually not that frightening. It's just a beautiful drive, one definitely worth seeking out.
On #96, turn back west. At Tamsweg, where south of the town the pilgrim's church of St. Leonard and its fortifications guard the Mur river, bear right onto #95 toward Mauterndorf, which has a 12th century castle. Continue north to Radstadt via the Radstatter Tauernpass and the villages of Obertauern and Untertauern. From there it's only a few kilometers west to the A10 north to Salzburg.
The Erzherzog Johann Strasse is usually closed in winter, so plan your trip accordingly and watch the weather if you are traveling in spring or fall conditions on this road could go from thrilling to truly dangerous in a short time.