There are many reasons why people never cease to be fascinated by the highest mountain roads: the extraordinary panoramas they offer at bend after bend; the great difficulties encountered by the engineers and builders due to the exceptional environments in which they are constructed; the fact that they lead to remote places far from the usual urban landscapes; and the fact that they enable direct and fast connections between places separated by large mountain chains. They are fascinating for engineers, interested in the works required to enable us to overcome mountains with ribbons of asphalt. And for motorcyclists, always seeking new mountain passes to conquer on their motorbikes; and so on. Leading the field of the tallest mountain roads of Northern Europe is the Sognefjellet Road, known to locals as the Sognefjellsvegen. This road reaches a height of 1,430 metres at the top of the pass, in the middle of what have been called the Alps of Northern Europe.
The highest roads in the world
For many people, a road that runs at an altitude of 1430 metres is nothing out of the ordinary. Not when you consider that the highest road in the world reaches an altitude of 5,430 metres: this is the Suge La, a trans-Himalayan road in Tibet that links the cities of Coquen and Raga. It is a very dangerous road that consists for long stretches of an earth road, used by cars, minibuses and heavy lorries, which have to deal not only with the bends and precipices but also frequent avalanches and landslides. For a long time it was believed that the highest road in the world was the one that leads up to the Khardung Pass in India, also in the Himalayas. Modern measurements have shown that the road only reaches 5,259 metres, however, not 5,682 as previously believed. There are higher mountain roads, in fact, such as the road leading up to the Marsimik La pass in India, at 5,590 metres, although this is only used by the military, or the Cerro Uturunco road in Bolivia, that reaches an altitude of 5,836 metres. However, the latter road has been blocked for years by landslides, making it effectively impassable. The highest mountain road in Europe that is open to traffic is the Nebirnav Yaylasi road in Turkey, at 3,070 metres, while the highest road in Italy is the Stelvio Pass, at an altitude of 2,758 metres.
The highest road in Norway and Northern Europe
The landscape around the highest mountain roads in Norway is obviously different from what you will find in India or Tibet, but also different from Turkey, Italy, Spain or Switzerland. In Northern Europe the mountains are not so high. The highest peak in Northern Europe is in Norway, and it is 2,469 metres high, so obviously the average height of mountain roads in Scandinavia and Northern Europe generally is going to be lower.
But the panorama that the Sognefjellet Road offers is absolutely alpine, given the latitude of this region, also.
The characteristics of the Sognefjellet Road
The Sognefjellet Road is a stretch of road that forms part of County Road 55 (Fylkesvei 55 in Norwegian) which winds along for 248 kilometres between the towns of Lom and Høyanger. The Sognefjellsvegen alone covers 108 kilometres and given the altitude it reaches, it is closed in winter.
The importance of the Sognefjellet Road is the connection it provides between the two cities of Bergen and Trondheim, the second and fourth biggest cities in Norway respectively in terms of population (the first is the capital, Oslo, while the third is Stavanger).
The Sognefjellet Road is completely asphalted, and links Sogndalsfjøra (in the Vestland county region) with Lom (in the Innlandet region). The road as we know it today was opened on 16 July 1938, less than two years before the German invasion of Norway during the Second World War.
The route of the Sognefjellet Road
The panoramas offered by the Sognefjellet Road draw large numbers of tourists every year. As we have already mentioned, the road is closed in winter due to the abundant snowfall that affects the region every year. There are high walls of snow along the sides of the road even in spring, whereas the road surface is generally perfectly clear and safe. The typical route taken to follow the Sognefjellet Road starts in Lom and continues in the direction of Mefjellet; this is the site of Knut Wold’s unmistakeable sculpture: a large block of rock with a square hole in the middle that allows you to look at the landscape from a new perspective.
The highest point on the route, and hence of the entire Scandinavian road system, is at Fantesteinen. The name of this place, which can be translated as “Bandits’ rock” is linked to the presence of groups of bandits in past centuries who hid beneath the large rock at the top of this road, ready to ambush travellers.