This is the fifth year in running for us at Speedhunters. While browsing older stories to see how far we’ve come, I came across two car features we did back in 2009 of the BMW M5 and the 135i. This was the first time I’d met our fearless leader Rod as well as Dino in the idyllic town of Berchtesgaden close to the Austrian border. I vaguely remembered the locals mentioning some amazing ‘Deutsche Alpenstrasse’ or German alpine road when we inquired about driving roads in the region for the dynamic shots that we needed back then.
Since I was working in Salzburg this weekend and since Berchtesgaden is just a half hour drive from the Salzburg airport, I used the chance to revisit the town once again and drive a small section of the 400km (approx 280 mile) long Deutsche Alpenstrasse which starts at the Lake Constance and after finding its way through the winding German landscape, ends in Berchtesgaden.
The car I had for this journey was a Renault Megane RS, with the Cup chassis packing 265 horsepower and a healthy 360Nm of twist. Among the other differences to its sister Sport chassis model, this one comes with a limited slip differential, as well as slightly different gear ratios and a stiffer chassis set-up.
I drove from Salzburg to Berchtesgaden, and decided to drive the route in the reverse direction, touching the towns of Ramsau, Inzell, Ruhpolding, Reit am Winkl, exit the Alpenstrasse and then head via Übersee over to the A8 and make my last stop at Chiemsee. This roughly 94km (58 mile) drive would take about an hour and half to drive without any breaks.
Having filled the car up with juicy 100 octane gasoline and myself with chocolate filled croissants, I set off to my first waypoint in Ramsau. Since I didn’t have anyone to assist me with any driving, this would be my first solo Dream Drive shoot.
The roads were surprisingly empty on this day, despite me being warned by the man at the gas station about hordes of bikers. I guess the imminent threat of rain indicated by the heavy clouds kept most of the motorcyclists at home.
The landscape on this route is amazing. Each time the roads opened up slightly I got a glimpse of mountains kissing the clouds, as well as several fields full of grazing cows and sheep.
When I got to Ramsau, the first few droplets of water already started appearing on the windshield which caused a slight bit of concern as I’ve heard stories about just how tail-happy this car is. Turn fast enough into a corner under braking and you can instantly feel the rear end move about. Luckily it was just a false alarm as the clouds parted soon thereafter.
As well as the bikers, on warm summer days I’m told that these roads are heavily populated with enthusiast drivers alike, and it’s easy to see why. This is one of those roads that doesn’t necessarily need to be taken flat out while screaming. Even when stuck behind slower traffic, I caught myself enjoying the view – the mountains, the overgrown tunnels, the lakes, the whole lot. Once the exhaust is warm enough, it pops and bangs ever so gently upon overrun. This makes my inner 12-year old very happy indeed, especially in the tunnels.
Mind you, you’d have to work quite hard to not get distracted by the view. Often the roadside opens up completely to a majestic panorama view like this and you’d have to really force yourself to not get carried away too much. After a couple of such sections I decided to stop and gaze in peace, while motorbikers zipped past. At several spots on this route there are viewing points and rest stops so that riders and drivers alike could take a break from the relentless dash of corners.
After a short break, I drove on. The weather report forecast rain on this day but the strong winds and the valleys meant that the weather could change very quickly.
There were a few spots on the road where there was construction work going on. When this happens, usually one lane is blocked and the traffic is regulated using traffic lights. This meant that the roads were often occupied in bunches of cars. Since I often ended up being at the front of the pack, I always had an empty stretch of road in front of me.
Parts of the Alpenstrasse were cut along rocky mountainsides and often you will find signs for falling rocks on the roadside. In some places, ground water seeps through the rock and presents the drivers on the road with impromptu waterfalls.
This is one of the many rest stops that operate on this route and is built right on the edge of a rocky cliff with a balcony extending out into the open overlooking the valley below.
Even though it’s summer now in Germany, you can still catch a glimpse of the last bits of snow melting away on the mountainsides. During winter, entire sections of this road are sometimes closed off due to snow.
The Mégane is a properly exciting hot hatch. When I initially heard about its front limited slip differential, I scratched my head wondering how much of a difference it would make – doubts which disappeared immediately after driving it. You can get back on the throttle much earlier exiting corners and the front end just hooks and goes. There is no free-spinning inner wheel chaos here. Having spent the better part of my life in Europe within the continental European drift scene I was hesitant to believe deep inside that front-wheel drive cars can be properly fun. That is, until I drove this car.
The agility with which Mégane RS tackles corners beggars belief, but then have to you remember that it has already clocked the fastest time on the Nürburgring Nordschleife for a front-wheel drive production car. Consider my doubts refuted.
I continued on the B305 towards Reit am Winkl. This road cuts through some of the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen, part of which is a natural preserve.
Natural preserves only allow designated vehicles to enter the area. This meant that the Mégane had to wait outside the gate…
… while on the other side I was treated to this! Due to the recent rains the water level had risen in this little lake. The water was ice cold and crystal clear, and reminded me a bit of the Lago di Livigno in Italy from our Stelvio story.
Now this is a sign you don’t see very often.
Eventually the road split, and I continued on in the direction of Reit am Winkl.
Just before getting there, I stopped at a little waterfall to look at the car that had got me here.
When you look at the car for a while, you can start to see the different design cues used. The RS bodykit complements the general body shape so well, its appears as if the car was designed this way from the very beginning.
The roof and the rear hatch window, for example, look like they were designed in one swoosh of the pen and the roof spoiler an extension of the roof itself.
The 18-inch matte black wheels come as standard on the Cup chassis Mégane RS as well as the Dual X Brembo brakes with discs measuring 340mm at the front and 290mm at the rear.
The seats are brilliant Recaro units that are supportive as well as comfortable. Extended side supports on the backrest as well as on the seat itself mean the driver is kept planted in place even under heavy lateral load.
The flared fenders and the aggressive side sills lend a very menacing character to the car, as if the standard Mégane went on a bodybuilding craze.
A closed road due to construction work meant I had to join the autobahn further down the A8. It was starting to get late and I had to drop the car off so I headed towards Chiemsee.
A 15km detour later, I arrived. If you are driving along the autobahn A8, which runs along the lake, the off ramp at Chiemsee takes you right to the water. This place is packed with drivers taking a break from their long drives to relax at the water.
Despite being nearly a century old, the Alpenstrasse still maintains its original glory to this day. It is one of those rare stretches of roads that offer all the basic ingredients in healthy doses – brief straights, countless corners, occasional hairpins and moderate inclines. There is no shortage of pitstops on the way at restaurants, ski resorts and lakes to refresh a weary mind. I got incredibly lucky to be able to experience this road without any worries either in the form of weather or traffic. Since the route runs more or less parallel to the autobahn A8, this is a very realistic route for our readers to retrace. For those wanting to take on the full glory of the Deutsche Alpenstrasse, here is the full route.
Now it is time to hear from you, our readers. What iconic route in Germany would you like us to drive next? Let us know in the comments below!