Albula will only ever come top of an alphabetical list of mountain passes. But it’s that obscurity – and some very cool associations – that puts it top of our list this year.
All mountain passes are strategic, or have been. There are only ever a limited number of ways through the mountains so the routes there are tended to have been very useful and highly prized.
The Albula Pass – or Albulapass – was the main road between Lombardy in northern Italy and Austria, and so important that this region became an Austrian enclave.
The dying act of the Holy Roman Empire in 1803 was to cede it back to Switzerland since when life has been much quieter in this south east corner.
Plenty of people come here it’s just that they tend to fly in and out by helicopter or private jet. Albula is just a few miles from St Moritz, and not far from Davos – of the World Economic Forum – and Klosters, where Prince Charles goes skiing every year.
Staying for the night around here might not be an option for most people but it costs exactly the same to drive through as it would anywhere else.
‘Left here, Tracy. Filisur then Coire.’
She took the turning, in Bond’s estimation, dangerously fast, but controlled the skid and motored blithely on.
‘For God’s sake Tracy! How in the hell did you manage that? You haven’t even got chains on.’
‘Dunlop Rally studs on all the tyres… I managed to wangle a set. Don’t worry. Sit back and enjoy the drive.’
People who accuse James Bond of being completely sexist conveniently forget he was extremely grateful to be rescued by Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo in OHMSS.
After dodging Blofeld’s men at the ice rink in Samaden, they jump in her white Lancia Flaminia Zagato Spyder (in the book, anyway) and head east further down the Engadine Valley. As we’ve heard, they turn left onto Albulapass at La Punt – where it starts – then head off to Zurich via Filisur and Coire (Chur).
Why are we so keen to check out the Albulapass?
Firstly, despite not mentioning it by name, Ian Fleming obviously thought it was pretty cool.
Secondly, last month’s Aston Martin Centenary Rally to London drove Albula on its way from St Moritz to Lake Constance. We tend to think they know what they’re doing.
Thirdly, Albula is on the menu for Club Mulholland’s Ultimate Grand Tour in a few days’ time.
Fourthly, check the map. There may be only eight of the classic cascading hair pin bends, all at the east end, but there are plenty of twists and turns. For the most part it’s just you, the road and the mountains.
Fifthly, we do know the area (Graubünden). The Engadine Valley – valley of the River Inn – is gorgeous. There’s a good reason why the super rich come here on holiday.
Finally, it cannot be guaranteed – obviously – but it’s likely to be quiet. There’s hardly anything worse on a motoring holiday than following a line of traffic up, then down, a mountain road.
People have to make an effort to come here because it’s not really on the way to anywhere. Even James Bond only took Albula because he was being chased.
Albula might be off the beaten track but there are plenty of well known places nearby(ish).
Bond and Tracy were on the way to Zurich in the book (120 miles) and Munich in the film (165 miles). Aston Martin was going to Lake Constance/Bodensee (100 miles), Club Mulholland from Bormio, northern Italy (50 miles) to Stuttgart (230 miles).
Most intriguing, Vaduz – capital of Liechtenstein – is only 70 miles away.
We got there from Andermatt (100 miles), next to the Gotthard Tunnel on the A2 motorway, via Oberalppass and the Julier Pass, both excellent. At Samaden we turned south onto the Bernina Pass to Italy and eventually Brescia, on the A4 motorway, 115 miles away.