Family is taking a military flight from the states over to Germany for Christmas. I hope to drive from Ramstein Germany down to Rome and then back during late December. Does anyone have advice for the drive. Should we attempt it? How bad are the highways through the mountains?
The major routes run through passes, valleys and tunnels, not over the mountains themselves. Conditions are like any other road- bad during a snow storm and a few hours afterwards, otherwise fine. It can vary from one day to the next. More consistently problematic, though, Germans don't like too much artificial illumination. So during the long periods of darkness during the winter, visibility on the roads can be very poor. If the weather is bad, I can sometimes see barely 100 feet in front of me when I drive to work in the morning.
Of course, the first question is why not take a train? Fairly direct route to Rome and avoid the worries of driving.
Patty, For a drive of that distance in winter, my suggestion would be to use fast trains instead. There will be less concern with "road conditions" and it will likely be a more relaxing trip. Especially this winter, Europe has been suffering some extreme weather and problems with snow. Yesterday was chaos in Paris (which is close to the same latitude), with even the Eiffel Tower closed due to snow. Note that for driving in Italy, each driver will require the compulsory International Driver's Permit which is used in conjunction with your home D.L. These are valid for one year and easily obtained at any AAA office. A GPS along with good Maps would also be advisable. Happy travels!
At this date you are probably too late to get significantly discounted fares, but for advance purchase German Rail has online Europa-Spezial Italien fares from Ramstein all the way to Verona (via Mannheim and Munich), including a day train over Brenner Pass, for as low as €39 per adult (over 14, less than 15 are free with a parent). These fares are from anywhere in Germany to the end of the first train that ends outside of Germany (hence Verona). You would still have to pay for and take Italian trains to Rome (or rent a car in Verona, where the weather might be better).
"The major routes run through passes, valleys and tunnels" This is what the highway over Brenner Pass looks like from below.
The photo of the Brenner Pass is VERY misleading. It's actually a 6 lane highway, 3 lanes in each direction.
The point is that the grades and turns aren't any more steep or sharp than a typical autobahn. It's nothing like the winding, climbing secondary roads between Luzern and Interlaken, for example.
Get an all-wheel drive Audi or something similar providing you ever get on that flight from the military air base, you could be stuck there for days waiting for just the right flight.
Just came back from picking up a car in Munich and driving it to Venice and Milan and return to Munich. We had exceptionally cold weather, ( many flights were cancelled and BBC carried news of train slowdowns as well),however the roads were clear. Snow blowing across some fields and onto roads in suburbs , reducing visibility,were the biggest problem;altho we anticipated black ice, never had any.The Brenner pass thru the Alps was an excellent route. Locals told us it can get backed up with the trucks in case of wet snow, but we lucked out. Hope you have good weather!
Brenner Pass is a great road, wide, level and the turns are easy. It compares favorably to any passes I've driven in the US. I've only driven it in the fall. Since it's a major pass, I would expect it to be drivable unless there's an active storm. Check the weather before you cross, make sure you have good tires and drive appropriately for the conditions. Make sure you have winter clothes, drinks and snacks in case you get stuck (traffick can be stopped for various reasons).
If you're coming from Ramstein, it's doubtful you'll be going through the Brenner Pass unless you're taking the long, out of the way route. From Ramstein, take the 6 to the 5 which takes you past Karlsruhe to the Swiss border at Basel. Be careful with your speed, there are speedtraps all over the place and I've gotten flashed a few times on that route. You'll need to buy a Swiss highway toll sticker, costs somewhere around 30 euros if I remember correctly. They will pull you over at the border and force you to buy one on the spot if you don't have one. The autobahn through Switzerland is pretty good even in winter (better than the Brenner Pass) but during snowstorms the traffic can be a nightmare. And if you're claustrophobic, be warned that there is a 17 km tunnel at the St. Gottard Pass. In Italy, you take a toll ticket when you get on the autostrada and pay when you get off. From the border to Rome, probably be between 20-30 euros (one way). You catch the A1 at Milan which takes you around Florence to Rome and be careful because the A1 is infamous for accidents.
I went skiing in Oberstdorf this weekend. There was a major snow storm in the Bavarian Alps on Thursday night. By the time I arrived on Friday night, all of the autobahns were completely clear, and there was only a little bit of slush and packed snow on the secondary roads. No problems driving whatsoever.