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Winter Driving - Venice to Innsbruck

We're looking to hire a car and drive from Venice up through Dolomites (Cortina d'Ampezzo) and in to Innsbruck around 12 December.

Has anyone done this drive during winter?

Can any body suggest where would be the best place to collect a hire car (with winter tyres) for this drive?

Are there any places in Northern Italy that I could hire a car with winter tyres?

Are these roads open/ok at this time of year?

I know its going to be really expensive especially with one-way hire fees, and I'm ok with that as its a once in a lifetime trip that we've been saving for for a long time... The hire car companies are not being very helpful telling me winter tyres are not mandatory in Italy I need to make my own way from Venice to Innsbruck (eg train?) but we really want to see the Dolomites and are keen to do it via car.

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Posted by
12040 posts

If a mountain road isn't safe to drive, they will close it off. Otherwise, the Brenner Pass remains open in all but the most extra-ordinary circumstances, and there's any army of snow removal vehicles pre-positioned to move in once the snow starts to fall. As long as you're not driving during a snowstorm, you should be fine.

"but we really want to see the Dolomites and are keen to do it via car." You don't need to focus solely on the Dolomites. This is just one subrange of the much larger Italian Alpine chain, and the direct route from Venice to Innsbruck is nothing but Alps. At this time of year, I would just focus on what's easily accessible. And the Alps are VERY EASILY accessible from Innsbruck.

Posted by
12040 posts

THE direct route. Brenner Pass to Innsbruck.

Posted by
6562 posts

You would have to wait and see the road conditions. Most would avoid the Dolomites in Winter.
Last time we went from Venice to Innsbruck in February, we went over to Verona and drove north thru the Brenner Pass. It's about 210 miles to the border and another 20 miles down into Innsbruck.
I would suggest taking the train that time of year. If the roads are clear around Innsbruck, rent a car there to take in the sights. There's more beauty around Innsbruck than one can imagine.
Most people traveling through The Dolomites would be going May to October.

Posted by
12040 posts

"Most would avoid the Dolomites in Winter." Actually, the winter is probably busier than the summer- skiing is the biggest seasonal attraction for most of the Alps. Although I've never skied in Italy, my experience elsewhere in the Alps is that keeping the roads open is the economic life-blood for many resort towns. And winter sports are a HUGE part of Innsbruck during the colder months. Driving is unlikely to pose much of a problem except as the snow actively falls.

Posted by
15945 posts

I was going to add, if people avoid the Dolomites in Winter, how do all those hoards of skiers that blanket the slopes get there? They get there in cars and buses, since rail links are virtually nonexistent (exception Kronplatz from Brunico). I'd go from Venice straight north on the A-27 to Ponte nelle Alpi then continue on to Cortina D'Ampezzo on Rt 51. Continue on Rt 48 to the Adige valley below Bolzano, or any number of roads in that direction. The Val Gardena is especially nice. You can always drop the rental car in Bolzano and proceed to Innsbruck on the train. All the passes will be open unless there is a major snowstorm going on, in which case you would be stuck, whether you were in London, New York, Chicago, or Denver.

Posted by
2828 posts

It should be fine travelling through the area in December. New England levels of snowfall (with several meter accumulations) are not common on low altitude locations in the Alps, so you shall be fine travelling there. A27 + SS51 to Cortina d'Ampezzo is a low altitude route, you shouldn't have problems there. Between Cortina and Innsbruck, following north on SS51 and then going via Brunico to access A22 and then go to Austria is usually a better option if there is snow on the ground. In Italy they are rather conservative in closing roads that are blocked by snow, more than in US - if a major route is not safe for regular cars (SUVs are not that common), they close it off and clean it before re-opening.

I strongly disagree with the colleague who said people avoid the Dolomites in winter. It is peak tourist season there, a couple million people drive through there every winter.

I'd just avoid travelling at night.

Posted by
11798 posts

Brenner Pass is a really nice road. You will find it's less curvy and steep than you would expect. Just take it easy when you're driving in snow and you will be fine.

Unless you want to go through the Dolomites, you will save time by going to Verona and taking the Brenner Pass from there.

Posted by
2700 posts

Hi,

I don't believe it's mandatory to have winter tires in Italy. I've heard from others where the rental co. wouldn't guarantee them on the rental. If driving into Austria, then they are required. In Austria a toll sticker (Vignette) is also mandatory for driving on highways. It's cheap, about 8 Euro for a sticker good for 10 days, the least expensive version of the Austrian Vignette.

Are you planning this as a 1 day drive without staying overnight? Keep in mind his is about a 5 hour drive if only using highways, not driving through the Dolomites. The drive via Cortina and then west through the Dolomites is probably more like 6 to 7 hours.

Since the winter tires aren't mandatory in Italy, if you get a car without them, consider/inquire about dropping the car in Brixen/Bressanone and then taking the train to Innsbruck.

Depending on conditions, you could always drive the highways Venice/Verona/Bolzano and then if conditions are good, head off the A22 into the Val Gardena. For some really up close Dolomite views, perhaps drive some of the Gardena Pass there.

Posted by
2828 posts

Winter tires are not mandatory in Italy on a blank manner, but you might reserve cars fitted with them (or rent tire chains) on most big rental offices.

Posted by
12040 posts

Speaking of tire chains. They're obligatory on some Alpine roads under certain conditions in Switzerland and Austria. I couldn't comment on Italy, though.