One of Switzerland’s greatest drives, the St Gotthard Pass (2106m, 6909ft), connecting Ticino with central Switzerland (and ultimately Valais for this itinerary), is a historic adventure worth repeating.
While a pass has long existed in this location, it has been since the early 13th century that this route became better known (and dedicated to St Gotthard of Hildesheim), after bridges (such as the legendary Devil’s Bridge) were built over the tricky Reuss river in central Switzerland.
Without doubt, the highlight of this drive is the tortuous and cobblestoned Tremola road (considered the country’s longest historical monument), which snakes its way north from Airolo up to the peak. Via a series of razor-sharp hairpin bends, the route connects the south of Switzerland with the country’s north, giving you a tangible sense of the sheer difficulty of the landscape you’re looking to ‘conquer’.
Once you break the back of the pass, stretch your legs a little and visit the Gotthard Museum, which provides information on the history and importance of the route. The museum is open daily from 9am to 6pm when the pass is open. There’s a clutch of hotels and places to eat at the pass.
Of course, Swiss efficiency and ingenuity being what it is, there are tunnels (for both train and car) that bypass all this twisting and turning, but it’s not half the fun or a fraction as visually appealing (and heaven knows, if you’re stuck in one of the road tunnel’s frequent traffic jams you’ll know frustration).
After descending from the pass, you’ll make your way down to Hospental (Canton Uri), before heading west along the Furkastrasse (also Route 19; and the famous Furka Pass, of Goldfinger fame) to Fiesch.
Of course, these roads are not open in winter — and will generally not open until June. Always check weather and traffic conditions before you set out: we recommend this site for good information about which passes are open in real time.