Nowhere in Switzerland is autumn as beautiful as in the mountains, where the landscape is glowing brightly with reds and yellows and greens and where the weather is ever changing from blinding sunshine to thickest fog to cold snow. So when we had a little time at our hand, my sister and I took to the road for three days and drove across five of Switzerlands most iconic mountain passes.
Flüela pass (2383 m)
From Winterthur we drove off towards St. Gallen and drove via the Toggenburg towards Davos. A stop at the famous “Heidiland” picnic-area and restaurant was shortcut due to the fact that all of Switzerland seemed to want to have their lunch there. We literally didn’t find a single parking space and continued on towards Landquart and then Davos. Here the driving fun really started with the pass road making its way up the mountains. And just when we reached the pass height, the weather hit: Thick snow flakes whirled through the air and started to cover the moon-like landscape in a light layer of white. After a short break at the restaurant there, we made our way down into the lower Engadin valley, where we spent the night in the little town of Scuol. Our mountain view rooms couldn’t really live up to the expectations due to all mountains being hidden by thick clouds. Yet the morning suprise of the first snow having reached the valley made up for it.
Julier pass (2284 m)
From Scuol we drove on through Engadin valley and via St. Moritz and Silvaplana up our second mountain pass: Julier. Up and up we drove until we were surrounded by white peaks and then down again past the silent lake of Marmorera and down towards Chur.
Lukmanier pass (1915 m)
Since our initially planned route across San Bernardino pass was closed we took an alternative route into Ticino and continued our drive towards the Lukmanier pass. And I am superglad we did: It was actually the most beautiful part of our drive. At times the landscape looked as if you were someplace up north in the Scottish highlands. And when we drove down and into Ticino you could really see how the nature was different due to the more mediterranean climate. And also the little villages had the distinct ticinese feel to them. Time for an espresso break in Biasca!
St Gotthard pass (2106 m)
Yet we only did a little dip into the Ticino: Our plan was to spend the second night on top of Passo del San Gottardo, the mountain pass that connects the italian speaking part with the german speaking part of Switzerland. The region of the Gotthard Pass is an important north-south axis in Europe and is crossed by three major traffic tunnels, each being the world’s longest at the time of their construction: the Gotthard Rail tunnel (built in 1882), The Gotthard Road Tunnel (1980 and 17 km long) and the Gotthard Base tunnel (2016). We however took the old route over the pass and stopped to stay at the newly and beautifully renovated Ospizio. After a good nights rest we woke up to a bit of a nasty surprise. A snow storm was covering every inch of street with slippery, icy snow and we had yet to get off the mountain. Those jokes we made the day before about not bringing snow chains suddenly didn’t seem all that funny anymore. Yet luckily the snow didn’t stick to the main road much and we were able to make a careful and safe descent on the supercurvy and steep road. Feeling like we could take on anything after having made our way down in this cosy little weather situation, we decided to not just take the highway back to Zurich but rather add a fifth little mountain pass to our route.
Klausenpass (1948 m)
So we made our way down the steep valleys of Uri and took a right turn in Andermatt towards Klausenpass. Again we took a narrow, curvy road that led us up into the mountains. And this time it was the fog that hit. It wasn’t just that we couldn’t see the supposedly great view. We literally couldn’t see anywhere beyond some four meters in front of the car. Street signs saying “Dangerous road” kept emerging from the fog adding to the creepy atmosphere. Yet as we superslowly but steadily kept on gaining on altitude the fog kept getting lighter. And some 50 meters below the pass height we actually made it: Bright sunlight was hitting us and we took haste to get out of the car and catch some sun rays before the clouds cought up with us. After that the route was pretty straight forward – down into Linthal and past some impressive giant walls of rock and the via Glarus on back home, with a renewed sense of awe for the beauty of the Swiss alps.
Route: Day 1: Winterthur – Wildhaus – Davos – Flüelapass – Scuol. Day 2: Scuol – St. Moritz – Julierpass – Thusis – Disentis – Lukmanierpass – Biasco – Airolo – Passo San Gottardo. Day 3: Passo San Gottardo – Andermatt – Klausenpass – Linthal – Glarus – Winterthur.
Some of the passes are closed during the winter months: check www.alpen-paesse.ch for road updates. Also make sure to check the signs at the entrance of each pass road for information on road conditions and if roads are open at all.
Eat, Sleep, Activities along the route:
Scuol: Stay at the boutique hotel Guarda Val. Eat local specialities at the restaurant Crusch Alba. Relax at the local spa.
Zernez: Visit the visitor center of Switzerlands only nationalpark.
Passo San Gottardo: Stay at the beautifully renovated Ospizio Passo San Gottardo.