Driving over the Gotthard Pass

At least once a season, we like to skip the dark, long Gotthard tunnel that separates the German-speaking part of Switzerland with the Italian region and head over the mountain pass. It may take a little longer (but not always) than waiting to go through the tunnel, but it is a whole lot more beautiful.

Last autumn, returning home from camping in Italy, was the last time we decided to drive over the Gotthard pass. Instead of waiting impatiently in traffic to get through the Gotthard tunnel, we took the winding roads up where we planned to take a lunch break, take some photos and visit the museum.

The journey up from the Ticino side starts by knowing when to exit the A2 highway. Not knowing exactly where the traffic in front of the tunnel was, we decided to take an exit earlier than the signed way and drove through the back streets hugging the highway. Soon the road began to ascend, and the sharp corners begin. The Gotthard pass road is probably the most accessible pass road to navigate, where the roads are wide enough for cars in each direction to pass each other and the turns well spaced out.

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However, this isn't true if you decided to go on an adventure and take the turn-off for the first pass road called the Tremola. If you are keen on a bumpy cobbled stoned road taking hairpin turn after hairpin turn, then keep an eye out for the exit. This original road is only accessible from the southern side of the pass, and would avoid it at all costs in any of your family members suffer from motion sickness - that would be 4 from 5 of us, so we have just admired it from afar.

What to do on the Gotthard Pass

Once you reach the top, you must get out of your car; it's one of the reasons why a trip over takes a little longer than just waiting to go through the tunnel. Climb up the hill near the museum (I took one of my favourite photos up here) for a view over the valley or stretch your legs with a walk around the lake. Make sure you have something warm to put on because you are now at 2106m and even in summer it can get a little chilly.

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Before we headed for lunch, the Teen requested we visit the National Museum of St Gotthard. The museum is housed in the old customs house and tells the historical importance of the pass as well as sharing some mythical stories too - like the story of the devil's bridge which is on the northern side of the pass close to Andermatt. Discover mountain crystals, historical costumes and view modes of transport that used to get over the pass. Can you imagine how bumpy it would have been in a horse-drawn carriage on the Tremola road? And how long it would have taken?

Visitors can organise a ride in the old school carriages along the Tremola route. There is also another museum which takes you into a secret mountain fortress, which was initially constructed to defend Switzerland. Expect the tour to take about 2 hours as you see some of the largest crystals in the world and discover the importance of Ticino in World War 2. We have yet to do that ourselves, but it's on our list for the next time we pass through.

What we have also never caught is the Alpina Vera Market, a market that moves from pass to pass over the summer months. Check out this website to see when the next market will make it to the Gotthard pass.

What to eat on the Gotthard Pass

You have a couple of eating options up here. Bring a picnic and enjoy the views, grab a sausage from the food truck or enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants. We decided on the later and grabbed a table inside Restaurant Prosa (they had an outdoor terrace as well). As our visit coincided with the beginning of wild (game meat) season, we both went with seasonal meals: Rolf enjoying wild deer and I enjoyed my favourite autumn dish, Wild without Wild - all the side dishes without the meat. The kids enjoyed their nuggets and chips.

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Other options include Restaurant Vecchia Sosta which has both table and self-service options, and the new Military Kitchen, on the square of the Gotthard Hospice, serving up typical military style dishes, a nod to the regions military history.

And then it was time to head back down the other side. We wound down the roads back to the German-side of the county, past Andermatt and then down back onto the A2, where we had a leisurely drive home.

Good to know

The Gotthard pass is open from around the end of May till the end of October depending on the snowfall. There are signs on either side of the pass down on the highway informing if it is open or not - green if it is open, red if it's closed - best to check online as well to be sure. The drive takes about an hour, depending on traffic. In 2019 maintenance is being taken out on the pass roads and so there may be delays.

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