SAN BERNARDINO PASS | SWISS ALPS
No. 6 of 18
The San Bernardino Pass links the Central Swiss Alps where mostly German is spoken to the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland - the Ticino in the South. Travelling along the pass instead of the parallel running highway including a six kilometres long tunnel is an enchanting driving experience with recognisable change of architecture, cuisine and culture between the North and the South. Almost guaranteed during summer is nice dry weather on the South side of the pass.
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The San Bernardino Pass is one of the highest paved roads in the world, but sweeps smoothly over the Swiss Alps. Vintage car drivers will appreciate the gentle giant. Gleaming glacier rocks dominate the scenery of the pass wriggling trough a moor up to the top on 2066 metres with the mountain lake of Lago Moesola. It's worth to stop here to take in the views, have a coffee and maybe a short walk towards the hundreds of small rock pyramids visitors have stacked here.
For the best driving experience we recommend to tackle the nearly 100 kilometres long alpine road from the South. With most of the 40 hairpins in the northern part, it will get a bit more tricky, but still manageable even for unexperienced drivers.
Before reaching the village of San Bernardino - who gave the pass its name and is the official starting point you will experience wide sweeping turns on a very smooth roads lined by trees on each side. On the way a number of castles point out the importance of the valley as a trading route during the middle ages connecting the North and South of the Alps.
Once you left the village behind the road remains gentle up to the top where we suggest stopping for a coffee to admire the views from the plateau on pretty impressive 2066 meters above sea level. The drive down on the North side of the pass will be twisty and feel very eventful as the San Bernadino Pass also gets tighter on this last section. Surely the pass is the most scenic and spectacular way to cross the Alps and between Switzerland and Italy.
There is reason to believe that the pass was already in use in prehistoric times. Originally called the Via Mala – which literally means “bad path”, the San Bernardino was named after a mountain village in the fifteethns century. It was during that time when the pass gained importance as a mule track and trading route. Since 1770 the road was open to wheeled traffic and only between 1821 and 1832 improved to ensure trade between the North and the South. 1967 the San Bernardino road tunnel on the parallel running highway was opened and reduced traffic on the pass dramatically. Today the pass serves mainly tourism or as a alternative route when the tunnel is closed.
The San Bernardino Route itself is in general accessible throughout the year via the San Bernardino tunnel. The scenic alpine pass remains closed during the cold season between November and end of May. Once weather and avalanche conditions allow the San Bernardino Pass will be opened.
Constantly updated opening status information on the San Bernardino Pass is available online.