Andermatt to Bellinzona driving tour, St Gotthard Pass
This driving tour over the St Gotthard Pass (Andermatt to Bellinzona) is 85km / 53mi.
Andermatt - Start of Tour Over St Gotthard Pass
From Andermatt (alt. 1,444 m/4,138ft) the road to the St Gotthard at first follows an almost level course through the wide Urseren valley, with views of the Furka.
Hospental (1,484 m/4,869ft), an old village (Lat. hospitium, "hospice") situated at the point where the Furka-Reuss and Gotthard-Reuss join to form the Reuss, is now a health and winter sports resort (ski-lift to 2,000 m/6,562ft on the Winterhorn) with heavy through traffic. Church (1705-11); tower of 13th century castle.
St Gotthard Road
From Hospental the road to the Furka pass goes off on the right. The St Gotthard road, bearing left, now climbs up into the desolate valley of the Gotthard-Reuss with five hairpin bends. The view to the rear of the Urseren valley and the chain of mountains to the north, from the Spitzigrat (2,560 m/8,399ft) to the Galenstock (3,597 m/11,802ft), like the later views towards the pass, reveals the landscape of the St Gotthard massif in all its austerity - bare gneiss and granite crags, sometimes containing rare minerals, which have been little affected by glacier action but have been worn smooth by earlier ice, with many small lakes gleaming between the hills. The road continues up the long stretch of valley known as the Gamsboden (1,640 m/5,381ft), subject to dangerous avalanches in winter, climbing at a moderate gradient. To the left is the Guspis valley, below the Pizzo Centrale and the Guspis glacier. In 4km/2mi is Mätteli.
Mätteli (1,791 m/5,876ft; inn) is at the foot of the Winterhorn of Piz Orsino (2,661 m/8,731ft; 3.5-hour climb from Hospental), to the right of the road. The road then climbs more sharply in a double hairpin bend.At the Brüggloch (1,908 m/6,260ft) the cantonal boundary between Uri and the mainly Italian-speaking Ticino is crossed. Ahead can be seen La Fibbia (2,742 m/8,997ft). The road continues, following a fairly straight course, past the Capanna di Rodont (1,966 m/6,450ft) to the Lucendro bridge (2,015 m/6,611ft) over the Reuss, which flows out of the Lago di Lucendro (2,077 m/6,815ft; 30 minutes up on the right; detour recommended), an artificial lake supplying a power station at Airolo. From the lake it is a 3.5-hour climb (with guide) to the summit of the Piz Lucendro (2,964 m/9,725ft), from which there are superb views.
St Gotthard Pass
After crossing the Lucendro bridge the road climbs in a series of sharp bends to the St Gotthard pass (2,108 m/6,916ft), a bare flat depression with a number of small lakes. To the left is Monte Prosa (2,471 m/8,107ft; 2.5 hours), to the right La Fibbia (2,742 m/8,997ft; 2.5 hours, with guide), sloping down sharply into Val Tremola. The St Gotthard group of mountains, forming a link between the Valais and the Grisons Alps, lies in the center of Switzerland - the core around which the Confederation grew up. Here the valleys carved out by the Reuss and the Ticino have prepared the way for this magnificent route over the central ridge of the Alps. 100 m/328ft beyond the pass is a fork at which the old road continues straight ahead and the new road bears right.
500 m/1,641ft beyond the St Gotthard pass, on the old road, is the St Gotthard Hospice (2,095 m/6,874ft; founded in the 14th C. but frequently rebuilt and now a protected national monument) with a hotel of the same name, a weather station and the National Gotthard Museum (Museo Nazionale del San Gottardo). The collection records the development of the pass (relief models, minerals, weapons, uniforms, documents, etc.).From here it is a 45-minute walk to the Sellasee (2,231 m/7,320ft) and a 3.5-hour climb (with guide) to the summit of the Pizzo Centrale (3,003 m/ 9,853ft).
Valley of Trembling
Beyond the St Gotthard Hospice/ hotel the road descends the slopes of the wild Val Tremola ("Valley of Trembling") in 38 well-engineered bends, some of them supported on retaining walls. In 5.5km/3mi it comes to the Cantoniera Val Tremola (1,695 m/5,561ft), from which the view down into the Val Bedretto and the Valle Leventina opens up. The new road, 7.8km/5mi long, bypasses the Val Tremola on the west, with some remarkable examples of road engineering (three tunnels). It then crosses the old road and later joins it. Continuing down in 13 sharp bends, the road comes to Airolo.
Airolo (1,154 m/3,786ft; pop. 2,000) is a summer and winter sports resort in a magnificent mountain setting in the upper valley of the Ticino, known above the town as Val Bedretto and below it as Valle Leventina. To the west is the Rotondo group (Pizzo Rotondo, 3,192 m/10,473ft). After a great landslide from the Sasso Rosso in 1898 the place was rebuilt and provided with a protective wall. In the Gotthardbahn station, just outside the tunnel, is a bronze relief commemorating the men killed during the construction of the tunnel. Above the bridge over the Ticino stands the Lucendro power station (completed 1945). Southwest of Airolo is the lower station of a cableway up the Sasso della Boggia (2,065 m/6,775ft; skiing area).
Val Bedretto (All'Acqua, Nufenen Pass)
From Airolo a road, narrow in places, goes west up the Val Bedretto, passing through a number of small villages which offer quiet summer holiday accommodation. The road through Fontana is particularly constricted. Villa (1,358 m/4,456ft) has a five-sided church tower designed to resist avalanches. 1km / 0.6mi farther on we come to the picturesque mountain village of Bedretto (1,405 m/4,610ft).From All'Acqua (1,605 m/5,266ft) it is a three-hour walk to the San Giacomo pass, which leads into the Toce valley (Domodossola). The road continues over the Nufenen (Novena) pass (2,478 m/8,133ft; view) into the Rhône valley.
Val Piora (Taneda)
From Airolo to Biasca, the Bellinzona road descends the valley of the Ticino, here known as the Valle Leventina: a superb Alpine valley which drops down in a series of stages, its slopes at first clad with green meadows and mountain forests, which soon give way to chestnuts and walnut-trees (many waterfalls). At the mouth of the wild Val Canaria the road traverses the Stretto di Stalvedro, passing under four natural rock arches. Beyond Piotta (1,012 m/3,320ft), in a wider part of the valley, to the left on the other side of the Ticino is the Ritom power station (50,000 kW), which supplies the St Gotthard railroad. From here a funicular 1,360 m/4,462ft long (average gradient 72% (1 in 1.3) serves the cantonal Gotthard Sanatorium (1,177 m/3,862ft) the picturesque mountain village of Altanca (1,346 m/4,416ft; also reached by road from Piotta; beautiful church of 1603) and Piora (1,795 m/5,889ft; 24 minutes). From the funicular station it is a 15-minute walk to the Ritomsee (1,830 m/6,004ft), an artificial lake which supplies the Ritom power station; from here it is a three-hour climb to the summit of Taneda (2,670 m/8,760ft; magnificent views). From Ambri (980 m/3,215ft) a narrow mountain road winds up to a number of villages high in the mountains (1.5km/1mi to Quinto, 6km to Ronco, 7km/4mi to Altanca).
Rodi-Fiesso (945 m/3,101ft) is a double village beautifully situated between steep hillsides clad with larches and firs (summer holiday accommodation). From here there is a pleasant walk up to the Lago Tremorgio (1,828 m/8,998ft; two hours), to the southwest, nestling picturesquely in a deep rocky hollow.
Prato Leventina, Switzerland
There is a narrow mountain road from Rodi to the little village of Prato Leventina (1,030 m/3,379ft; 2km/1mi southeast), on a natural terrace high above the Ticino valley, with a beautiful, Romanesque campanile.
Campo Tencia (highest peak in Ticino)
4km/2mi beyond Prato Leventina is the village of Dalpe (1,140-1,200 m/3,740-3,937ft), above the Piumogna gorge, from which it is a 2.75-hour climb to the Campo Tencia (3,072 m/10,079ft), the highest peak in Ticino.
Just beyond Rodi-Fiesso, at the old customs post of Dazio Grande (949 m/3,114ft), the road enters the wild Piottino gorge, with a number of tunnels through the rock, between which (on right) the waterfalls on the river Ticino can be seen.
Faido (725 m/379ft; pop. 1,500), in a beautiful location, is the primary town in the Valle Leventina, and attracts many summer visitors. The stone-built houses of Ticinese type which now appear alongside the 16th C. timber houses with carved decoration, together with the first chestnuts and mulberry-trees, are the first imitations of a more southern landscape. On the western side of the valley the Piumogna plunges down in three beautiful waterfalls to join the Ticino.
In Chiggiona (668 m/2,192ft), beyond the railroad line, stands the parish church of the Madonna di Ascente (13th C., rebuilt in the 16th C.). The road continues through wooded country, with waterfalls on both sides. Just before Lavorgo, on the right, are the Cribiasca falls, pouring down in a cloud of spray.
Lavorgo (622 m/2,041ft) lies in a magnificent setting, with the long crest of the Monte di Sobrio on the left and a series of ridges running down from Campo Tencia and the Cima Bianca (2,630 m/8,629ft) on the right. Below Lavorgo a narrow road goes off on the right, crosses the Ticino and runs up (4km/2mi) to Chironico (800 m/2,625ft), a beautiful mountain village with a fine Romanesque church (12th C.) and the 14th C. Torre dei Pedrini. Beyond this, in the Biaschina gorge, the Ticino bursts through into the lowest part of the Valle Leventina (beautiful waterfall).
San Nicolao, Giornico, Switzerland
The village of Giornico (378 m/1,240ft) straddles the Ticino, with handsome old stone houses and two fine Romanesque churches on the right bank. To the right of the road the church of San Nicolao (12th C.), has a beautiful three-aisled crypt; higher up is Santa Maria di Castello. At the end of the village stands a monument commemorating a victory by 600 men of the Valle Leventina and the canton of Uri over a force of 10,000 Milanese on December 28, 1478.Beyond this, after crossing the railroad, a beautiful waterfall on the Cramosina is seen on the right. After the next crossing of the railroad, also on the right, is the Biaschina power station (30,000 kW). The vegetation now takes on an increasing southern character (figs, mulberries); the vines are grown on pergolas, in the manner characteristic of the south.
Riviera (Ticino valley)
From Biasca the road to Bellinzona runs down through the wide and almost straight valley of the Ticino, which from here to Bellinzona is known as the Riviera, with purely southern vegetation (vines, chesnuts, walnuts, mulberries, figs).
At Osogna (280 m/919ft; bypass), above the village, is the chapel of Santa Maria del Castello (altar of 1494, 17th C. frescoes).
At Claro (253 m/830ft), on the slopes of the Pizzo di Molinera (2,293 m/7,525ft), to the left, stands the Benedictine monastery (founded in 1490), of Santa Maria (650 m/2,133ft).4km/2mi beyond Claro, the road from Chur over the San Bernardino pass comes in on the left.
Arbedo (283 m/929ft; bypass), which has a fine 15th C. parish church (the "Chiesa Rossa" or Red church), lies at the mouth of the Valle d'Arbedo (on left): there was a landslide here in 1929 from the Motto d'Arbino, which had been in gradual motion since 1888. In a battle at Arbedo in 1422, during the war with the Duchy of Milan, a force of 3,000 Confederates was defeated by an army six times their number, 2,000 of them being killed in the battle.At Bellinzona (230 m/755ft;) the road divides: straight ahead for Lugano, to the right for Locarno.