San Bernadino Pass / Switzerland
The San Bernadino Pass may only be 45km but is one of the most beautiful and "smoothest" mountain passes in the Alps.
The approach to San Bernadino (best driven from the south) runs along one of the beautiful valleys in Switzerland, the Mesolcina. Located south of the Alps in the Swiss (Italian speaking) Canron Ticino, the architecture in this valley is very much Italian influenced, the route taking you through beautiful alpine villages before starting your ascent of the pass.
The initial rise, before you reach the village of San Bernardino (which is the official start point of the San Bernadino pass) consists of wide sweeping turns, incredibly smooth roads, lined by Alpine trees. The gradient at this point is not more than 5-8% and really is a wonderful scenic run. You also pass by several deserted castles, testimony to the importance of this valley in the middle ages where it was the main trading route between north and south Europe.
Once through the village of San Bernardino the ascent steepens and narrows, but remains incredibly smooth. As the terrain changes, with trees fading and the vista becoming tundra like the road becomes more interested with tight twists and turns, but with good visibility.
The final stretch of the San Bernadino Pass as you rise above 1800m is simply beautiful, great stretches of switchbacks, with dramatic rocks and small waterfalls and streams in abundance; this really is probably my favourite pass in Switzerland. It also feels very much like a wild open expanse, as by this time the roads are not that steep at all, just wide and sweeping, whilst passing the glorious lake Moesola.
The descent introduces some different conditions, with the road narrowing and becoming much steeper with tighter turns with the road following the cliff line. Eventually the road open into rich farmland and you can reflect on the wonderful ribbon of tarmac you’ve just driven on.
The San Bernadino Pass really is the best way to get from Switzerland to Italy and not to be missed!