The St. Gotthard Pass (Italian: Passo del San Gottardo) connects south and north Switzerland.
Other than traversing the Gotthard tunnel, you can travel the new Tremola if you want to enjoy some of the views from within your car or on your motorcycle, while not losing too much time.
However, that also has some (long) tunneled sections and the far more interesting – and better cycle-able – road is the old Tremola between Airolo in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and Hospental in the German-speaking canton of Uri.
With a summit at 2,106 meters*, the Gotthard Pass doesn’t earn a high ranking in the European list of ‘highest passes’, but the old Via Tremola is a more than fair compensation.
The Tremola road is Switzerland’s longest memorial road construction. It snakes up the slopes of the Val Tremola as a light-coloured ribbon from Airolo and offers impressive views.
In the most spectacular section, the road climbs up 300 meters over a 4 kilometer stretch, incorporating no less than 24 hairpins, each with its own name. The Tremola road today still largely retains the appearance of the reconstruction completed in 1951.
* When you arrive at the Guex memorial, you’re not quite there yet. There’s a sign to be found, reading 2,091 meters, but it’s not the summit. Follow the road past the Lago della Piazza and keep left to bump into the official sign…
While this allows for a (probably) splendid prelude or warm up, Airolo is more frequently referred to as the start of the climb.
As mentioned, from Airolo, you have the choice of taking the old or the new Tremola road.
So, while the latter can be cycled, it’s also the ‘fast lane’, meaning lots of traffic, passing at high speed and there are a couple of tunneled sections, one of them quite long, that will not be enjoyable.
Your far better – by a long shot – option is the old Tremola road, if only for the spectacular cobblestone section(s) and the breathtaking views along that road.
I should note that, at least as I experienced it and you might know, cycling cobbles is harder than smooth asphalt. It’s not as bad as (much) of the cobble stone sections in Paris – Roubaix, but still.
Anyway, it is well worth the extra effort 🙂
This climb is 12.7 kilometers long, with an elevation gain of 932 meters (7.3%).
After the relatively easy start, you’ll only have a short moment to catch your breath when passing the Motto Bartola intersection, with the entrance/exit to the new/main road.
The steepest stretch is in the middle of the main hairpin section, but here you’ll enjoy an ever more spectacular view, so it won’t hurt that much.
Or, you might even get off your bike to take in those views and shoot a picture or two.
Once at the summit, you can pay a visit to the Gotthard museum there, or have a break at the ‘ospizio’. You may also take a short ‘side trip’ back over the new Tremola road, where you will have a fantastic view on the old road, just before the entrance to the gallery/tunnel, as seen in the picture below.
In 2019, during my ‘Tour de Suisse’, I revisited this climb unplanned, as my trip from the other end was supposed to continue to the Nufenen, but as that was closed, I returned the way I came – report on that here.
Between Göschenen and Andermatt is the toughest part: 7 kilometers at 7.4%, with a 9.5% stretch.
You will be diverted from the main road to follow a bicycle path, which is more quiet and safe, but has some bad patches.
It’s in this part of the route that you will pass through the ‘Schöllenen Gorge‘ with the famous Teufelsbrücke (Devil’s Bridge), before you join the main road again.
If you start in Hospental, the ascend is 8.6 kilometers long, with 610 meters of elevation (7.1%).
This part offers nothing special – besides the grandeur of the landscape – and follows the main road.
It’s only at some three kilometers from the summit that you can leave the main road and take the old cobblestone road.
It’s worth taking that little detour, although at 7% – 8% it’s not easy to cycle, bouncing off the cobbles.
You may want to avoid this ascend during the weekends in the summer/holiday season, as traffic can be pretty bad and the road is used as an alternative to the weekly traffic jams before the Gotthard tunnel.
I had no problem from this end during my ‘Tour de Suisse 2019’, when I started in Wassen, to cycle through the famous Gorge – report on that here.
As the Nufenen was closed, I then returned and cycled the Gotthard from Airolo again…
Depending on where you start, Andermatt, Airolo or Wassen, and which direction you go, clock- or anticlockwise, you can combine them in several ways, in different order of appearance for each.
(The routes of the Alpenbrevet do change to start in either Andermatt or Wassen, so loops may differ from year to year…)