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.
I cycled the Gotthard’s Tremola road as part of the ‘Swiss Stage’ at the end of my Giro d’Italia 2015 – report here, pictures here (Google+).
* Paula took a picture at the only ‘official’ sign I could find at the summit that featured altitude – it read 2,091 meters, like on the profile pictures below. I think the road past/around the Lago della Piazza rises a couple of meters more, before the descend starts, so the highest point might be on the other side of the lake and not near the Guex memorial…
From Airolo, you have the choice of taking the old or the new Tremola road – while the latter can be cycled, it’s also the ‘fast lane’, meaning lots of traffic, passing at high speed. Plus, there are a couple of tunneled sections, one of them quite long, that will not be enjoyable.
Your best option is the old Tremola road, if only for the spectacular cobblestone section(s) and the breathtaking views along that road. 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 to the right.
The ascend from the north officially starts in Hospental, but you may start out of Andermatt, or even further (and lower) from Amsteg.
From Hospental, the climb is 8.6 kilomters long, with 610 meters of elevation (7.1%).
This side 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 cyclists can leave the main road and take the old cobblestone road.
It’s worth avoiding 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.