Two years ago, when I was last in Switzerland, on our daily roads, at the highway exit, I read a few times about "the pass to Milan closed during the winter". So something has remained in my cerebellum since then.
Combined with my more recent passion for driving on considered scenic roads, I discovered the Saint Bernardino Pass in Switzerland a year or so ago. I kept reading about it, came across its neighbor Gothard, and kept flirting with the idea. The idea that, possibly, materialized this year. I flew here from the UK to Bergamo Milan.
From there I rented a car for a few days and was on the road. I spent the first night after leaving Italy via Como in Bellinzona, a small Swiss town, in a hotel close to the highway, where everything from check-in to check-out was done automatically.
Although I had somehow done my homework and had read that the pass opens in mid-May, I was a bit worried because its opening depends on the weather. I searched and entered some forums specific to those traveling to Switzerland where I was kindly informed that indeed the pass is open to the public.
The second dilemma was related to the fact that the navigation system, on which we, unfortunately, rely heavily these days, was sure to take me to the St. Bernardino Tunnel, a year-round tunnel that does what it has done for hundreds of years.
I obviously searched using Google maps, and relied mostly on possible road signs ahead of time, signs that indeed exist, and right where the fork is, I turned right out of the everyday traffic through the tunnel, following the sign with "Pass Bernardino".
We had found accommodation in advance very close to the pass, and our dilemma of whether to stay and then make the journey or vice versa was immediately clarified when we initially came across the pass.
So we took it up, on the endless serpentines, overtaking the few cyclists and being in turn overtaken by motorcyclists or other beauty-seekers. The weather was OK, a little wind, sun now and then.
I reached the top of the plateau at the small lake, some people were fishing there, and the restaurant was closed because it was probably too early in the year (I was there on April 14), I took some pictures and took it downhill, of course, to the accommodation. The accommodation was a superlative in itself, Hotel restaurant Lido Saint Bernardino.
We called ahead of time because booking told us that it didn't have rooms for the two nights we wanted, we ran into the matron directly, Maria, who told us to come without worry.
I stayed two nights in paradise, due to the picturesque surroundings.
Since the Gothard pass was over a hundred kilometers away and somehow convinced that if you've seen one, it's the same with the rest, the next day we decided to go to the Verzasca valley.
Before Verzacsa, we decided to go to Locarno for a few hours, to Termali Spa, an outdoor/indoor beach in a superb location, where we paid 18 francs per person to enter the area with pools and water pushed into the chalets.
Of course, I don't recommend entering the pool with the car key in your back pocket, because you'll have some problems then, right, with the lathe in the final picture.
Needless to say, you have to stop every step of the way for photos.
Lots of people were at the beach, and some were even swimming in the cold mountain river water.
At every step there were warnings in about three languages explaining to the traveler to be careful because there are no lifeguards, don't venture where it's dangerous, and don't get into the water if you don't know how to swim.
I served a polenta made of a coarse flour, with a fantastic taste, and with only cheese, plus a cold beer.
The joy would come the next day when we left for Bergamo where we would spend the last night near the airport.
We saw another route on Google maps and, not wanting to drive the same way as we came, we followed this route, ignoring the desperate screams of the navigation system which had of course chosen the shortest route, like "turn back now or you're going to hell"
So we now went through the Saint Bernardino tunnel and after a few more kilometers of road, it took us out on... the Splugen pass.
A step about which, to my shame, I had no idea and which, from all points of view, beats Bernardino to the heart.
We also had the chance of a beautiful sunny day, that's right, the pass connects Switzerland to Italy, it's also only open in the summer season, and it was full of vintage cars, cyclists, motorcyclists, and even hikers.
Everything was very clean, and very civilized, in the sense that you could sit behind a cyclist for good minutes, and no one was honking/swearing/getting rash.
Moreover, we rented a car of small displacement and a bit heavy on the hill, but we managed.
It then descends towards Lombardy, with exactly 50 curves numbered one by one, with some dream scenarios, culminating in the countless tunnels on the lake shore, some a few hundred meters long, others kilometers long.
Stopped on the side of the road to get some cherries, lost a bit but found the way, and arrived, with difficulty, at the final destination for the last night.
If you are into this kind of thing, I recommend it one hundred percent.
Anyone with any questions is most welcome.
Ah, of course, the toll in Switzerland, whether you stay for a day or a year is the same, 40 Swiss Francs.
But those people put the tax money into the roads for real.
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