I occasionally receive emails from people all over the world, who find my photos and blog and want to know which places in Switzerland are unmissable for their upcoming trip. The most recent one, from Flickr member Joel, has inspired me to make a series of blog posts in response. The list of posts which I’ve written are tagged “visit-switzerland“. (This is the first one, so if you’re reading it fresh off the press, then check back soon!)

If you’re planning to visit Switzerland on a sightseeing or photographic tour, then the best time of year by far is autumn. With less tourists around, the spectacularly beautiful countryside is much more accessible. If you’re here for more than a few days and have the budget for it, I would strongly recommend renting a car to see the more remote areas of the country. While it’s possible to get deep into the mountainous regions using public transport – even as far as the higher mountain passes, which are served by the ubiquitous Post buses – a long-term national travel pass can be pretty expensive.

With a car, you’ll get the chance between May and September to enjoy the mountain passes. (Most pass roads are closed outside these months as they tend to get buried under tens of metres of snow.) My favourite route starts in Meiringen and takes you on a huge loop over the course of 2-3 hours, depending on weather conditions and the number of times I stop along the way. Taking in Grimsel, Furka and Susten passes, and driving through the lower reaches of the Gotthard areas around Andermatt, the route affords some of the most spectacular alpine views accessible to road trippers. I’ve tried to create a map of driving directions for route at Google, but it’s sadly not possible due to the seasonal nature of the pass roads.

You can trace the route manually on Google Maps using the following places.

Meiringen – Innertkirchen – Grimsel pass – Gletsch – Belvédère (Furka) – Furka pass – Realp – Andermatt – Wassen (bear off the main road here, into the village) – Meien – Susten pass – Gadmen – Innertkirchen – Meiringen.

Take a jacket with you, as the upper reaches of the route can be quite chilly even when the lower valleys can be baking in the late summer heat. There are restaurants and cafés on the top of each pass, though some close when the roads start to get quieter around sunset. Before you reach the summit of the Furka pass, the Rhone glacier is worth stopping for. While there’s a small entrance fee, it’s worth taking the chance to see an alpine glacier up close while you still can, and seeing at first hand what effect the warming climate has had over the past century or so. Be warned: you’ll need good, sturdy shoes for the rocky path, though it’s fairly easy going.

Many views along the route are best appreciated from one of the roadside stopping places: the best of all, in my opinion, are the ones at the Grimsel Hospice (which is reached by driving across a dam to the hotel car park); at the top of the Furka Pass, where the view back down into the valley you’ve just visited is spectacular; and here, before you get to the upper reaches of the Susten pass and where the scale of the surrounding peaks is pretty awe-inspiring.

3 responses to “Visit Switzerland: The Alpine Passes”

  1. Imogene avatar

    I love those photos! The mountain passes have a special place in my heart, and I always get inexplicably excited when they open in early summer. The ascent through the seasons from summer to almost winter is thrilling and so unique.

  2. Stace avatar

    Great photos! I’d like to visit Switzerland next year (2010) in Autumn (Sept-Oct), but during those 2 months, is there a 2-week period you prefer? Unfortunately, I’m also a waterfall lover and I imagine most of the great falls (around Interlaken)are dried up by Autumn. Decisions!

    1. Mark Howells-Mead avatar

      That’s tricky: your best best would be probably early October, though you’ll need to check on the website of the Swiss automobile association TCS to make sure that the mountain passes are open. The best time for waterfalls is obviously spring, when the snow melt water is coming down from the mountains. Hope you enjoy your trip!

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