Impressions of Switzerland, Part 2: Over the Saint Gotthard mountain

Last week, I took a trip to one of my favorite parts of the country, the Ticino, the southern and Italian part of the country. You can get there by train or car. The train takes you through a 9-mile (15 km) tunnel underneath the Swiss Alps from Göschenen on the Swiss German side to Airolo on the Swiss Italian side. A new railway tunnel is being constructed at the moment and expected to be finished in 2016. It will be the longest railway tunnel in the world with a total length (including tunnels, shafts, and passages) of 94.3 miles (151.84 km). By car you can either drive through the road tunnel (with its 10.5 miles or 16.9 km, it is the third longest car tunnel in the world) or you can cross the St. Gotthard Pass (6909 ft., 2106 m high), the mountain that divides and connects the German and the Italian part of the country.

My favorite way to get from north to south or vice versa is either by train, or, if the weather permits, by car over the St. Gotthard Pass (the mountain is closed during winter due to heavy snow). Named after Saint Gotthard, the Bishop of Hildesheim, this mountain has fascinated me since childhood, when my father drove my mother and me over the pass for the first time in his small VW bug. The history of Saint Gotthard and its importance as a route that connects the north and south of the continent dates back to Roman times. For those who are interested, here is a link to a short overview of its history.

St. Gotthard is a rough and, to me, mysterious, mountain. Even during the hottest days in summer, a cold breeze blows on top and if you get caught in a rain or snow storm, beware! The landscape is rocky, full of granite and gneiss. There is a museum, a chapel, a couple of modest but good restaurants and, in summer, a stand with barbecued sausages next to a beautiful lake.

I drove across the pass to the south of the country during a gorgeous, sunny day and the mountain showed its friendly face. Here are a few pictures.  

A cup of coffee and a snack to prepare for the drive through
the lengthy tunnel or over the mountain

View from the northern side

 The drive up the narrow and curvy mountain road.

Wild mountain stream

Wild flowers

The highpoint of my drive over the mountain: this was the first time I saw the old Gotthard stagecoach that used to bring the mail and passengers across the mountain. Nowadays, it’s a tourist attraction and can be rented for a fun ride and a time travel experience.
Clean, clear but oh, so cold, water!
A monument at the top commemorating an airman who
crashed while on military service in 1928.


The simple but lovely mountain inn. It also houses a museum and a souvenir store


And, of course, after the drive to the top of the mountain, you need a hearty meal and an espresso.

And now, it’s time for the drive down the southern face of the mountain toward the lovely canton Ticino.

Here, the grapes are already ripening, getting ready to be transformed into the delicious local wine: Merlot del Ticino or Nostrano!

I arrive in Biasca, a town in the northern part of the Ticino, where I spend a week with my dear friends and hosts Silvia and Curzio. And dinner at the grotto, the traditional Ticinese inn, is, of course, a must!

Here the wine is served in the typical small cup, tazzino.

Yummy prosciutto, salami, and other delicacies, tasty bread, and a cup of Nostrano. What else could one wish for? A good meal and great company to end a marvelous day.
More next time!

16 Responses to “Impressions of Switzerland, Part 2: Over the Saint Gotthard mountain”

  1. Susan Says:

    What a treat being able to share in your travels!!! Love reading the posts and looking at the photos~thanks for sharing! ❤

  2. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Hi Susie! I'm having fun doing these!

  3. Linda Cassidy Lewis Says:

    You're a wonderful travel guide, Christa! You make it all come alive. Is that the grotto from Emilia?

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and impressions.

  4. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Linda, it's not the same grotto but a similar one. I'm happy you enjoy it!

  5. Darlene Says:

    Wonderful pictures. Thanks so much for sharing them with us. Enjoy your time with friends, always a treat.

  6. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Thank you, Darlene. Seeing my friends again is always a lot of fun.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    Thank you! Your posts give me a feeling for Switzerland. Keep them coming! — Lindsay

  8. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Thanks, Lindsay. They are fun to do. I'll keep them coming.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    It's wonderful to read about your adventures in Switzerland. Can't wait for the next installment!

  10. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Thanks, Diane, I'm busy preparing the next post.

  11. John Cammalleri Says:

    I'm enjoying reading about your travels. Hope to see it myself one day. I had one overnight in Lugano during a trip to Italy, but I need a lot more!

  12. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Hi John, thanks for dropping by. I'm glad you enjoy it. I will be in Tuscany for week in October. I really look forward to it.

  13. Dorothy Lyner Says:

    Awesome post! The white horses are beautiful! It reminds of the carriage I believe I rode in at your wedding. And those views….I'm not sure I have the stomach for riding DOWN. That looked scary. I believe you have a hidden talent for travel writing, Christa! …..a Rick Steves in the making. Love your detailed descriptions not only of your surroundings but also of the food and drink.

  14. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Dorothy, how funny you would say this. I love Rick Steves' travel shows and I even bought one of his day packs! I also have his travel guide. He is funny, interesting, and very knowledgeable.

  15. Monster A Go-Go Says:

    Don't think I didn't notice that big, near empty bottle of vino towards the end. I know those cups were too small for someone like YOU, but to drink straight out of the bottle…SHOCKING!!!! Where are the shots of you passed out in the gutter? OH MY STARS!!!! I know you like to keep "on the move" in Swiss Land so the authorities don't close in and kick you out of the country. But if you keep living it up and drinking all of the wine, well… You're making a spectacle of yourself and people WILL notice. You'll get busted and deported (AGAIN) and have to come crawling back to Santa Monica… Positively SCANDALOUS!

  16. author Christa Polkinhorn Says:

    Gee, Monster A Go-Go, you found me out again! Sigh.