A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland.
I like having our summer holidays, whenever possible, near the mountains. And each trip, we need to try a new mountain pass. That is part of the adventure!
A couple of years ago, the idea was to stop by at Interlaken, on our way back from Lago di Como. Looking online, the best way to go was via the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and the Grimsel Pass. The Grimsel Pass is very well known by everyone I’ve asked about, but the Nufenenpass, not so much. Some friends of us that have a house in Moltrasio, and whom their father lives in Lago di Como and knows ‘all the mountain passes’, have not heard of the Nufenenpass, but we’ve checked it out online and he suggested me that it should be fine as it was paved.
Looking in Google Maps, the pass seemed pretty wide enough for two cars – which was what I wanted to see, but I did not see too much of a guardrail on the side. Another option was to go towards Airolo and then Andermatt and take either the St Gotthard Tunnel, or the St Gothard pass. The St Gothard Tunnel was not an option, as this was a Saturday, where you can be stuck for hours. On our way from Engelberg to Lago di Como, we did the St Gothard Pass, which was very nice. It is very busy too, but at least the traffic goes through.
Going back this way, we should have taken afterwards the Furkapass, which is a very renown way to go – mostly for bikers and cyclists alike!
But I wanted to do the off-the-beaten-path, so off we went, on a blue day, towards the Nufenenpass. This pass connects the Ticino canton to the Valais canton. Lots of hairpin turns take you up to the top of the pass at 2478 meters and is the highest mountain pass with a paved road within Switzerland. It lies between the summits of the Pizzo Gallina and the Nufenenstock. The pass links Airolo to Brig and has opened to motor traffic on September 1969.
Towards the north you have views of the Bernese Alps, including the Finsteraarhorn, while to the south you can see the Gries Glacier.
We met lots of cyclists and bikers riding together on our way up. The views were really magnificent, until, near the top, the fog came upon us and we could not see the tip of our car….that was not good – so we’ve have to take the last hairpin turns very slowly – We’ve reached the cafeteria on the top and we’ve decided to stop – what a shame we could not absorb the views!
But a nice hot coffee and a hot chocolate for the boys was tempting, so that is what we did! We were lucky enough that while inside, an opening on the skies came and we could see all the mountains in front of us in all their splendour.
After doing the obligatory bathroom pit stop and stopping by the sourvenir shop, we went back to the car and started going down the other side of the Passo della Novena, as called in Italian. The pass finishes in Ladstafel and then it goes in a kind of straight line towards Bifig, where you have a couple more hairpin turns until the road ends and you have to turn right into the Route 19 (Furkastrasse,) direction to Obergoms. The little towns we crossed were all typical chocolate box villages, a bit too quiet for me, with amazing landscapes…not too much people, maybe more cattle with bells on their necks!
After Obergoms, we’ve continued on the Furkastrasse, up to the Grimsel Pass. This is a more renown pass, you can tell as the bikers and cyclists traffic increased. The top of the Grimsel Pass crosses the Bernese Alps at an elevation of 2,164 meters. The pass connects the Haslital, the upper valley of the river Aare, to the upper valley of the river Rhône. The Aare is a tributary of the Rhine, and the pass crosses the continental divide between the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. This is the only direct road between the cantons of Bern and Valais across the Bernese Alps; therefore, authorities try to keep the pass opened as long as possible.
We’ve passed with the connection that would be coming from the Furkapass, and we started going all the way up. At the summit you can see some hotels and extensive parking. The Grimsel Hospice is at 1980 meters, just coming down from the top of the Grimsel Pass.
You can see then the Grimselsee reservoir and a bit lower the Räterichsbondesee reservoir. Here you still have several hairpins turns to get down, getting to Handegg, and the lower station of the Gelmerbahn funicular, the steepest funicular in Switzerland.
The road finishes in Meiringer and from there you are now near to the Brinzersee lake, where at its end lies Interlaken, which was the end of our trip that day.
If you like windy roads, then this is a must for your bucket list!
You can read of many of these passes in our story of the Via Alpina, for planning a great trekking holiday. Or see how to cross from France to Italy through the Petit St Bernard Pass, coming from the Route des Grandes Alpes.
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Also for those interested in how resorts deal with the risk of avalanches, you can check the interview to Coco Torres, former Head of Operations at Valle de Las Leñas in Argentina, a highly avalanche risk resort.
Featured Image: Nufenenpass on a cloudy and foggy day. Photo: The-Ski-Guru. A drive through the Nufenenpass (Passo della Novena) and Grimsel Pass in Switzerland