We started the Susten–Furka–Grimsel Pass route at the Meiringen wich take you on a journey across three spectacular mountain passes. This is just a small part of the grand tour that takes you from palm-lined lakeshores to sparkling glaciers, from medieval villages to buzzing cities – the Grand Tour of Switzerland packs in an incredible number of sights. The concentration of attractions is unrivalled worldwide. This 1600 km route lets you discover Switzerland at your own pace on a road trip. To ensure you don’t miss any of these great locations the photo opportunities are signposted are the road itself. The number of Grand Tour photo opportunities is continually being expanded.
The lap over the three mountains passes is best done a week day to avoid the many motorbikes. The route encircles a glacier area representing the watershed between the North Sea and the Mediterranean: The Aare River flows via Rhine to the North Sea, whereas the Rhône River goes south to the Mediterranean. The area is intensively used for the generation of water power. The glaciers represent Europe’s largest freshwater reservoir, called Europe’s water tower. The ongoing melting of the glaciers has led to dramatic changes in the alpine landscape and will likely lead to more floods and water shortages as the eternal ice is melting due to climate change.
Today’s Susten mountain pass road is relatively young: it was built in the war years between 1938 and 1945 for military strategic reasons (the defensive Swiss National Redoubt strategy in case of a military invasion). However, a route over the Susten pass already existed in middle age. Susten pass road connects the Swiss cantons Uri and Bern. When the Swiss cantons fought against each other’s between 1656–1712, the path was fortified on both belligerent sides. In 1811 to 1817, a road was built over the pass.
Not far below the pass, there’s a magnificent view to a glacier (Steingletscher) and its lake. The highest point of Susten pass at 2’224 m immediately follows in another tunnel. The Schöllenen gorge was a battlefield in the Napoleonic wars against Russian troops under General Suworow in 1799. Also on the Grimsel Pass, Napoleonic and Russian troops fought against each other.
Driving from Andermatt to the West, the serpentines of Furka appear. Furka is steeper than Susten pass and the highest of the three passes with an altitude of 2’429 m. All three passes are deep in snow in winter and only open during summer months. The Furka pass road, connecting the cantons Uri with Valais, was built for military reasons between 1864 and 1866. The pass was used for transport since Roman times. In the village of Realp you will find a railway station. Built in 1925, a railway line over the pass crossed a tunnel in an altitude of 2’160 m, the highest in the Swiss Alps. Today, there’s a steam train still in use for tourists. However since 1981, the regular railroad uses the Furka Base Tunnel.
Along the route on the west ramp of the pass, where the Belvédère hotel was built in 1882, the Rhône glacier used to touches the road. Since those times, the glacier has dramatically shrunken in size due to global warming and climate change.
The source of the river Rhone is also the start of a Swiss national cycling route: the Rhone route leads over 350 km from Andermatt via Furka pass along the river Rhône through canton Valais to Lausanne and Geneva on Lake Geneva. Over its length of 812 km to the Mediterranean, river Rhône gets water from the French Alps and nourishes famous wines.
At the end of the descent from Furka, the hamlet Gletsch marks the start of, the Grimsel Pass. Gletsch actually consists of the Glacier du Rhône hotel, a railway station, and an Anglican chapel.
The Grimsel Pass, connecting the cantons Bern and Valais, is the watershed between the North Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The pass was used for transport in the 14th century already, maybe even in Roman times. The modern road was built in 1894. After six hairpins covering 405 m elevation gain to the Grimsel Pass at 2’164 m.
On the top, a moon-like rocky landscape waits with the Grimsel hydroelectric reservoir lake. After the final 30 km descent back to Innertkirchen, the loop over the three mountain passes was completed.