SBS Mag Destination Guide: Swiss & Italian Alps

SBS Mag Destination Guide: Swiss & Italian Alps

Riding the Alps is one of motorcycling’s rites of passage. Don’t just go and ride them willy nilly. Let Felix Billington from Magellan Motorcycle Adventures help you find the right roads from the start.

Why would I go there?
These roads must be some of the best in the world. If you love hairpins, mountains and clear air, then look no further! Plus they’re close enough together to make a fantastic full day’s ride without any boring bits in between.

If you stay close to Obergoms, you’re basically at the foot of the Furka and Grimsel passes. It’s like being at the nexus of an enormous starburst of swirling tarmac. I can’t stress how much I love these roads – I could ride them all day every day as the riding is fantastic!

You’ll be right on the edge of your tread at less than 20mph, then full throttle for a few hundred metres before getting back on the brakes ready to loop back the other way – multiplied by about 100 times.

The great thing is, if it all gets a bit much you can just cruise through the bends and enjoy the stunning views – of which there are plenty!

The first time I rode the Sustenpass the hairs on my arms stood on end. This may make me sound like Cheryl Cole on X Factor, but it’s true! You’re so high and the views are endless. Generally the road conditions and driving standards are good too.

Where is it?
Smack in the middle of the Alps, where a stubby Italian finger pokes into Switzerland’s belly.

The northern loop of our figure-of-eight Magellan tour swoops past mountains with names like Sustenhorn, Ritzlihorn and Mittagstock.

The slightly smaller southern part passes through an Italian identity crisis of peaks like Pizzo Gallina, Pizzo Rotondo and Poncione di Vespero. Although you pass within probably 500 metres of the border, you’ll be hard pressed to take a wrong turn unless you’re a fan of goat tracks!

What is there to do?
Ride, ride, ride! For us this area is all about bike time. Meiringen (made famous in the final Sherlock Holmes story) is close to the Reichenbach Falls where Holmes and Moriarty fought to the death. There’s a Sherlock Holmes museum in Meiringen and a cable car takes visitors up to see the falls.

The Furka Pass has an historic steam railway (Dampfbahn Furka-Bergstrecke), as well as being famous as the location for James Bond’s car chase scene in Goldfinger. You can walk up behind the cafe at Furka Belvedere and pay to walk up to the Rhone glacier, where there’s a small ice cave.

The Grimsel pass has old cobbled sections nobody seems to bother with, but they are mega-photogenic! Plus the Grimsel Hospice on the lake has nice views and the lake is a strange, steely grey colour that looks totally opaque.

Lake Grimsel is actually a hydroelectric reservoir

The Sustenspass has a short tunnel (20 metres or so) with a waterfall that pours off the top of it, out into open space. This looks stunning as you approach it on the road.

An old cobbled section of the Gotthard pass (easily avoided) is a bit hairy to ride, but a great photo opportunity. If it’s wet, use the new road!

Know before you go…
Don’t forget Switzerland uses Swiss Francs (CHF). Have some currency just in case you find a cafe that doesn’t take cards. (Euros are normally accepted)

A Swiss motorway pass (vignette) is about 40CHF for the year (around £32), so try to avoid using them. Bear in mind that Swiss motorway signs are green and other road signs are blue!! Just to confuse things!

Watch out for streams of water across the road on blind bends (especially the Sustenpass) that can catch you out. Be aware that there’s often little stopping you plummeting off the edge of a mountain if you mess up a bend!

The Furka, Grimsell and Gotthard passes will be busy with coaches in the middle of the day. Try to do those earlier or later in the day, and do the slightly quieter Susten or Nufenen passes around lunchtime.

Stopping to admire the views will stop you getting worn down by constant hairpins

Best time to go?
Many high alpine passes are shut for a large part of the year. May-September is best. But alpineroads.com is a good website to check to see passes are open or passable.

Top Tips…
1. Take your time. If you’re here for the riding break the route up and try to enjoy it rather than rushing through, there’s plenty of it!
2. Think about doing the passes in both directions for a different experience each way.
3. Grimsel Pass old road section is a great photo opportunity.
4. Keep your eyes peeled for professional photographers on the best bends. Often their signwritten vans are parked at the top, if you remember the time and date, and which road you were on, you can visit their website and buy a fantastic shot of yourself banked right over!

Key info…
To see a selection of tours that go through the Alps, visit Felix’s tour company’s website.