Yesterday we’d discovered that the E35 & 2 roads were out, the only north-bound roads leading out of Andermatt, so that required some rejigging of our riding plans to avoid (to Karen’s distinct pleasure) re-riding the Grimsel & Furka Passes. Instead, after packing up our gear and loading the bike, we headed east over the Susten Pass, which was an absolutely brilliant ride. The road rose up through the lush forest before the trees fell away, replaced with rocky hillsides that the twisty road had been carved in to. Numerous tunnels had been cut into the rock to allow the road through, and in one spot a waterfall flowed over a tunnel and cascaded into the valley below, providing a beautiful sight as we climbed up the mountain side. We crested the pass and dropped down into the valley on the far side, making our way towards Wassen, a few km north of Andermatt and the point at which we could pick up the 16.9km long Gotthard Tunnel going south, and through which we travelled to avoid the road blocks around Andermatt.
Popping out of the tunnel in Airolo I hunted around for the start of the Gotthard Pass – the idea being to follow that north back to Hospental (near Andermatt), as from there we knew we could get to Andermatt and the start of the Oberalp Pass. The GPS was struggling to get a good fix on our location deep in the alps, and with roadworks and diversions to contend with I couldn’t easily find the road I needed, so we took some time out to have a ham & cheese roll and a coffee (coke for Karen) at Bar 69 in Airolo, giving me a chance to get my bearings.
Lunch finished and paid for, we headed up the cobbled street and back into the woodlands, finding the start of the ‘alternative’ Gotthard Pass road – this is the pass we’d ridden in a north-south direction a few days earlier, and now we were redoing it in the reverse direction. The road was a delight to ride, and in places felt like a roller-coaster experience as some of the hairpin bends were suspended in thin air, and there was nothing beyond the flimsy barrier at the edge of the bend, except a long long drop to the valley below. The top of the pass was covered in snow and the views were lovely, but rather than stop we pushed on into Hospental and towards Andermatt, where low cloud cover had dropped down to ground level and made for eerie riding.
We took the cobbled road through the centre of Andermatt and found the start of the Oberalp Pass in the cloud, and headed east up the pass. In some spots the cloud cover lifted a bit and we could get glimpses of the cloud below, and in other places cows had massed alongside the roadway, laying down in the grass and chewing away, oblivious to the few cars and bikes passing by them, with just a few feet to spare. The pass was steep but short, and before long we’d crested the summit and dropped into the valley on the far side, following the twisting river almost all the way towards Chur, peeling off at Tamins to start the 13 south to Splugen.
We deliberately ignored the GPS that encouraged us to switch to the A13 motorway and stayed instead on the older, narrower 13 that ran almost parallel to the A13 in many places, but which offered a much more enjoyable ride. The road entered a narrow, deep gorge, and snaked its way up the hill. At one spot Karen noticed some huts carved into the rock face of the gorge. We eventually popped out of the gorge and the road narrowed down to a single lane as it entered Splugen.
From Splugen we headed straight south towards Madesimo in Italy, our overnight destination. The Splugen Pass was single lane only, and I lost count of the number of hairpins we wheeled around as they came up so quickly. It was a challenge to keep moving forwards at times up the steep and narrow track, and Karen was hard-pressed keeping a lookout for oncoming traffic dropping down from the roadway above us.
We eventually made the snow-covered summit, and shortly afterwards crossed the border into Italy, only indicated by a small hut flying the Italian flag. The road surface immediately deteriorated, with pot holes and broken sections all over the place. We followed the high valley and lake for a while, before dropping down towards Madesimo.
Madesimo was a ghost town, and our hotel – probably the only hotel open for guests in the town, was straight out of Stephen King’s “The Shining”. We’d booked via booking.com our room in Madesimo because it was 1/2 the price of a room in Splugen, just 22km to the north, but we knew nothing about the town. In winter it’s probably full of life & people, but to us looked like a set from “Dawn of the Dead” as no one was walking the streets. We got our room key – top floor, furthest from the lift (completely opposite to Karen’s request) and I noticed that no other keys had been handed out to other patrons. The ground floor foyer was almost completely dark, and we had to walk down some stairs to catch our lift up to the top floor. Our room was also very dark and oppressive. Karen lifted out our wet camping gear and spread that out to dry, and then we went for a walk through the ghost town, looking for signs of life. We eventually stumbled across the only bar open in town, and had a drink or two, before walking on a bit further to the only restaurant open in town – a quaint pizzeria. Unable to read Italian we just picked two different pizzas from the menu, hoping for the best. Pizzas eaten, we walked back to our hotel as the evening grew colder in the night chill, locking our door in the hope that would be enough to deter any marauding zombies as we slept that night ….