It’s all about the road and the experience - the road itself is a visual marvel.
Gotthard rivals Stelvio, Alpe d'Huez and Lacets de Montvernier
We begin our climb in Airolo (population 1,500 as of 2016; language Italian) in the state (canton) of Ticino and province of Leventina in south central Switzerland near the relatively close to a tip of the Italian border. There are a couple of forks in the road that can cause slight confusion, so it is best to have a gps map loaded or hard copy map or directions with you if you are new to the climb and don’t have anyone with Gotthard Pass with you. There is an initial set of 12 switchbacks between miles 1-4, but the famous set are further up the old road with 24 during a 2.2 miles 6.9% segment (miles 4.9 to 7.1).
The climb: 7.8 miles gaining 2,870’ at 7.15% average grade - steepest ¼ mile is 8.4%, ½ mile 3.2%, 1 mile 8% and 2.5 miles 7.4% (in other words, it is a consistent grade throughout).
It is the 1-2 punch of amazing hairpins and ancient cobbles that make this one of the most remarkable cycling experiences in the world - and worthy of most bucket lists. While the climb is not challenging by Top World Climb standards, we were sure not to miss it (we did go a bit out of our way to ride it) on our 2017 Top World European Climb Trip.
The hairpins and cobbles make this a world class bucket list climb; the cobbles are well maintained
We are also treated to rangeland cattle and a couple waterfalls along this fairly brief climb.
There is Lago della Piazza at the top along with a couple nice cafès. We took the smoother route back to the bottom via the highway (route 2), but one of our group was very distressed at the finish as he is not a fan or fast descents on major highways - there was minimal traffic, but one could consider that route marginally safe. Thus, for those averse to highway riding, consider returning down the cobbles - bumpy but certainly safe - bring padded gloves.
Finish at Lago della Piazza
Highway 2 - alternate route back to the start
Steepest kilometer begns at km 6.5 (8.1%)