Great Drives: The High Mountain Passes to Switzerland

Great Drives: The High Mountain Passes to Switzerland

I was going to make this a focal point post, but I then realized that I did this drive when I was still an amateur photographer so there weren’t enough good photos to warrant that kind of post. Bear with me as I relate my journeys through the Maloja and Bernina Passes with substandard pictures 🙂

Introduction: Living the Italian Dream
United Club Terminal E – Houston
United Airlines BusinessFirst MAF-IAH-PIT(DIVERSION)-EWR-FRA
Lufthansa Senator Lounge Frankfurt Airport
Villa La Perla Di Sonenga Panoramica, Menaggio, Italy
Focal Point: The Town of St. Moritz, Switzerland
Great Drives: The High Mt Passes to Switzerland
The Park Hyatt Milan
Focal Point: The Towns of Lake Como
Radisson Blu Rome
Focal Point: The Landmarks of Rome
Crowne Plaza Milan City Centre
Sheraton Milan-Malpensa
United Airlines BusinessFirst Milan (MXP) – Newark (EWR)

St. Moritz is one of the great day trips from Lake Como (perhaps even from Milan) not just for the town, but for the drives through the high mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy. As I mentioned earlier, we missed our opportunity to ride the Bernina Express train because of our late start, and so ended up driving the Bernina Pass instead.

a map with a blue line

As you can see from the topography in the map above, the alps form the geographical divide between the countries of Italy and Switzerland. More than a couple of high mountain passes were built between the two countries so that people, and merchandise could traverse the alpine divide. Among those beautiful passes were the Maloja and Bernina Passes.

Our journey started off along the shores of Lake Como from where it was roughly an hour long drive to Chiavenna, the starting point for the Maloja Pass:
a group of houses with trees and a body of water
View of Lake Como from our Menaggio Villa
There was a beautiful cloud formation as we approached the Maloja pass:
a road with a car on it
Approaching the Maloja Pass from Italy
The drive really isn’t for the feint of heart because it is quite winding, all the way to Maloja Kulm at around 6000 feet (1815 m) above sea level.
a road going through a forest
The Winding Maloja Pass between Italy and Switzerland


And the view from Maloja Kulm is absolutely fantastic:
a green field with trees and mountains in the background
The View from Maloja Kulm (6000 ft)
Driving past Maloja Kulm, you arrive at Silsersee, which has what I like to call “the Remarkables” of Switzerland looming over them:
boats on a dock next to a lake
Mountains over Silsersee, which looks very similar to the Remarkables near Queenstown (NZ)
You should consider making a stop in the town of St. Moritz, and enjoy the many lakes that make up the Swiss countryside near St. Moritz. 
a street with buildings and a pedestrian crossing
St. Moritz, SUI
Just beyond St. Moritz are signs that clearly point in the direction of the Bernina Pass and the extraordinary alpine landscape between Italy and Switzerland unfolds:
a green field with snow on the mountains
Somewhere between St. Moritz and the Bernina Pass
You can clearly see the line on which the Bernina Express runs right next to the road. We were lucky to witness this spectacular sunset behind a mountain:
a road leading to a lake
Sunset on the road to Bernina Pass
From there, the road really begins to wind as you descend in elevation from the heights of Switzerland to the lowlands of Italy ;p .
a road going through a valley
The Bernina Pass
The road really narrows at certain points where there are traffic signals to direct the traffic one way or another:
a road with a red light
Traffic Light along a one way patch of the Bernina Pass

It was at this point that our van started to plume smoke out of its hood and cell phone signal became spotty.We really did break a sweat because both the hike down and the hike up appeared to be extremely treacherous.

Lucky for us, while we waited at the traffic light, a tourist couple were also experiencing similar issues and explained that it was just because of the “considerable brake pedal action” going on as we descended on the steep pass. Thanking the couple, we got back in our miniature truck (the Mercedes Vito) and slowly drove to the next town where there was not a shop or restaurant that was open for business. Go figure, there’s Europe for you in a nutshell. It was to our great relief that the smoke had subsided by this time and we drove all the way back to Menaggio without an issue.


Road trips through the Maloja and Bernina Passes are some of the most spectacular experiences in Europe. We didn’t have enough time to explore the many view points or picture opportunities along the way (it was already past sunset), but both are gold mines for photo enthusiasts. If Lake Como is too touristy for you (which it is at times), I would highly recommend venturing out on a day trip like this. Oh yeah there is definitely one key takeaway from this adventure: Remember to go easy on the brakes if smoke starts coming out of the hood of your car. 

Have you ever driven through the Bernina Pass or Maloja Pass? What’s your favorite mountain pass?

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