10 reasons why you should ride the Furka-Nufenen-Gotthard loop

June 7, 2024

A few months ago, Luke, the man behind the Switchback Saturdays Instagram account, asked me to showcase the most beautiful loop in the Swiss Alps.

“Easy,” I replied. “It has to be the Furka-Nufenen-Gotthard. You won’t find anything more beautiful in the Alps.” As for the Saturday, I chose June 8. Right at the start of the season, just before the Tour de Suisse. Traffic would be light and the walls of snow at the top of the cols would make the riding experience – and the photos – even more special.

Turns out, the walls of snow are so high that the passes are still closed. This is due to a cold, wet spring where snow has continued to accumulate at altitude instead of melting. It’s not that unusual, but the last few mild winters had accustomed us to a much earlier road cycling season in the Alps (tip: to find out if a pass is open, read this article on the blog). 

So, out with the group ride. We’ll settle for a virtual Switchback Saturday with this article, in which I’ll tell you why you should drop everything and do this ride as soon as the goddamn snow has melted.

I have done this loop countless times, most recently last summer for a story to be published in the German publication RoadBike Magazin. It was a long day in the mountains, just the way I like them: with Sales and Luca, we set off at sunrise and, after taking precisely 1,127 photos (including those illustrating this post) in 38 different spots, we came back exhausted but happy.

Sunrise on the Furka

Without further ado, here’s the definitive list of 10 reasons why you should ride the Furka-Nufenen-Tremola loop.

1. Andermatt
Until not so long ago, Andermatt was a major Swiss army base, where you mainly met soldiers. A rather grim place that didn’t exactly inspire enthusiasm. Today, the village has completed its transformation and it can’t get more Swiss than that.

2. James Bond
The Furka Pass is not just famous with cyclists. In 1964, Sean Connery drove over this pass in his Aston Martin DB5 in the film Goldfinger. And guess what, there was a car chase.

3. An iconic view

Shortly after reaching the top of the Furka, pull over to your left. In the distance, the switchbacks of the Grimsel. Below, the Furka. Orgasmic.

4. The relentless Nufenen

At 2477 metres, this is the highest paved pass entirely in Switzerland. Not sure it’s a good reason to ride it: with roughly 10km at 10%, the climb is just ruthless. But it’s beautiful, the quintessence of alpine riding.

5. Ticino

After the Nufenen, you enter Ticino, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland. The only part of the country where the coffee is good, so a stop in Airolo is a must.

6. La Tremola

The Tremola is the old road over the Gotthard Pass. What makes it special is that the last 6 kilometres are cobbled. And there are 37 switchbacks. Cobbled switchbacks: enough said.

7. The SAC phone

A relic from another era, an emergency phone from the Swiss Automobile Club still sits on a bend in the Tremola. Open it, and not just to take photos: there are often energy bars inside to keep bonking cyclists going.

8. The Gotthard sausage

The summit of the Gotthard is like many Alpine passes: a giant car park, tourists taking selfies, kitsch souvenirs shops. And a sausage stand, which I always stop at before heading back down to Andermatt, a few kilometres below.

9. Diversity

3 cantons, 3 valleys, often 3 different weather conditions, 2 language regions: this loop symbolises Switzerland’s diversity.

10. Switchbacks

On the 100 km of the loop, I counted 89 of them. Enough said.

A cobbled switchback on the Tremola

So much for this list, which I hope will catapult this average piece of content to the top of the Google search results. But what about the downsides of this ride? I can think of two.

1. The anticlimax of the Hôtel Belvedere

All the cyclists have marvelled at the photos of the Hotel Belvedere, this abandoned building nestled in a switchback on the Furka pass. Be warned: you’ll be disappointed unless you go there with a drone at 6am. It’s next to an overcrowded car park and traffic is often impossible. I only managed to take a half decent photo with Luca. The good news is that throughout the loop, you’ll find a thousand other reasons to get excited – and to take great photos.

Left, right and behind: chaos

2. The traffic in summer

At the height of summer, the Alps are turned into a giant playground. Cars, motorbikes, campervans: there’s little room left for cyclists, who have a miserable time on the road. It’s frustrating, but that’s the way it is. My advice: do the loop before 5 July (once the passes are open…) or after 20 August. Or leave really early and return before midday, if possible during the week.

For more information on the Furka-Nufenen-Gothard loop, here’s the ride page on Switchback. It’s the most visited content on the site, just sayin’.

Looking for more help? I can plan your trip in the Andermatt region and/or guide you. I’ll even take photos of you, but I can’t guarantee you’ll have any good shot of the Hotel Belvedere. More info here.

And for the full Switchback Saturdays calendar, click here.

Alain

Follow me on Instagram and head over to the blog to read more cycling stories. Looking for inspiration on where to ride? Check out our favorite road and gravel loops.

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