Day 2 – The Swiss Alps
Now, where were we? We were in Filzbach, a small municipality on a terrace on the Kerenzeberg mountain, overlooking lake Walensee.
You can read about the journey from the UK, through the Black Forest in Germany to Filzbach in Switzerland here.
Waking up on Day 2, and stepping into the balcony with the view of the lake below us and the mountains across the lake was that morning’s treat. Little did we know just how many ‘treats’ we’d get on this particular day.
We had breakfast in the hotel’s dining area with the same view I described earlier and planned the day’s drive and route. We had earlier decided to spend a second night in Filzbach and so we altered the route accordingly.
This was the day we’d be tackling some of the fabled Swiss mountain passes in the Swiss Alps, the Klausen Pass, the Susten Pass, the Grimsel Pass and probably the most famous pass in the world, the Furka Pass. We would also be tackling one of the lesser-known Swiss passes, the Oberalp. It would turn out to be one of my best-ever days behind the wheel of a car.
But first, we had to get to the first pass, the Klausen, which was about 41km away. We started the descent from Filzbach, the short 8km descent to the valley below was fantastic in its own right. This 8km road was a typical mountain road with fast straights connecting hairpin bends while offering stunning views of the valley below, and the mountain ranges in the far distance. This short road immediately elevated our expectations for this day.
At the bottom, we used Route 3 to connect to Klausenstrasse, Route 17 which led all the way to Glarus, and the Klause-Ranch/Klausen Pass beyond.
We were only on Route 3 for about 10kms before it turned into Route 17 near Nestal. This road then climbs up to the stunning Glarus, the smallest canton capital in Switzerland, at a height of nearly 500 meters above sea level. Route 17 from Glarus all the way to Altdorf is another great road (caveats apply). Spectacular all the way to the Klause-Ranch where we stopped to take pictures and take in the views. If you ever drive this route, make sure you stop here. Stand in front of the ranch and you can see for miles in every direction. It does not matter which way you look, the views are simply stunning. Words actually fail me.
The Klausen Pass
We tore ourselves away from the views at Klause-Ranch and started climbing the Klausen Pass itself. The first stretch of the road was cobbled, narrow and tight. It was still early and the Klausen is not one of the busy passes so we only encountered one slow bus on the way up which pulled over to let us through. The cobbles soon gave way to properly paved roads which wound through a forest section which had some fast, sweeping turns, before some more tight switchbacks. Then we went through several small tunnels and another ‘straight’ before emerging through the forest onto Urnerboden, a 5km Alpine Plateau flanked by the most spectacular granite peaks anywhere in the world.
We passed several small waterfalls and continued climbing up through forty-odd (FORTY!!!) turns before we reached the top. The RS had been sublime throughout, comfortable beyond my expectations, certainly more comfortable than my previous car, a 991.1 GT3, which I found very strange indeed. The GT3 RS would prove to be stunningly capable, poised and utterly unflappable while always thrilling the driver with its reactions, pace and noise.
The Klausen Pass though is no place for a Porsche 911 GT3 RS. It is simply too wide and too fast for this road, at least this side. I could see my cousin’s 911 (997.2) Carrera 4 GTS dancing in my rearview mirror and thought how dainty and appropriate it looked. The views and the experience were worth it, but forget about pushing on this side of the Klausen, you simply cannot. Better to relax and enjoy the journey up. I later found out that the Klausen Pass was the home of a pre-war hill climb event and shuddered at the thought of cars racing up it.
We stopped at the top for more pictures and take in the views and they were beyond incredible. We also met a group from nearby Zurich in a pair of Porsche 993’s who were aiming to tackle TWENY passes in ONE weekend. Wow! We also spotted a few cyclists at the top, and cyclists were ever-present on every Swiss pass we tackled. I will retrace this route on a road bike at some point in the future and I’m sure it will be a touch more difficult to do so! There is a cafe at the top but we declined to linger any longer than necessary and began the descent.
Discretion is the better part of valour
The descent while still good, is not as epic as the ascent, and close to the top, there are only flimsy barriers between yourself and a sheer drop. The old adage “discretion is the better part of valour” definitely applies here and I’ll be reminded of this adage several times on this day. The road becomes faster and more sweeping further down and we swoop down through another Alpine forest. As we descend towards the bottom of the valley, I spot the incredible waterfall that drops several hundred meters down into the greenish-black hole below. The Klausen Pass descent ends at the municipality of Bürglen but we continued to the end of route 17 in Altdorf. Indeed, Route 17 from Glarus all the way to Altdorf is a ‘must drive’ road, with incredible views throughout its length and a few challenging bits, but, depending on the car you use, do not expect to be able to ‘push’ safely in many areas.
You simply cannot.
Klausen Pass Statistics
Length (Glarus to Uri): 50km. Maximum elevation: 1.948m (6,391ft).
Opening times: July to October, 0800 – 18:00. Features: 136 curves!
Driving: 3.8 stars.
The Susten Pass
We turned left onto Route 2 at the historic town of Altdorf and followed it to Wassen, a municipality in the canton of Uri. We left Route 2 here and jumped onto Sustenstrasse/Route 11. This is the Eastern approach to the Susten Pass and it is 17.4 km long with an elevation gain of over 1,300 meters.
The Susten Pass is a high mountain pass in the Swiss Alps with a maximum elevation of 2,246m (7,428ft). The 45-kilometer mountain pass road linking Wassen and Innertkirchen in the Bernese Highlands was opened in 1946. 15,000 vehicles actually used it on that very first day! The Susten Pass is one of the ‘Big Three’ Swiss Passes which also includes the Grimsel and Furka.
We start the climb up the Eastern side crossing the wild gorge of the Meinreuss River the road gently curving through the Meien Valley before bursting through the Valle Maggia. These are fantastic mountain roads and I could stretch the RS’ legs. We then tackled a series of fantastic switchbacks, the kind you can really enjoy as you can find and maintain a rhythm through them. The RS was fantastic through them because I was getting used to the PCCB brakes and could brake hard, late and deep into the corner and accelerate hard out of them.
The higher we climbed, the better the road and views became, till we reached the road works in the Scheiteltunnel which marked the end of the climb and the beginning of the descent down the Western side.
If anything, the descent down the Western side was even better than the ascent. A 27.7 km road which sheds 1,602m of elevation. This side rewarded us with incredible panoramic views of the nighty Sustenhorn and Gwächtenhorn mountains and the Stein Glacier. The road was wide and fast goading us and the motorbikes around us into higher and higher speeds. I watched fascinated, as one particularly brave and skilled biker took one sweeper knee down, enjoying the sweepers even more than we were.
Most driving and touring websites give the Susten Pass road five stars.
They are absolutely correct. It was the best road we drove on in Switzerland and is easily one of the best driving roads on the planet. It does not matter if you drive it East to West or West to East, or better still, both directions, the Susten Pass is now my number 1 road anywhere. It is THAT good.
Susten Pass Statistics
Length (Wassen to Innertkirchen): 45km. Maximum elevation: 2,246m (7,428ft). Opening times: July to October, 0800 – 18:00. Features: 26 bridges and tunnels!
Driving: 5 stars (deserves more than a mere 5 stars).
The Grimsel Pass
The Sustenstrasse in this direction ends at the village of Innertkirchen. We turned left onto Grimselstrasse/Route 6 which heads South, directly to the Grimsel Pass about 30km away.
The Grimsel Pass is another high-mountain pass in Switzerland, crossing the Bernese Alps at an elevation of 2,164 metres. The pass links the Hasli Valley in the Bernese Oberland with Goms in Valais.
We approached from the North, Innertkirchen, a 26km ascent with an elevation gain of 1,540m. The Southern approach, from Oberwald, is shorter at 12.1km with an elevation gain of 797m.
We start the run through some dense and lush forests, the roads here are wide and gently sweeping. As good and as fast as the roads on the best parts of the Susten Pass. The GT3 RS was in its element here, effortlessly dismissing each sweeper with assured confidence that was a joy to experience.
The RS simply danced through them, totally unfazed by what the road threw at it.
As we climbed higher, and the road became twistier the scenery went from lush forests to an open lunar-like landscape. The closer to the top we got, the better the roads became with fast and flowing switchbacks with great views of the road ahead. The RS simply danced through them, totally unfazed by what the road threw at it. The Grimsel Pass also has fewer sheer drops which reduce the sense of danger involved. We stopped at one of the lookout points overlooking the artificial Lake Grimselsee for pictures, and the views were simply stunning. ‘Views’, ‘stunning’, ‘spectacular’, ‘amazing’, ‘WOW!’ are words that frequently went through my mind every single day we spent in the Swiss Alps.
I later found out that there are a hotel and restaurant near the top of a peninsula inside the artificial lake. Next time.
The run down the Southern side was on a road that was narrower with a poorer surface. The descent to the valley below was no less challenging though care must be taken to avoid oncoming traffic. The width of the RS did pose a challenge at times and this required us to back off occasionally.
The Grimsel Pass is unquestionably another 5-star road. Yes, the views may not be as spectacular as those on the previous passes, but the Grimsel has a unique character which marks it out. If you drop me at the top of Grimsel I’d immediately recognise it. The fact that as a driving road it is right up there with the Susten Pass makes the Grimsel as memorable a driving experience as the Susten.
The day was not over yet. We still had probably the most famous of Swiss Alpine passes to tackle: The Furka Pass.
Grimsel Pass Statistics
Length: (Innertkirchen to Oberwald): 38km. Maximum elevation: 2.164m (7,100ft) Opening times: May to October. Features: Wild, rocky, artificial lake, great views.
Driving: 5 stars.
The Furka Pass
Grimselstrasse/Route 6 ends in the village of Gletsch and we turned left onto Furkastrasse/Route 19. This led us West to the Furka Pass. The Furka Pass is easily one of the most impressive Alpine passes in Switzerland. I’m repeating myself. Every single Alpine pass we have crossed has been equally impressive. They all are. Incredible views of mountain tops, glaciers and thick forests are all on offer. You’d think we’d be inured to the views on all these passes, but there really is no chance of that happening.
If that happens to you, then you cannot be human. The Furkastrasse starts with a series of enjoyable switchbacks before the road straightens and we could stretch the legs of both Porsche 911s. The views were good, the road was clear and I was blasting up to the legendary Swiss mountain pass made famous by Sean Connery’s James Bond in ‘Goldfinger’. What more could this James Bond fan and petrol head ask for?
I did think about the iconic scene in which James Bond was chasing Tania Mallet (Tilley Masterson) down its famous corners.
Rest in peace, Sir Sean Connery.
Rest in peace, Sir Sean Connery.
The road wound its way around the side of the mountain, hugging the contours of the mountainside, with huge mountains serving as a backdrop for our dash up the mountain. This was followed by another set of switchbacks which zig-zagged across the face of the mountain all the way to the abandoned Belvedere hotel, the single most recognisable feature on a mountain pass anywhere in the world.
We parked up in the car park opposite the deserted Belvedere hotel for the obligatory Furka Pass photographs. I managed to incur the wrath of one of the cafe owners because I lingered too long at the entrance of the car park taking photographs. He threatened to call the police which amused me. I’d be long gone by the time they made it up here!
We did spend a bit of time here to catch our breath and to appreciate the views from the cafe. It is always worth stopping here as the views of the Rhone glacier behind the cafes and shops have to be seen to be believed. It surely is not fair how much natural beauty is crammed into this area and into one country. We moved on after about 40 minutes of gawping, continuing along the pass which rose up a bit before heading back down the mountain. This downhill section is not as fast nor as thrilling as our ascent. The road was narrower and quite steep in places. Accurately placing a car as wide as the RS required maximum concentration all the way down.
Driving down this side was as much a mental challenge as it was a test of driving skill. Towards the bottom of the pass, there is a straight 5-6km ‘flat-out’ section, running parallel to the railway where I unleashed all 500bhp in celebration of our safe descent…..
The Furka Pass ends at the pretty village of Realp which marks the area James Bond and Tania Mallet had their conversation after he had shredded her tyres. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Go watch ‘Goldfinger’.
It was here that we stopped for lunch, our terrace table overlooking my parked Lava Orange 911 GT3 RS. I thought to myself: “it does not get much better than this”.
Furka Pass Statistics
Length (Gletsch to Realp): 25km. Maximum elevation: 2,429m (7,970ft)
Opening times: June to October. Features: James Bond, wild, rocky, glaciers, great views.
Driving: 4.3 stars.
After our nice Swiss lunch (I do not even know the names of the delicious items I made) we continued on Route 19 through the village of Andermatt, in the Ursern Valley. This village is located 1,437 meters above sea level, and the approach to it and beyond is just as spectacular as everything we had experienced earlier. There are a series of switchbacks just beyond Andermatt which leads onto a long, high valley which led us to our fifth and final pass of the day: The Oberalp Pass.
The Oberalp Pass
The Oberalp Pass is a high mountain pass with a maximum elevation of 2.044m (6,706ft) above the sea level. It is located on the border of the cantons of Graubünden and Uri in Switzerland. Our route to the Oberalp Pass from Andermatt is a 10.6 km ascent which gains 604 meters of elevation. The full route, from Andermatt to Tujetsch, is 23.5km long.
The ascent to the top is full of the road features every keen driver craves; wide, fast and sweeping curves followed by lots of switchbacks. It is also one of the least busy passes in the region and one of the steepest, reaching gradients of 10% and more. The views? By now, you should just accept that epic and spectacular views are a given.
The descent was quite fun too, although we came across another bit of roadworks which slowed our progress. We continued on Route 19 all the way to Tamins where we jumped onto the A13 motorway which led us back towards Filzbach.
I spent the period after leaving the Furka Pass assessing the car I was driving, the mighty 911 (991.1) GT3 RS. I paid attention to all aspects of the car, its reactions to driver input, the suspension’s composure over bumps, dips, crests and steep twisting gradients, and I found it hard to criticise it in any way. Even my misgivings with the PCCB brakes had melted away.
This is my tenth Porsche and it is the best Porsche I’ve ever owned and driven. The fact it is also one of the most comfortable Porsches I’ve ever owned seals its status as my best-ever car. My co-pilot had a nap in it, carbon buckets, roll cage and all every single day, which is all the proof of its comfort you need.
When I bought it, I had a slight twinge of regret that I could not afford a Weissach Pack-equipped, 2nd generation GT3 RS, but after driving it through the Swiss Alps, that regret has been well and truly banished.
The .2 GT3 RS is definitely better but frankly, I do not care.
The .2 GT3 RS is definitely better but frankly, I do not care
Day 2 Route
Filzbach to Klausen Pass: Route 3 and Route 17.
Klausen Pass To Susten Pass: Route 2 and Route 17.
Susten Pass to Grimsel Pass: Route 2 and Route 11.
Grimsel Pass to Furka Pass: Route 6 and Route 19.
Furka Pass to OberalP Pass: Route 19.
TO BE CONTINUED