• The Great St. Bernard Pass: Since the days of the Roman Empire, much of the commerce between northern Italy and the rest of Europe has navigated this low point in one of the most forbidding mountain ridges in the world. Modern-day pilgrims follow in the steps of Napoleon and his armies, who traversed the perilous pass in 1800 to invade Italy. Since 1964, a tunnel beneath the mountains has allowed traffic to move unhindered for at least half of every year. The Swiss section of the pass road begins in French-speaking Martigny and ends in Italian-speaking San Bernardino, 56km (35 miles) away, but most motorists use the pass as a slow but scenic midsummer diversion with long drives that begin near Basel or Zurich and end in the Italian cities of Aosta or Milan.

  • The Furka Pass: Traveling in a southwest-to-northeast line for only 32km (20 miles), from the hamlet of Gletsch, northeast of Brig, to the mountain resort of Andermatt, the road follows the high-altitude frontier between German-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland. En route you’ll see the frozen mass of the glacier that feeds the Rhône and scenery that’s absolutely magnificent.

  • The St. Gotthard Pass: One of the most vital roads in Europe stretches for 64km (40 miles) between German-speaking Andermatt and the Italian-speaking village of Biasca. It shares many characteristics of the above-mentioned St. Bernard Pass, which lies about 40 almost-impassable kilometers (25 miles) to the east. Some historians have suggested that the tolls collected since the 1300s along this road helped finance the continued independence of Switzerland. Since 1980, a 16km (10-mile) tunnel allows motorists to travel the route year-round. Traffic on the high road, however, remains clogged with summer vacationers who come for the stunning views. The landscape is mournful and bleak, a testimony to the savage climactic conditions that exist at these high altitudes.

  • The Bernina Pass: During the Middle Ages, merchants led horse- and donkey-drawn caravans over this pass, risking their lives to carry supplies between what are now the German-speaking and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland. Frostbite was commonplace, and many died in the snow en route. Today, cars can navigate the pass as part of a 2-hour, 55km (34-mile) drive between St. Moritz and Tirano. Be warned: This drive is never problem-free. The road is winding, and ice patches have a way of surfacing even in summertime. Snow usually closes the pass completely between mid-October and late April, although trains can usually get through except during the worst blizzards. But the views are truly spectacular.

  • The Simplon Pass: Unlike the road over the St. Gotthard Pass, which is interspersed with artfully engineered bridges, hairpin turns, and retaining walls, the Simplon Pass road gracefully conforms to the natural topography of some of the most scenic mountainsides in Europe. It stretches about 64km (40 miles), from German-speaking Brig over the Italian border to Domodossola. The road was originally designed in 1805 at the request of Napoleon—whose grip on power, ironically, crumbled before his armies could ever use the pass. Despite the best efforts of the Swiss highway department, the road is often closed between December and early May, with automobiles diverted onto flatbed trains instead. These are rather awkwardly carried through one of the longest railway tunnels in the world, the Simplon Tunnel. 

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.