If you can’t take the heat, stay out of Lugano. And that’s exactly what we decided to do this weekend when the weather forecast again predicted 30+ degrees Celsius; we went to the San Bernardino Pass!
En route to Germany we have driven up San Bernardino a few times, but only to get through the like-named tunnel. We never made it up the pass. This time we did things a bit different though: instead of merely passing by on our way elsewhere, we made San Bernardino Pass our destination for the day.
The San Bernardino Pass, not to be confused with the San Bernard Pass, connects the cantons Graubünden and Ticino. The pass first became important in the 15th century as a mule track. Wagons and karts could only access the road from 1770. Since the opening of the San Bernardino tunnel in 1967 traffic has significantly reduced and the pass is now mainly crossed by people taking the time for a scenic route through the Alps or people setting out to discover the area.
On your way up motorcyclists pass you by, you pass by cyclists and the occasional old-timer with the top down, but the landscape remains your lasting companion on the road. The higher you go the more stunning the surroundings get; Trees make way for flowers and the views get wider. But wait, you have not even arrived yet!
We wanted to have a bit to eat before we would start our little walk in nature. Coming from Ticino we passed by a lake, but kept on driving till we reached the end of the second lake, where we found a building with a spacious terrace on our left: The Hospice, a guesthouse and restaurant. We went on a Saturday during the summer holidays, warm and sunny weather and there was ample parking left and some spaces left on the terrace, though you can easily sit on the rocks or meadow next to it if you want/need or get your food “on the go”.
Unlike the beverages possibility on the Saint Gotthard Pass the area around the San Bernardino hospice is quiet and not surrounded by several souvenir shops, a museum, tons of tourists and a full-on car park. It felt like an oasis.
The restaurant is simple and doesn’t serve proper warm meals; they mentioned they don’t have electricity (though they do have warm coffee and tea, which puzzled me a bit I have to say). Plates of salami, mountain cheese, tomatoes and a few sandwiches with types of ham or salami is all there is. Tasty, yes, but prices are pretty steep: plate of salami 17 CHF, one large tomato sliced up and drizzled with oil and vinegar 7 CHF and two slices of plain bread without butter, just dried meat 9 CHF. The staff was friendly, but quite forgetful and we had to remind them of at least two requests we had made. I mean, it was busy, but not full and they had 3 or 4 people serving.
After lunch a quick pit stop before heading of in to the wild: on the first floor, in the back, one toilet for men and women (and thus a line), relatively clean (at the time of our visit), open at the top (so every one can hear your business) and if you have not consumed anything at the restaurant a euro needs to be paid. I have not seen a changing table, but I’d personally rather change a baby on a mat on the grass anyway.
If you didn’t bring your own bottles of water, make sure to get some before you head out: we did not see any springs. Water from the tap can be drunk, so you could fill up brought bottles here.
When we go on a day trip like this our 3 year old soon gets tired of (or bored by) walking and wants to be carried and that’s what we expected this time too: a short walk, then just a bit of relaxing along the lake side where you have a few tiny “beaches” from where you can easy walk in to the lake.
But as it turned out the area was perfect for him to walk, run around, climb and enjoy: not too high, not too steep and enough loose stones to throw them in the lake or built a small or big cairn.
The cairns drew a lot of attention from big and small kids that were around and also a last patch of snow, trying to survive the 26 degrees Celsius, drew a lot of attention! Obviously kids (and a dog) were running around on it and it made for funny pictures seeing kids wearing sandals, shorts and t-shirt dancing on the snow. It even was a perfect way of showing kids where rivers and lakes come from. The snow was melting as we stood there; it collected in a small mountain stream that we could follow and see ending in the lake.
The beauty of the area blew us away! A picture perfect setting, only found on postcard and in BBC documentaries. Until now. And you know you are really out in nature as your cell phone won’t have any reach ;-).
We took it slow, alternating walking with sitting down on the rocks, enjoying the lushes green around us, taking pictures, listening to the sounds of the birds, admiring the impressive and snow topped mountains in the distance, and cooling our feet in one of the many small lakes of melting water scattered between the rocks and hills. Excited he could finally “climb mountains” or boy kept on going further and higher and not once complained he was tired.
For us San Bernardino was a perfect activity to do with kids, in my opinion of all ages (provided you leave the stroller in the car): the lakes are perfect with babies and toddlers as there are a few points where you can sit on the grass and wade in the shallow water, it is easy to walk and climb for preschoolers and because of the many rocks, hills and small valleys you don’t have to walk far at all to feel and be alone for a lovely family picnic.
Passo San Bernardino
6563, Mesocco, San Bernardino
+41 (0)91 832 11 16
Arrive by bus from Bellinzona or Thusis with the PostBus: