For those fascinated by Rick Steve’s descriptions of Swiss Army caves and guns hidden under pastures, the new Sasso San Gotardo attraction/museum at the Gotthard pass in Switzerland is worth the trip. Opened in 2012, this huge complex of caves and tunnels at the top of the pass was built during WW and stayed in active military duty into the 1990s.
Once you get to the pass, find the discreet tunnel entry on the side of the mountain just North of the Pass hotel (look for banners and flags, and call ahead in Winter to make sure the road and museum are open). Enter through the tunnel, and you’ll come across the ticket booth after a few steps (Swiss Museum pass accepted). Continuing a few hundred feet, you will visit the first attraction: the deep mountain caves designed as a base for Swiss soldiers have been turned into a theme museum (water, power, wind). You can also marvel at the WWII engineering which made these large caverns possible, and read about the historical function of each cavern.
After the museum, you’re on your way to the second sight – the guns and solider housing. You will walk through an eerie half-mile long tunnel – just the length of this deep tunnel is worth the trip. At the end of this gallery, you’ll be greeted by a friendly Swiss lift attendant who will help you up ride along the staircase which the soldiers had to climb. The stairs have been complemented by a custom-made funiculaire (cable car), saving you a long slog up the stairs.
Once you reach the upper level, don’t miss any of the four exhibits: First, the soldier quarters – complete with toothbrushes and uniforms, you’ll feel as if the soldiers are coming back any minute from their mountain hike.
Second, the arsenal – storage for the ammunition – has been transformed into an odds and ends museum for Swiss army equipment. Third, the gun positions – visit the high-perched gun holes and peer down at the cars heading down for the Ticino, blissfully ignorant of the armed menace above. Finally, after climbing a steep stair, you can also visit a nearby machine gun position, no less a threat to the tourists below.
As I returned from my summertime visit to this redoubt, I could not help remember how, by building these fortresses during the war, the Swiss were telling the Germans, “thy shall not pass”. They never tried.
More information: http://www.sasso-sangottardo.ch/en