To gain access to the Spluegen Pass from the north side, from Switzerland and the Rhine Valley, you need to take the straight exit in the roundabout at the southern end of Thusis opposite the MIGROS supper market to enter the old San Bernardino Pass road through the Via Mala. Just after you’ve taken that exit, you’ll be immediately captured by the narrow canyon. Aside, the broad highway, fast transit to the Ticino and Italy rushes past us as we reach through several tunnels carved into the rock on the old pass road the Via Mala canyon. A deep ravine, which the Upper Rhine had cut through many millennia, welcomes us. We follow the road across old stone bridges over the Rhine and then steadily uphill through the Roflaschlucht canyon to Sufers to the reservoir on a plateau. The old pass road narrows here from time to time down to the width of a car. It leads through woods in tight curves upwards until you reach the little resort of Spluegen village.
Spluegen village is in the books named as the “real” northern entry to the Spluegen pass road and does belong besides the main village Rheinwald to the most beautiful villages in Grisons county (Graubuenden). This very historic place lost in 1882 with the opening of the Gotthard Railway its importance as a trading and transit point and as in 1940 also the dam project Rheinwald failed based on the local resistance, it disappeared almost into insignificance. But then, in 1973 with the "Swiss chocolate coins action", where the profit got invested into the the renovation of the place, Spluegen came back again and the excellent village image was created, which you still can find today. The village has been restored to its original look and layout and the old wooden houses can bee seen long time after we have left Spluegen village and ride up the Rhine on a slope, serpentine by serpentine uphill.
At the end of the hill the road turns right into a small canyon and follows the creek until we reach the Tanzaalp. The road crosses the Tanzaalp and then, at the end of the plateau dives into a firework of serpentines. Like a snake, the trail winds on treeless slopes uphill on the right valley side. Turn by turn the road leads to the top and reaches just before the summit a hospice with restaurant and the Swiss border. Time is running slow up here and since Switzerland at December 12th 2008 had joined the Schengen Agreement, no customs officer is asking you anymore up here the classical question "anything to declare?". Some curves and serpentines further uphill, past an old avalanche gallery, we reach a bleak concrete structure, the Italian border station.
From here the road runs down in a few serpentines to the storage lake, flanked by rusted guardrails we reach the small, sleepy village Montespluga. If the weather is ok, which happens from time to time, it's worth while stopping, taking a quick break, having a seat in front of one of the small restaurants and enjoing an Espresso, while the traffic directly in front of you slowly rolls by. The view with the mountains in the background and the lake in front of you is great. After that we follow the road, that runs parallel on the left side of the reservoir to the front of the southern dam, where it continues to lose altitude curving in endless serpentines and avalanche tunnels down to Pinazzo, where you have to take an important decision.
If you take a left here in Pinazzo, you will find the road running through the "old" Spluegen pass road, through extremely narrow rock tunnels. This way is closed for trucks and campers and asks for extended driving skills with a little challenge. Caution is required, since the tunnels only have space for a car in the tunnel width and usually a bend or curve is inside the middle of it. Ideally, when you want to ride the challenging "old" pass route, we recommend to take it from the south to north, uphill coming up from Chiavenna. Downhill the road is not as smooth to drive. If you take a right in Pinazzo, you can follow a slightly wider more comfortable road, which runs through a much more beautiful landscape of the Spluegenpass, past a deep blue lake and a small ravine, and then you’ll again coming across the "old" road at Campodolcino. We always recommend - if you ride the Spluegen downhill - choose the right option, going uphill, then you really should take the challenge to ride the "old road”.
From Campodolcino on you ride through uncounted small little cosy Italian villages and the traffic becomes typical for Italy and before you know, you have reached Chiavenna. What is typical Italian traffic? Well, if you get passed on the right and left side by scooters with riders only having shorts, t-shirts and slippers on, Fiat Cinquecentos taking over quickly and nobody is nerveous about it - that’s Italian traffic.
At the roundabout in Chiavenna you will then have reached the southern end of the Spluegen pass road. Directly to the left at the roundabout, you’ll find a small bar with excellent Italian home made ice cream. You can park the motorbike directly beside the beer garden and enjoy a delicious Italian ice cream, while you enjoy the hustle and bustle at the roundabout. Typical Italy. Along the left side the way leads up to the Maloja Pass and the Engadine, so back to Switzerland and straight ahead you’ll reach the Italian lakes and and the route across the Monte Ceneri mountain and San Bernardino pass, if you are planning to return to Switzerland and to Spluegen. But you must always remember never planning this in the holiday month of August. Because then the roads along the Italian lakes are completely clogged and it will take ages to reach Bellinzona.