As soon as we paid for our rather unpleasant night of camping at Lake Lucerne and were back on the road, our sense of adventure returned. According to the website I’d found about Teufelsbrücke, it was only about 30 minutes from the lake, so we expected to be there in a jif.
Alas, it was not to be. You’re not gonna believe this, but the website was wrong. We followed it to the exact position on the map to the little town of Amsteg, Switzerland. Where’s Amsteg, you ask? Only the handful of folks who live in Amsteg know that! We parked, got out and looked around, and though we were in a gorgeous valley along the Reuss River with cascading waterfalls and steep mountains, the bridge was nowhere in sight.
We puzzled and puzzled till our puzzlers were sore, then decided to explore up a side valley. We didn’t find the bridge, but we did find the coolest road we’ve yet driven in Switzerland. Climbing up into a forested canyon along the raging Kärstelen Creek, the road narrowed to one lane in places with hairpin curves cut right into the mountainside in a series of curving tunnels. High above the canyon, we drove for some time before finally turning around and returning to the town of Amsteg to try again.
Once there, we found what looked to be the correct location for Teufelsbrücke on navigation, so we turned toward the town of Andermatt. Again met with wild and scenic views, we pulled over to investigate a suspension bridge along the Reuss River.
A steep but short path led over twisted tree roots down to the bridge. From there, we hiked a short loop trail up a side creek and back to our car.
About five kilometers from the town of Andermatt (which on a good day is only an hour’s drive from Lake Lucerne), we hit a series of road closures with no clear detour to get to Andermatt. What we didn’t know was that a landslide had blocked the main highway, and it was simply impassable. In lieu of any kind of electronic signage to inform drivers, officials had merely used orange tape to put a giant X over Andermatt where it appeared on signs, including the sign we’d seen back in Amsteg.
Had we known…
Well, we probably would have gone anyway, but we would have routed a different path. As it was, Travis navigated us to a lovely (but lengthy) detour around the slide. Trying to stay on the curving road in monsoon rains, I felt only bemusement. Knowing that the Swiss can put a tramway in a vertical cliff and plop a restaurant on a pointy 14’er, I could only assume they were having a bit of a laugh when they built the road upon which we found ourselves. We knew our route was as crazy as we thought when we saw it on our navigation.
We were relieved to finally arrive in Andermatt. Not only did it mean we were getting close to our quarry, but the town was simply adorable, if eerily empty.
Just a kilometer from the bridge, we arrived at yet another road closure, our last route to the bridge.
We were so close! Gah!
Luckily, a road employee was stationed in a small booth at the roundabout. Travis hopped out to ask her if there was any way to get to the bridge, and she gave him excellent directions on how to reach a construction area being used for parking. From there, we could walk the kilometer through the tunnel along the train tracks to the bridge. Only car traffic wasn’t allowed. We were in business!!
Our first glimpse of Teufelsbrücke was not of the bridge, but of the torrential Reuss River crashing through the craggy Schöllenen Gorge just above the bridge. With spring melt water from the surrounding peaks, it was spectacular.
And at long last, the bridge…
Bridges, really, since we could stand in one place and see the old bridge, the new one, and the railroad bridge above both.
The first bridge was built here in 1230 and was made of wood, which is just insane to think after seeing the sheer rock walls on both sides of the gorge and the force of the water.
Legend says that the forces of nature were such in the gorge that no man could build a bridge to cross the chasm – only the Devil himself had the power to achieve such a feat. Extracting a promise from the local villagers that the first soul to cross the bridge would be his, he made good on his end of the bargain and constructed the Devil’s Bridge. With none willing to sacrifice himself, the villagers tricked the Devil, sending a goat across the bridge instead.
Enraged, the Devil gathered up a 220 ton rock, intent on destroying the villagers. But upon meeting an elderly woman of faith bearing a cross, the Devil dropped the rock and conceded defeat. The rock has been moved from its original position but can still be visited near the town of Göschenen.
A stone bridge finally replaced the wooden one in the 1500s after it was smashed repeatedly during storms.
This new bridge was badly damaged in 1799 during a battle between Russian and French soldiers as they fought their way through the Alps during the Napoleonic Wars. A large memorial carved into the adjacent canyon commemorates the troops who died fighting there.
Even the stone bridge couldn’t withstand the elements and it too was later demolished in a storm. The two stone bridges now standing are much more contemporary and were built within the last 200 years.
Exiting the tunnel, we climbed a series of metal stairs along the adjacent cliff, which gave us awesome views of both the old and new tunnels.
The last part of the path crossed back over the raging river on bare metal grating. It was thrilling and a bit disorienting to see the roiling white water just below our feet. Finding a seemingly random set of spiral stairs inside the rail tunnel, we climbed them to see if we could find a different way to hike back. We ended up on top of the highway and railroad tracks we’d followed to the bridge, which treated us to nice views of the river and crater-topped mountain behind Andermatt.
Back at the parking area, an elderly couple stopped to chat with us while we were brewing coffee on our camp stove.
With hot drinks to warm our hands and bellies, we set off once again. Our final destination? Vaduz Castle in Liechtenstein!