The Triassic–Lower Jurassic succession of the Southern Alps is characterized by rapid thickness changes, from an average of about 5000 m east of Lago Maggiore to about 500 m in the Western Southern Alps. The stratigraphy reflects the Triassic evolution of the Tethyan Gulf and the Early Jurassic rifting responsible for the Middle Jurassic break-up of Adria from Europe. The succession of the Western Southern Alps starts with Lower Permian volcanics directly covered by Anisian sandstones. The top of the overlying Ladinian dolostones (300 m) records subaerial exposure and karstification. Locally (Gozzano), Upper Sinemurian sediments cover the Permian volcanics, documenting pre-Sinemurian erosion. New biostratigraphic data indicate a latest Pliensbachian–Toarcian age for the Jurassic synrift deposits that unconformably cover Ladinian or Sinemurian sediments. Therefore, in the Western Southern Alps, the major rifting stage that directly evolved into the opening of the Penninic Ocean began in the latest Pliensbachian–Toarcian. New data allowed us to refine the evolution of the two previously recognized Jurassic extensional events in the Southern Alps. The youngest extensional event (Western Southern Alps) occurred as tectonic activity decreased in the Lombardy Basin. During the Sinemurian the Gozzano high represents the western shoulder of a rift basin located to the east (Lombardy). This evolution documents a transition from diffuse early rifting (Late Hettangian–Sinemurian), controlled by older discontinuities, to rifting focused along a rift valley close to the Pliensbachian–Toarcian boundary. This younger rift bridges the gap between the Hettangian–Sinemurian diffuse rifting and the Callovian–Bathonian break-up. The late Pliensbachian–Toarcian rift, which eventually lead to continental break-up, is interpreted as the major extensional episode in the evolution of the passive margin of Adria. The transition from diffuse to focused extension in the Southern Alps is comparable to the evolution of the Central Austroalpine during the Early Jurassic and of the Central and Northern Atlantic margins.