Simplon Pass

Snowkiter on the Simplon Pass, Canton Valais.

Snowkiter on the Simplon Pass, Canton Valais.

The Simplon Pass (2005 meters) links the Canton of Valais from the town of Brig with the Divedro Valley and Domodossola in Northern Italy. The pass, which is usually open in winter, is praised as one of the most beautiful crossings in the Alps.

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The Simplon Pass was used as early as the Stone Age. But up to the 17th century it was used mainly by smugglers and mercenaries, because the narrow Gondo Gorge was considered by Roman Era architects to be impassable. It was the Brig merchant prince Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, who began to use the Simplon Pass in the middle of the 17th century for bringing salt on the backs of mules from the Mediterranean. It goes without saying that the trade made him immensely rich. The monumental baroque Stockalper Palace in Brig bears witness to his epoch.

The first pass road suitable for vehicular traffic dates back to the time of Napoleon, who wanted to travel southward with his cannons. Over a hundred years later, in 1906, the railway tunnel through the Simplon was opened. At a length of 19 kilometers it was until recently the longest tunnel in the world. Thanks to the railway, cars can be loaded onto trains running between Brig and Iselle even in winter. The Simplon Pass road can be traveled practically all year round, but in spite of many protective terraces, it is possible for the pass road link to become temporarily interrupted.

From Brig, the road takes you over lengthy curves up the mountain. Halfway up, the Ganter Bridge crosses the Ganter Valley. The bold design of this modern bridge fits harmoniously into the countryside. At 2005 meters, on the summit of the pass, stands the Hospiz of the Bernardine monks. An eight-meter-high stone eagle reminds visitors of World War II. Looking toward the back, one sees the magnificent panorama of the Bernese Alps with the Bietschhorn and the glacier flanks of the four-thousand-meter giants Fletschhorn and Weissmies.

On the southern side of the pass, the road towards Italy passes Simplon Village. The style of the buildings with their typical stone plate roofs reminds visitors of the proximity of Italy. The village square is similar to an Italian piazza. The road continues via galleries and tunnels through the narrow Gondo Gorge that is hemmed in by granite walls. In the village of Gondo, gold mines can be visited. Here one of Switzerland’s most remote valleys, the Zwischbergental, branches off to the west. In Gondo one crosses the border to Italy.

Today the Stockalper Trail (Stockalperweg), the 35-kilometer long, fully preserved Simplon mule-trail from the 17th century is the culturally important, historic hiking route from Brig over the Simplon Pass to Gondo. In the renovated Alte Gasthof (”Old Inn”) in Simplon Village, two museums dedicated to the cultural landscape on the Simplon were established. The trail can easily be hiked in three days, with overnights on the Simplon Pass and in Simplon Village.

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