The high Alpine passes
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Above Münster, you enter the Obergoms region (Upper Goms), and begin to approach the high Alpine passes. Ulrichen, 4km on, has a turning southeast along the Agene valley to the Nufenen Pass, or Passo della Novena (2478m), which crosses into Ticino and the Val Bedretto. The main road continues through Oberwald (1368m), where the Obergoms tourist office is located (027/973 32 32), and then immediately begins to climb in a series of great looping switchbacks. If you’re heading east and would prefer to avoid the Furka pass, note that car-carrying trains run daily year-round from Oberwald through the Furka-Basis Tunnel to Realp, at least every hour (6am–9pm) – a one-way fare is Fr.36, or Fr.27 between June and September.

Way above Oberwald, the junction point of GLETSCH (1759m) – not really even a hamlet, but with a hotel, Glacier du Rhône (027/973 15 15, fax 973 29 13; a; June–Sept) from which to enjoy the spectacular views – is where roads divide. Northeast from Gletsch, heading up to the Furka pass, the road sidewinds its way up the cliffside, coiling around the landmark Hotel Belvédère on the way (2300m). In season, this once-grand edifice is swamped by the tide of traffic swarming up the road; it’s not worth staying here, but it is worth stopping for the breathtaking views down into the valley, and also to explore the Rhône Glacier, which fills the head of the valley to the north. This is the source of the Rhône itself, which you can see spouting out as meltwater from beneath the glacier’s eaves. Owners of a souvenir stall in the Belvédère’s car park have cashed in on the glacier’s appeal – and its proximity to the road – by carving, fresh each year, a tunnel deep into the blueish ice for their many customers to walk along (June–Oct daily 8am–6pm; Fr.5). By the end of the summer, about a third of the tunnel’s length has melted, as the glacier shifts by some 30m each year.

Grimsel Pass
The other road from Gletsch climbs west in ever tighter curves up to the Grimsel Pass (2165m), marking the border between Valais and Canton Bern. There are three hotels on the top, and it’s an extraordinarily dramatic place to spend the night, with the bare, snow-patched rocks rising all around, the summit Totensee (“Dead Lake”) icy all summer, and stunning sunset views down over the Grimselsee just below. The Grimselblick (027/973 11 77, fax 973 14 22; a–b) is the best on offer, a cosy place once the daytime tour buses have departed, with one particularly enticing en-suite double room, complete with four-poster bed, that’s worth asking for. On the other side of the lake is the simpler Alpenrösli (033/973 12 91, fax 973 12 90; a). Three buses a day (July–Sept) run from Oberwald to Meiringen via the Grimselpass.

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