The Simplon Pass and Tunnel
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The road over the Simplon Pass (2005m), southwest of Brig, was built by Napoleon as a military through route between 1800 and 1808, immediately after he’d successfully crossed the Grand-St-Bernard with an army. These days the old pass road is a modern, Swiss-engineered highway, and the pass itself isn’t really worth a specific journey, with views nowhere near as impressive as those from the other great Alpine passes. What is worthwhile, though, is to explore the cobbled alleys and picturesque old houses of Simplon-Dorf (village) on the other side – still in Switzerland – as well as, hard up against the Italian border, the impressive Gondo gorge. A long, energetic two- or three-day hike covers the 35km Stockalper Road, from Brig via the pass itself to the border hamlet of Gondo – this is the mule track completed by Stockalper (see above) for transport of goods between Italy and the Valais, and has inns aplenty dotted along its route, which is away from the highway for most of its route.

While you’re standing on the pass heights, give a thought for those careering at speed on trains through the Simplon Tunnel, some 2400m beneath the Wasenhorn peak just to the east. This is the longest rail tunnel in the world, entered almost immediately after leaving Brig station and emerging 19.8km later in Italy for the short run to Domodossola (from where Swiss trains connect on the Centovalli line to Locarno), and on south to Milan. The completion of the tunnel in 1905 opened up an entirely new train route from London and Paris to Istanbul – the so-called Venice–Simplon Orient Express – which in turn led to a whole new era in pan-European travel.

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