One of our favorite ways to explore Europe is on road trips. We come across so many places we never would have had we hopped on a plane or even taken the train from point A to B. Simplon Pass, which connects Valais in Switzerland with the Divedro Valley and Domodossola in Northern Italy, is one of those places.
As we approached Simplon Pass, the cloudy, overcast skies from the last few days in Zermatt just seemed to melt away. The Bernese Alps stretched glistening white up toward brilliant blue sky. It was such a stunning panorama, we couldn’t not stop to take in these views.
Aside from the beautiful views, Simplon Pass has a long history. It was even used during the Stone Age. The pass was used as a route for smugglers and mercenaries up until the 17th century because Roman architects considered the narrow Gondo Gorge to be impassible.
The Brig merchant prince Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper began using Simplon Pass around the mid 17th century to bring salt from the Mediterranean on mules backs and the trade made him very rich. It wasn’t until Napoleon wanted to bring his cannons through the pass though, that a road suitable for vehicles was built. Ironically, Napoleon’s power crumbled before his armies could ever actually use the pass. The railway followed just over 100 hundred years later in 1906.
We stopped on the summit of the pass, where at 2005 meters high, the Hospiz of the Bernardine monks sits nestled amongst the snowy peaks. An eight-meter-high stone eagle, built by Erwin Friedrich Baumannover as a symbol of the mountain brigade, stands watch over the pass reminds visitors of World War II.
Tim jokingly asked if I thought we could snowshoe across (and we did have our snowshoes in the boot of the car). Maybe not, but the Stockalper Trail (Stockalperweg) might be a possibility in summer. It’s a 35-kilometer long, fully preserved Simplon mule-trail from the 17th century that is a culturally important, historic hiking route from Brig over the Simplon Pass to Gondo and is typically hiked in 2 – 3 days.
If you’re not into hiking, the route still makes the list of the most scenic drives in Switzerland and is indeed a beautiful spot to stop for a bit.
Know Before You Go
- Despite the best efforts of the Swiss Department of Highways, Simplon Pass is often impassible between December and May; when the pass is closed, vehicles are carried through the 19.8 kilometer long Simplon Tunnel on the Brig–Iselle di Trasquere car train.
- The Brig–Iselle di Trasquere car trains accepts Euro, Swiss Francs, or chip-and-pin credit/debit cards. Fare is 22 CHF for a single ticket. Check the timetable for Brig–Iselle di Trasquere.
- Restaurants can be found in the nearby village of Simplon-Dorf.