hidden europe 27

Towards the Simplon

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Stockalper Castle in Brig is named after the man who pioneered trade over the Simplon Pass (photo © Ron Sumners / dreamstime.com).


For those without a hint of romance in their souls, it is possible to speed through the Simplon Tunnel from Switzerland to Italy. The train takes just fifteen minutes. But the old Simplon Pass route is still there for the taking. Brig is the starting point.

History does not record whether William Wordsworth, when he passed through Brig in 1790, stopped off at Sylvie’s Tattoo Magic. Possibly not. He probably was thinking of other things.

Brig is one of those places that everyone passes through eventually. Sylvie is evidently keen to get her share of the passing trade. Shift back to the late eighteenth century, and Brig was a mandatory overnight stop before travellers set out at first light the following morning to cross the Simplon Pass. Today the Cisalpino express trains pause at Brig briefly before diving into the Simplon rail tunnel to emerge a dozen minutes later in Italian sunshine.

The arduous crossing of the Simplon Pass made a profound impact on Wordsworth who was an inveterate collector of landscapes rather than tattoos. He recorded "black drizzling crags" and terrain figuratively populated by "characters of the great Apocalypse". By contrast, the Italian lakes on the far side of the Simplon meant repose and "complacency of spirit", as Wordsworth wrote in a letter to his sister Dorothy.