BREXIT – there, I’ve said it.
NO – don’t stop reading, it gets better, I promise.
The current shenanigans around this vexed subject reminded me of the old joke about the perfect Europe – the one where the British run the police, the chefs are French, the engineers are German, the lovers are Italian and the Swiss run the railways.
The superb rail journey directly from Geneva airport to the lovely town of Brig, in the Canton of Valais in the Swiss Alps, simply reinforces the wish-list.
The journey is a wonderfully clean, efficient and prompt service at a reasonable price, especially if you intend to travel on more railways and purchase a Swiss rail pass.
The same is true of all Switzerland’s rail services.
They run like a Swiss watch and truly put ours to shame.
Brig is something of a transport hub, being located in the Alps and handy for reaching all of the nearby villages, towns and famous ski resorts.
It is surrounded on all sides by snow capped mountains, even in summer.
The railway station, right in the centre of town is served by the national rail service for cities further afield, a local train service, the renowned Glacier Express and local buses.
The main attractions here are the Glacier Express, the nearby Matterhorn and the resort of Zermatt.
Brig itself is a lovely town, small enough to walk around and is safe at any time of day or night.
The land train, optimistically called the Kleiner Simplon Express is a tractor and carriage ride around the town and the adjacent old wooden house district of Naters.
At 6 Swiss Francs each, the thirty minute ride, with a commentary in English, takes you to all the interesting parts of the towns and allows you to get your early bearings.
There are several interesting restaurants, cafes and bars, though it is just enough off the popular tourist trail to avoid excesses.
The town square is a magnet day and night for relaxation.
The castle in the centre of Brig is the beautiful Stockalper Palace. This has multi layered cloisters around the courtyard and colourful, peaceful gardens. It is free to enter.
Brig lies at the foot of the superb Simplon Pass over the Alps into nearby Italy.
This was originally a trading route negotiated by pack animals and was later reinforced by Napoleon for his army. The route was substantially upgraded in the 1960’s by the Swiss, to provide a thrilling road journey, whilst under your feet, the amazing Simplon Rail Tunnel travels subterraneously along a similar route. The Swiss are world renowned masters of tunnelling and bridge building and you will be staggered by some of the engineering feats as well as the enticing views.
If you do take the road or rail journey in this direction, probably the best nearby place in Italy to visit is Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore.
Boat trips can be taken from here along Italy’s second biggest lake and around the pretty islands.
Switzerland is not the cheapest of places to visit and you will immediately notice the difference in prices of just about everything.
For another great day out from Brig, take the local bus or train to Tasch.
From there take the short ride on the Zermatt Shuttle train into Zermatt. No cars are allowed in Zermatt and the town is served by electric vehicles similar to milk floats, although getting around on foot is easy.
For views of the Matterhorn, if cloud allows, take the Gornergrat Bahn cog railway from the centre of Zermatt and up the Gornergrat mountain (10,194ft).
This is Europe’s highest cog railway and runs to the top, completely in the open air.
The price of these tickets will take your breath away just as much as the thin air at the mountain top but it is so worth it.
You can see the nearby Matterhorn and the highest peak in the Swiss Alps,
Monte Rosa (15,292ft) and it’s glacier very close to hand.
You can also see, on a clear day, 29 peaks all more than 13,200ft. For comparison, these are 4 or 5 times higher than all the English Lake District peaks. (The Lake District itself has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status – July 2017).
The views, as well as the thin air will leave you gasping.
There is the old part of Zermatt to explore, which has quaint wooden houses and narrow alleyways. The main street is a little over commercialised for my tastes, a bit Southend-on Ski, especially in the ski season.
The River Rhone, glacial waters at this point, runs through Brig’s valley on it’s way to France and the Mediterranean. It is an attractive, milky green colour due to crushed rocks in the water.
The fruit and vine laden Rhone valley out of Brig by road or rail, leads to Lake Geneva and Montreux. The local apricots and plums from here are deliciously tasty.
Yet more boat trips and the opportunity to walk along the outstanding lakefront or in late June/early July, the festivities of the Montreux Jazz Festival.
You must take coffee or lunch on La Terrasse of the Petit Palace, in front of the Grand Palace Hotel. Stunning doesn’t describe the lakeside views to the mountains beyond and the prices are below what one might expect for this standard of comfort and service.
Lastly, the Glacier Express leaves Brig regularly. It actually runs from Zermatt to St. Moritz.
We boarded in Brig and made the shorter journey over the Oberalppass to Chur, another lovely and ancient town. Again, the mountain views surpass expression and nearly wore out the camera battery.
So, where to stay in Brig?
The mid-range, three star, family run Hotel Victoria is an older hotel with a more modern extension to the side.
It is right on the main street, opposite the railway and bus stations.
Our room was in the old part and had a sunny balcony overlooking the street and with a massive mountain to the right.
The room was large and airy, had fresh décor and was clean and comfortable.
The furniture and bathroom were a little old fashioned but perfectly adequate.
The rooms in the old part of the hotel are apparently better than the ones in the new part, so ask for these specifically.
The breakfast room has an outdoor first floor terrace for warmer days.
The breakfast is self service continental style with no concession to hot meals.
Again, this was fine and you will not go hungry. with plenty of choices.
Evening meals came from a three course fixed menu.
These were basic but wholesome and tasty with plenty of ‘seconds’ offered by the friendly waiting staff. All the other members of staff were also friendly and helpful.
There is a brasserie and bar on the ground floor.
So, the hotel is a bit old fashioned, there can be a bit of street noise, the evening meals are a bit school-dinnerish, but we loved it and would go back.
In the perfect Europe, perhaps they should employ a French chef.
For more information go to www.victoria-brig.ch and choose the English language version.