You can see the Alps for many miles before you reach the Swiss border. At first sight they are small and far away, but they loom ever larger, until the forbidding mountain ridges fill your view. We crossed the Alps via the Simplon Pass Road, one of the most scenic mountain passes in Europe.
The Simplon Pass was an ancient route used up to the 17th century by smugglers and mercenaries. Then, in the middle of the 17th century, it was used to bring salt from the Mediterranean on the back of mules. The first road suitable for vehicles was built for Napoleon to move his cannons southward which, incidentally, he did not do – at least not on this route.
For around 64km (40 miles) the road winds in lengthy curves up the mountain to its summit which lies at 2005 metres. A series of galleries and tunnels are cut through the rock; huge bridges span deep gorges and skim over tree tops. Even at this time of year the tallest peaks are topped with snow and the air is cool and fresh. Grey clouds swirled around menacing peaks.
We descended into Brig: German speaking, Swiss cleanliness and a welcoming bed. We don’t speak any German, had no Swiss currency and no map of Switzerland, but that’s all part of the adventure. This is the road coming into Brig pictured from the town.
Where else could we have been but Switzerland? We felt like Heidi and Peter!
Which direction now? We were in two minds….
So, “we all came out to Montreux, on the Lake Geneva shoreline”.… (Only those who remember the 1970s will understand why we diverted to Montreux). Lake Geneva is huge – it has an area of 224 square miles (581 square km), of which around 90 square miles are in France; the lion’s share is in Switzerland. The Montreux shoreline is about 4 miles (6km) long, along the Lake’s eastern shore.
Along the shores there are many large mansions and tropical vegetation – it is a beautiful spot, overlooking the serene, rippling water. A perfect weekend retreat perhaps for the Gnomes of Zurich?
“Smoke on the Water” connection aside, Freddy Mercury settled in Montreux and recorded his last album with Queen here; there is a commemorative statue of him on the lakeside. Lord Byron visited with his friends the Shelleys, and it was here that Mary Shelley wrote “Frankenstein” on a stormy night. Here also Byron penned his poem “The Prisoner of Chillon”, inspired by the 13th century Chillon Castle built on a rocky islet on the lake.