Brig (officially Brig-Glis) is a town in the Rhône valley that is probably best known for being a transport hub. Trains bring in people who are travelling to and from Italy or France, and Brig is an important connection between the Bernese Oberland and Valais regions through tunnels under the mountains. We were planning to stay here as an affordable base for visiting the Altesch Arena. We hadn’t really paid much attention to the town itself, all we knew about it was that there is an ACSI campsite and that we would finally be moving into German speaking Switzerland.
Driving to the campsite past tower blocks and small industrial areas didn’t give us any better sense of the town. Only when we got as far as the campsite and spotted the castle did we realise there might be more to the town than we’d been anticipating.
We arrived early at the campsite and reception was officially closed, but the owner was sitting outside and told us to just park up and come back at 4 to check in. We drove around to find somewhere to make our own. The campsite doesn’t have marked pitches which I always find a bit awkward. It’s difficult to tell whether one is in an area someone else considers to be their pitch and on top of that Paul and I have to agree on the right location which can take some time.
Finally we settled into a spot and got ourselves hooked up to the electricity. We investigated the facilities which were very 1970s in style. The large room with washbasins up each side had undertones of boarding school. Thankfully the showers did have curtains and when we tried them out later we found plentiful hot water and good water pressure.
On one side of the campsite was the river, noisy and fast. The bridge carrying the main road was high above the end of the campsite, it’s noise drowned out by the river’s constant rush. I was a bit worried that Paul would find it difficult to get to sleep. Personally I knew the white noise of the water would lull me to sleep in seconds.
That afternoon Paul decided to have a rest on our pitch while I followed the river up the gorge behind the campsite.
The following morning was a bit cloudy so we got on with some chores while we waited for it to brighten up. I nabbed a washing machine as soon as possible to allow us to make inroads into our laundry. The bed linen was changed and we had a good sweep out of Bertie.
A wander around Brig
On the first afternoon I explored above the campsite. There is a path, accessed by crossing the Saltina river and walking up it’s bank and under the lofty road bridge. Another bridge takes you back over the river and this is the bank you can follow for a reasonable distance up the gorge.
High above to the south is the Simplon pass, which was so instrumental in developing Brig’s importance and wealth, but the path doesn’t get that far. It eventually crosses the river again and heads west into the hills. I got as far as the bridge but a path closure meant I couldn’t turn this into a circular walk and had to retrace my steps. Along the route I could see evidence of the ‘Obere Brigeri’ bisse irrigation channels both in the lower regions of the gorge and also high up along the cliff on the other side of the river.
Later that day when we popped down to the Coop supermarket we were able to see all of the flood defences in place along the Saltina. There was a massive spring flood here in 1993 that caused devastation of a lot of the town centre, hence the modern apartment blocks we had driven past earlier and the rather uniform looking shopping area by the Coop.
The following day started quite gloomy and damp so we decided to postpone our trip to the Altesch Arena and explore Brig a little more. We walked through the town, crossing the river this time and finding the attractive town square with it’s older buildings, cafes and shops. At the railway station there was an officer directing pedestrians who had just arrived so that traffic could also be given an opportunity to move.
We walked both over and under the railway lines and across the Rhône into Brig’s sister town of Naters with it’s traditional wooden buildings. In Naters, near the cemetery and church we noticed a hubub of activity and found that the sheep had been bought down from the higher pastures. I had seen Americans gushing over the Swiss Blacknose sheep and, to be honest, had just dismissed it as being typical Americans who don’t see sheep very often (we found the same in Iceland last year). However, these sheep are impossibly cute with their dreadlock style shaggy coats and adorable fluffy faces. I get the hype now. We stayed and watched as farmers tried to separate out their animals. For all the cuteness they seemed very stubborn and immovable.
After spectating and taking photos we we walked up the side of the cliff along another bisse route. It took us over a suspension bridge and gave us good views of the town. Part way along we were surprised to find an old gun, shiny and restored. Later we found some old trucks and then finally a museum entrance. This is the Festungsmuseum. The cliff hides old secret tunnels and bunkers and is now the home of the Swiss Guards museum. Sadly the museum only opens on Saturdays.
From the museum we wandered back down to Brig, passing under and over the railway again before heading back to the town for some gelato.
Our final stop before heading back to the campsite was the impressive Stockalper Castle. This 17th century castle is a monument to the wealth and pride of Kaspar Stockalper (the three towers are named Casper, Melchoir and Balthazar after the biblical three kings with whom he obviously identified). His wealth was built on his family fortune but also on his clever monopolisation of the salt trade in the area. He financed the road over the Simplon pass and created and supported multiple trade routes. It didn’t seem to make him a popular man, he was exiled for a number of years before being allowed to return and see out his remaining years in Brig.