Brig and around
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By virtue of its location, you may find yourself spending a night in the graceful old town of BRIG (Brigue in French; Briga in Italian). It’s the fulcrum for a dizzying series of major road and rail routes: southeast through the Simplon train tunnel into Italy; southwest to Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn; west to Lake Geneva; north through the Lötschbergtunnel towards Bern; and northeast to the high Alpine passes.

The huge train station stands at the northern edge of the town, connected to Brig’s broad cobbled central square – the focus of the Old Town and called in its various sectors Stadtplatz, Marktplatz and Sebastiansplatz – by the main shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse. Overlooking the square is the tiny Sebastianskapelle, built by local bigwig Stockalper (see below) in 1637, with a network of picturesque alleys winding behind and around it.

Lanes off the southeast corner of the square lead along Alte Simplonstrasse past many fine patrician townhouses dating from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to the Schloss Stockalper. This grandiose Italianate palace – for much of its life the largest private residence in Switzerland – dominates the otherwise simple town. It was completed in 1678 to serve as the home of Kaspar Jodok von Stockalper, a merchant from Brig who first made a mint controlling the trade in silk over the Simplon Pass to Lyon, moved on to make another killing organizing mail transport between Milan and Geneva, and finally gained the monopoly in trading salt over the pass. At the height of his power, he was elected President of the Grand Council of Valais, the highest political office in the region. By 1658 he was wealthy enough to start building his own palace in Brig, the town through which all his goods passed, and which he himself had largely had built from scratch. After twenty years or more, it seems Stockalper finally got too big for his boots: his political colleagues plotted together to have him removed from office, and he was sent into exile into Domodossola, forfeiting part of his fortune on the way. Only six years later was he permitted to return to Brig, where he died a few years later at the grand old age of 82.

You can stroll from the street into the triple-arcaded interior courtyard, especially beautiful when it catches the sun. Rearing up overhead are three giant corner towers topped by the onion domes that are visible from much of the town. Entry to the few rooms open to the public is by guided tour only (May–Oct Tues–Sun 10am, 11am, 2, 3 & 4pm; June–Sept also 5pm; Fr.5) – unless you’re confident in reading the German notes, though, or you have an English-speaking guide, you’d best save your money.

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