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The upper part of the Rhône valley, stretching from Brig to the high Alpine passes, is known as theGoms. Winter sees thick snow covering the whole region, perfect for cross-country skiing at all levels. Traffic, at least in the warmer months, is always heavy on the valley road heading up to the Furka, Grimsel and Nufenen passes, but drivers generally prefer to plough on, zipping past the pine forests and wide-open meadows, and through picturesque little villages of traditional darkwood chalets. If you’ve got a car, it’s worth stopping off at a couple of place on the long drive up the valley. Buses and local trains from Brig stop at all villages.
Seven or eight kilometres out of Brig you’ll pass Mörel, with signs for cable-cars rising west to Riederalp and, a little further on, Betten, with cable-cars to Bettmeralp. Both these car-free resorts are perched on ridge-top plateaux, with lifts serving the huge and unspoilt Aletschwald, one of the highest pine forests in Europe, which in turn overlooks the gigantic Aletsch Glacier, a mammoth ice sheet – longest in the Alps – which winds its way down 23km from the base of the Jungfrau. There are hiking possibilities galore around here, and tourist offices in Riederalp (027/927 13 65) and Bettmeralp (027/927 12 91) can provide details of specific trails, as well as of the network of inns and mountain huts which can provide wilderness accommodation. Fiesch, the next main town along the valley, has lifts up to the vantage point of the Eggishorn, above the hamlet of Kuhboden, offering the finest views of the glacier.
Above Fiesch, the Rhône is little more than a fast-flowing mountain brook, and the villages become smaller and more rural. Six kilometres past Fiesch is the hamlet of Niederwald, which proudly announces its claim to fame with a US-style billboard – it was here, in 1850, that César Ritz, who went on to found the Ritz hotel chain, was born. Some 3km further on is the little community of MÜNSTER. Away from the main road, the tranquil village is characterized by the traditional Valaisian-style chalets, all clustered together higgledy-piggledy, burnt a rich dark brown and decorated with pretty geranium windowboxes. At their centre is a striking white church with a wood-panelled barrel-vault ceiling and florid Baroque interior – this is thought to be all that remains of a medieval monastery which once stood somewhere nearby. The handful of hotels in the village is worth passing over in favour of the extraordinary Croix d’Or et Poste beside the main road (027/974 15 15, fax 974 15 16; b), a marvellous old building dating from 1620. Up to 1900 or so it was the residence of the noble family of prince-bishops Von Riedmatten; these days, it’s every bit as atmospheric as that sounds, its public rooms draped with Victorian bric-à-brac, the few guest rooms more subdued but still characterful. Value for money extends to the cooking as well, with superb menus for Fr.20–25.
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