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Rail route of the month: a dramatic ‘again door’ into Switzerland by way of the Italian Alps | Italy holidays

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Frequent Eurocity trains sprint north from Milan by way of the Simplon Tunnel to Switzerland. On the best way to the tunnel, these categorical trains pace by Lake Maggiore, affording fantastic views of the Borromean Islands. For Switzerland-bound trains, the final station cease in Italy is on the small Piedmont city of Domodossola. The station right here is remarkably grand, as befits what was as soon as an essential gateway into Italy, with all of the paraphernalia of customs and immigration. From Domodossola, it’s simply one other half-hour by way of the Simplon Tunnel to Brig, an interesting Swiss city that guards the northern finish of the Alpine tunnel, earlier than trains head on to Berne, Basel and the north.

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Map for rail route of month

In the event you don’t thoughts lacking the beautiful surroundings across the Swiss-Italian border, then travelling by way of the Simplon Tunnel route into Switzerland is okay. Simplon darkness is not any totally different from the darkness on the London Underground, although the Eurocity trains that ply the Simplon route are much more snug than something the tube has to supply. However these not in a rush can do a lot better by turning proper at Domodossola, then heading east into the hills to search out a lovely back-door route into Switzerland through the use of a cross-border rural railway.

Into the hills

Locarno on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland.
Locarno on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. {Photograph}: Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH/Alamy

“Turning proper” at Domodossola means heading down from the primary station to a subterranean platform from which the practice to Locarno departs. It’s a curiosity of this mountain railway that each terminuses are underground, however the intervening 30 miles supply a feast of fantastic surroundings and no lengthy tunnels in any respect. Certainly, some argue that the road east from Domodossola is on a par with the celebrated Bernina railway, which is the one different narrow-gauge railway crossing the Italian-Swiss border.

The minor railway from Domodossola known as the Vigezzina, although over the Swiss border it’s extra generally known as the Centovalli. Two firms – SSIF on the Italian aspect and the evocatively named Fart in Switzerland – cooperate to run about 9 trains a day from Domodossola to Locarno. The journey takes just below two hours on a rollercoaster route by way of rugged Alpine terrain. The Swiss border is about two-thirds of the best way alongside, and from right here the railway crosses into Switzerland earlier than dropping right down to Locarno on the jap limb of Lake Maggiore.

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On boarding I’m shocked to discover a welcoming brigade of black-clad chimney sweeps on their method to a conference at Santa Maria Maggiore, the very best village on the rail path to Locarno. As we rattle out from Domodossola’s underground station into the sunshine, a number of the spazzacamini inform me how the annual journey to Santa Maria Maggiore is a homecoming ritual.

“It’s an opportunity to return to communities within the hills which despatched chimney sweeps out to the farthest-flung components of Europe,” says a freckle-faced younger girl in the usual black skilled apparel. I make a psychological notice to study extra concerning the historical past of chimney sweeps then give attention to the passing panorama as we climb in a sequence of spectacular zigzags up by way of tiny Creggio to Trontano and past. The railway shortly beneficial properties top to comply with the southern flank of the Melezzo valley, then drifts again right down to the valley flooring. There are neck-craning views again to the Pennine Alps behind Domodossola, however the true panorama stars are nearer handy: a stunning mixture of oak and chestnut woodland interspersed with mountain streams and fleeting glimpses of good-looking villas.

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The pilgrim path

Our practice pauses for no evident motive at Marone, a tiny place in the course of a forest just a few miles east of Trontano. The neat station constructing has inexperienced shutters. I’ve an Adlestrop second, the scents and sounds of this Piedmontese outpost changing the willow-herb and blackbird of Edward Thomas’s poignant poem. There are cheery goodbyes from the chimney sweeps at Santa Maria Maggiore, from the place it’s typically downhill all the best way to Locarno. However it is a journey of many moods and dramatic adjustments in panorama. Gentle drizzle units in as we strategy Re, the place a celebration of nuns (and I) all go away the practice. The rain doesn’t deter me from making a cease to stroll by way of beechwoods and go to the Santuario della Madonna del Sangue, a pilgrimage location since 1494, when a fresco of the Nursing Madonna was hit by a stone and began bleeding.

Becoming a member of a later practice at Re for the onward journey to Locarno, I’m requested to pay a complement of €1.50. “It’s solely levied on these Vigezzo Imaginative and prescient trains with panoramic home windows,” says the practice supervisor. Provided that we’re surrounded by rain and drifting banks of low cloud, this appears a little bit cheeky, however I pay up and am fortunately rewarded by the return of the solar and a fantastic rainbow as we cross into Switzerland’s Ticino canton.

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