Via Francigena - Canterbury to Rome
Lausanne to Aosta
5 August 2019 to 13 August 2019
The walk from Besancon to Aosta was done between 29 July 2019 and 13 August 2019. This is the second section from Lausanne to Aosta
Monday 5 August 2019
Lausanne to Aigle The day started badly when I had a muscle spasm in my lower back. I was able to carry on but the stiffness persisted for the rest of the holiday. After breakfast, we got the metro down to Ouchy and caught the 09.30 boat to a town called Vevey. Vevey was celebrating a wine festival which occurs only once every 20 years.! There were lots of things going on. There were people in Swiss costume and a large arena had been constructed in the town centre. It took us 20 minutes of walking along the lakeside to get beyond the stalls selling food and drink which lined the promenade. After a few more kilometers, I decided to catch a bus ahead to Montreux where, I would wait for the others. At Montreux there was a larger than life statue of Freddy Mercury looking out across Lake Geneva. I wandered around for a while, then installed my self in a restaurant and waited for the others to arrive. My burger and chips cost a whopping 27 Swiss Francs. When they arrived, Marlen & Harold had the menu du jour and Gillian just had the remains of my chips and water. We had all decided that walking around Lake Geneva was not very exciting. Marlen and Harold moved on by train. Gillian and I sat down by the lakeside and met up again with Ricardo one of the Italian piligrims we had last seen near Les Fourgs. He told us he was a history teacher who came from a small town just south of Rome. He complained that he had had no sleep since Besancon because his companion was such a noisy snorer. We said goodbye and got a bus to the town Villeneuve at the SE corner of the lake. Then, a railway-replacement bus on to Aigle. Arriving there at the hottest part of the afternoon, we took a while to get our bearings. Google maps came to our rescue and we purchased food and drink at a supermarket for our evening meal. We met up with Marlen and Harold and walked to Le Relais Du Chateau, a very grand name for a fairly ordinary house where we had two bedrooms and a shared bathroom all at sub-ground level. There was also a garden and a cat and we all sat out in the evening sunshine eating wine, cheese, bread and salami. Our hosts were at home but went out for the evening. I was able to wash (and dry) my walking shorts which had become soiled from grassy picnic sites and various stains of butter, jam, wine, beer and other foodstuffs. They were not washed again until we got back to the UK.
Tuesday 6 August 2019
Aigle to St Maurice (20km) Our accommodation was badly placed for getting back on route. We had to walk back for about 3km along suburban roads before we reached a broad cycle path beside the River Rhone. This was the Swiss Rhone which finishes in Lake Geneva rather than the better known French Rhone which empties into the Mediterranean. Our route ran next to the river almost all the way to our destination and was a bit boring.Bikes whizzed past, sometimes ridden by lycra clad “professionals”, sometimes in a more leisurely fashion by older riders or families with baby carts. At first, the riverside trees cast a welcome shade but, as noon approached useful shadows were far and few between. We had a couple of breaks but otherwise just ploughed onwards in the heat. The route was a flat highway into the heart of the Alps. About 3km from the end we crossed a bridge and continued on the other side of the river. When St Maurice came in sight, I was looking forward to a cold beer. Gillian had an iced coffee.. Amazingly, after all the heat, there was a sudden rain shower. At our hotel, they had given us to a nice top floor room with a kitchen. St Maurice was very nice with lots of facilities for walkers and tourists.
Wednesday 7 August 2019
St Maurice to Martigny Another section of walking along the valley of the Rhone into the mountains. It was raining as we set out. Grey clouds and mist filled the valley. Over the first couple of kilometers it got heavier and heavier until it was bouncing off the road surface. We were all getting very wet. Suddenly there was a large clap of thunder. Marlen has a great fear of thunder and lightning and immediately decided to return to the railway station. In fact, she started to run. I said I would go with her and followed in her wake. I had no qualms about this. Local railways were put there to protect pilgrims from bad weather. Unfortunately when the two of us finally got to Martigny by train I realised I had lost my walking pole. This was a problem as our previous sections of the VF had shown that I needed a stick to protect my back. So I set out to find sports shops which might stock walking poles but those which I found were closed for lunch. When Gillian and Harold arrived we all had a drink at a restaurant in the market square. It was raining very heavily and we all sat under a very large sunshade and drank consoling glasses of prosecco, as locals and tourists hurried past beneath umbrellas. When the rain finally stopped we went to our hotel, probably the least salubrious of our whole trip but quite OK for one night. On the way to the hotel we saw a sign for Col de Forclaz, the place where Gillian and I had met 24 years earlier. Then we went out successfully shopping for walking poles. In the evening we had a meal at a pizza restaurant opposite the hotel.
Thursday 8 August 2019
Martigny to Orsieres The rain of the previous day had cleared and we had a beautiful sunny morning to begin our ascent to the Col du Grand St Bernard. We had a choice of routes to Sembrancher. The book described an unpleasant path which “boulder-hopped” up the side of a river. But there was also an alternative discovered by Gillian which meant going over the intervening mountain. This was a bit daunting but Gillian had also identified a post bus which would take us near to the summit. So at 09.30 we caught the bus which, in the lowest of its gear ratios, laboured up the mountain via a series of hairpin bends with vertiginous views straight down to the tiny houses of Martigny. I was very glad when we got off near its terminus even though we still had a 40 minute climb to the summit. On this section we encountered the most severe gradients of the whole trip. Virtually 30 degrees all the way up. Finally we started to descend and went down steeply across some alpine meadows hopping over a number of low electric fences. These were small grassy paths which tested our leg muscles and demanded maximum concentration. The downward zig zag continued for a long time until we saw the small village of Vens on the mountainside blow us and, beyond that, Sembrancher spread out in the valley. Passing Vens, we followed a clearer but equally steep path towards the bottom of the valley. Every so often, this emerged on a hairpin bend of a road and then peeled off again through the trees ever downwards. By now, Marlen and Harold had disappeared ahead of us. Presently, we reached gentler slopes and walked down through vineyards to reach a bridge over a tumbling stream at the entrance to Sembrancher, We needed a break. So we stopped for lunch at a café on the main road where we both had cold drinks and I had a plate of ravioli. (Later, we discovered that Marlen & Harold had decided that there must be a better restaurant further on but had found nothing. Consequently, by the end of the day, Harold was “so hungry he could have eaten his wife”. Going on towards Orsieres, Gillian and I climbed steadily for a couple of hours up minor roads to a high point of 900m before we descended towards Orsieres. By now it was very hot and we were pleased to reach Hotel Terminus which was appropriately situated at the terminus of the small railway which connected Orsieres to Martigny. In fact the railway platforms were right below our bedroom window. This was one of our nicest hotels. We had the benefit of a balcony and were able to wash and dry our T-shirts. The hotel had a music event that evening which attracted quite a crowd to the restaurant. A young American guy from New York sat at the next table and we chatted to him. He was doing the Tour Du Mont Blanc. We told him that Gillian and I had met each other on the TMB many years ago, and he said “Hey perhaps, I’ll meet my future wife on this walk!”
Friday 9 August 2019
Orsieres to Bourg St Pierre We were up early for breakfast at 07.00 with the idea of beating the worst of the day’s heat. There was an initial stiff climb out of the village mostly in shade but soon the sun climbed above the rim of the mountains and it became very warm. We were never far from the growl of traffic on the main road which we could see on the opposite side of the valley climbing towards the col. At one point there was a choice of routes and Gillan and I chose to descend through trees and then follow a very pleasant track steadily uphill beside a tumbling river. But we paid for this when the track suddenly ran out and we had to climb a near-vertical hillside by a small slippery path. I had to stow my walking stick in order to manage it. Back on wider, safer paths we reached a roadside restaurant where we enjoyed a cold drink. The onward way was parallel to the road but below it on the right hand side. Unusually we were passed by a couple of local walkers. We began to climb again and we got into a good walking rhythm which got us to within sight of Bourg St Pierre before we stopped beside a small chapel for a break. It was about 13.30 and when, we reached the homely Auberge les Charmettes, we found M&H just finishing lunch. Later we all sat outside in the sunshine to have drinks. Adjacent to the terrace there was a generously sized pen for a friendly large white dog called Navile. A visiting Yorkshire terrier was trying to consumate their friendship but was finding it impossible due to the disparity in size. As the evening sun dipped below the rim of the mountains we had dinner at the same table.
Sat 10 August 2019
Bourg St Pierre Col Grand St Bernard When we awoke it was raining and the clouds were down to ground level. A cheerless morning with zero visibility. The worst possible weather for climbing to our highest point of the pilgrimage. And I was feeling below par, heady and breathless from my medication. As we left the village I was unsure that I was going to make it up the 800m ascent to the col. In almost zero visibility we climbed up a track towards the Barrage des Troules. It started to rain but because of the very high humidity we stuck to wearing light clothing until it got heavier and I had to don my raincoat, Gillian was using an umbrella which was quite a feat as she was also using two walking poles. Presently the black face of the huge dam appeared out of the murk in front of us and we diverted to the the right and zig zagged up until we knew we were above the level of the dam and the lake. However, these were quite invisible in the swirling mists. We carried on with the unseen water on our left along a service track. Where this finished we crossed a bridge and climbed steeply up across rough a hillside. The gradient was quite severe and we paused for breath beside a ruined house on the apex of the hill. I was wet, tired and thoroughly miserable at this point. As we continued, the clouds suddenly cleared for a few minutes and we could see the lake with the road to the col on the other bank. Then they closed in and we were enveloped again in the warm grey mist. The lake finished but the path continued on climbing steadily for, a long way. Now there was a tumbling river on our left. I was relieved to hear Gillian say that the book recommended going down to the road in bad weather and we shortly reached a bridge which led to another track and on towards the road. By now, we could hardly see our hands in front of our faces. Some concrete structures loomed out of the darkness. We had reached the road just beyond the point where most of the traffic entered the tunnel which ran below the col. Visibility was almost zero and we agreed that it would be dangerous to try to walk up the road which still had a fair amount of traffic. There was a bus in an hour. So we sat down to wait on the overgrown steps of a defunct café. Cars and motor bikes growled past, their headlights making little impression on the gloom. We played a word-game to pass the time. Unbelievably, five minutes before the bus was due, a patch of
blue sky appeared overhead and the clouds began to disperse. We could even see the track where we might have walked. Gillian was torn between walking or riding but finally we both got the bus which took us up the final steep 6km to the col with its lake, hospice, hotel and cluster of other buildings. Marlen & Harold had just arrived and we had lunch together. Afterwards we all walked down to the Italian side of the pass and had two bottles of Prosecco at Hotel Italia to celebrate our arrival. From our room in the hospice we had a view of the lake and the mountains. We had a simple dinner in the conservatory restaurant along with the other guests.
Sunday 11 August 2019
Col Grand St Bernard to Etroubles The morning was sunny with clear blue skies. We said goodbye to Marlen & Harold, who were returning to Germany by bus to Martigny and then train. We started to descend 1,200 meters down the Italian side of the pass to Etroubles. Now, we were in Italy amd we were greeting other walkers with “buongiorno” rather than the “bonjour” which had served us well since Calais. . We walked along the road for 400 meters and then turned down a broad path which went down sharply across green & rocky mountainsides to intersect the serpentine route of the road two or three times. Marmots were whistling from the rocks to our left but couldn’t see them. We were descending along the side of a huge deep valley and could see the road far below us with cars like toys. We were walking through a carpet of grasshoppers and butterflies which scattered before us. The path forked and became narrower and required more concentration to avoid rocks and holes. My right leg was getting painful from using it to brake my body on each step. After an hour, we began to meet walkers coming up from the valley, a couple of women from Etroubles and even a young family with three children. It was very hot by now and we marvelled that they were undertaking the punishing climb to the col. As we neared the bottom of the valley the path began to contour up and down and was cut across by several water courses. We joined the road briefly and then left on the opposite side to walk down to the village of St Rhemy where I was able to buy a cold drink. The onward route was now less steep. At the next village of St Rhemy-en-Bosses there was a cute little roadside stall with free refreshments for pilgrims. We passed under a concrete overpass carrying a major road and took a break for lunch on a bench in the village of St Leonard which was preparing for a wine and ham festival that very evening. We were following Italian FP number 103 and this now became a difficult narrow path which dropped very sharply down the hillside. At one point it was so steep that Gillian descended step by step backwards. At the bottom was the hamlet of Cerisey. Footpath 103 pointed us on towards St Oyen. It was a fairly easy route until we had to ascend sharply to the main road at the entrance to the village. It was Sunday and St Oyen was characterised by a constant stream of cars, camper vans and motorbikes making their way up towards the col. Etroubles was a kilometer further on and was similarly blighted by a main road which cut straight through it. We found our hotel (the Beau Sejours) which was in alpine style with sloping roofs and rooms clad in brown wood. I went down immediately for a much needed beer on the terrace. Later we had a walk around the old streets and played cards on the terrace where we also booked a table for dinner. I had a half bottle of local red wine with my steak and frittes.
Monday 12 August 2019
Etroubles to Aosta The morning was overcast and, shortly after we set out, there was a heavy thunderstorm. Only two claps of thunder but plenty of rain. Luckily we were going through a village and we were able to shelter under an overhanging balcony. Walking on, we started to follow a local water-course called a “ru”, very similar to the levadas of Madeira or the leats of Devon. This meant that the path remained roughly level. It was also mainly through the woods which made it very pleasant. It stayed level and next to the watercourse for seven or eight kilometers. Then there was the inevitable descent of 300 to 400 hundred meters down a broad and well maintained path to our next village of Gignod. We looked at frescos in the local church and then continued to the main road to see if anything was open for lunch. Being Monday, the local bar was closed and we were given a frosty reception at the local camp site. But a little bit further on there was restaurant/pizzeria Bellevue which was serving meals. We sat on the terrace with a lovely view and enjoyed our cold drinks and plates of pasta. When we continued, footpath 103 took us down into the valley away from the main road. We descended steadily through fields and past outlying houses and picked up a road going towards our destination. I posed for a photo beside a wonky sign saying “Aosta/Aoste”. We had almost completed our journey. A mile further on, we were obliged to rejoin the main road and walking became a bit unpleasant. FP 103 went off right into vineyards but we wanted to go directly into town. As we stood debating, a bus appeared and Gillian was quick enough to flag it down. There followed a madcap 15 minute drive into the centre with the bus racing around corners at excessive speed and generating so much centrifugal force that I nearly fell of my seat. Our entrance route gave the impression of a really ugly town and we never had the opportunity to change our minds about Aosta. Gillian had booked at Agriturismo B&B Chevres et Cheval about a mile south of the city centre and the other side of the river. Sensing how tired I was she suggested we go to the supermarket and then take a taxi to our accommodation, which is what we did. We had a nice room with a balcony which provided a panoramic view of the city and the surrounding mountains. We drank the beer which we had bought in the supermarket and dined on cold cheese, bread, meat and fruit.