Day 11 of our pilgrimage took us from Chatillon to Verres. Distance traveled: 17+ miles. Weather: clear, low 90s.
Today was one of those days I hope we’ll look back on and roar with laughter over. For now, we’re in agony.
We had heard yesterday from the husband of an English pilgrim that there were serious problems reported with the segment from Aosta to Chatillon. The information you can get on this pilgrim network is astoundingly accurate. Therefore, we decided for the sake of safety to skip ahead, and walk from Chatillon to Verres.
It’s not as though we are afraid of hard work. Today’s Via Francigena route was ALSO designated as “challenging/hard”. Mom and I had had several days to acclimate and get a rhythm before our first “challenging” day. Dad and Dan, on the other hand, were starting their pilgrimage off with one of the hardest rankings.
At the train station we saw the Italian police walking in pairs along the tracks. It was clear they were looking for someone, and thus an exciting way to start the morning. The train ride was uneventful, and once we arrived at the train station we walked a mile and intercepted the trail.
First, the Good
The beauty of this route is absolutely divine. It travels through woods and alongside Roman “rus” (narrow artificial canals) to transport wonderfully clear water to farmland. We passed stretches of lush vineyards and gorgeous vegetation. There’s so much variety on the trail that it’s a constant feast for the eyes.
The small villages are historic and cared for with pride. Conveniently, there are plenty of fountains in each town. The water at each is so clean, cool and refreshing.
As gorgeous as the views are, the locals are even sweeter.
The people in this region are truly friendly and welcoming towards pilgrims. A lovely local couple stopped and chatted, and we got on so well that they (and their cute dog) insisted on accompanying us 1-2 miles. They were so nice, so genuinely warm, and so proud of their town’s natural beauty.
They were also Italian to the core. First, the lady was elegantly dressed for an outdoor walk wearing white pants with a black lace overlay. Secondly, although we’d only just met, she expressed dismay that there’d be no time for her to cook a meal for us. Third, she sent me a Facebook friend request within 10 minutes of introductions.
Another delightful surprise was running into our Romanian friend, who was walking with an attractive and super fit young Slovenian lady. They were absolutely flying.
What Makes the Walk to Verres a BEAST
It’s not so much the actual 25 kilometer distance that makes the walk brutal. It’s the fact that it consists of continuous ascents and descents through woods and rocks. There are also portions that make it unsuitable for those with a fear of heights. At times, we were walking very narrow ledges and testing wooden railing.
There’s really no let up. The danger was that, as we grew more fatigued, we’d twist an ankle on a rock. I had no shame in using my bottom to slide down a few of the more unruly ones.
At one point we passed four signs, each saying four hours remained to our destination. It’s both humorous and a bit soul-destroying to walk a hard half hour and still see the same sign.
This was a tough hike, and I’ve climbed Mount Fuji from the sea to the top. I felt wretchedly guilty over the physical strain it must be causing Dan. On the last few miles, I grabbed my brother’s backpack and carried it. By that point we were all eager to get off the mountain before the sun set.
Even with headlamps, it’s not safe to hike this route to Verres in the dark.
No Rooms in Verres
The guides and App say most complete the walk in six hours. It took us nine.
We entered Verres at twilight a dangerous combination of mentally depleted and RAVENOUS. Alas, the hotel had only one room, which could accommodate two people. The kind receptionist there tried several other local hotels. Each was fully booked. Furthermore, the town has no taxis.
While sitting on the bench outside, we came across the sweet English lady we had met on the way to Saint-Maurice, looking chic in a black hiking dress. It was from her that we learned there were reports of gastritis going around, and that as hikers we should be extra cautious.
We thanked her. Although we took note of the helpful gastritis warning, our more immediate concern was lodging.
The closest hotel rooms at Pont St. Martin, the next stop on the Via Francigena, were located three miles from the Pont St. Martin train station. None of us were willing to walk that far.
A Major Detour
Since the smaller towns on the route were fully booked, our best bet for lodging was to head to a city. If we were going to go off course, we agreed we should go off course in a big way and take a rest day. Thus, we took a train to Torino.
As it had been that morning, Italian police were out in force on the trains. They boarded, inspected, and photographed ALL of our passports.
I think the reason the four of us passed muster so quickly was due to the walking sticks, Pilgrim Passports, and utter air of fatigue.
We absolutely fit the profile for Via Francigena pilgrim-hikers.
Gracious Torino Hospitality
The decision to head for Torino was not as impetuous as it might sound. Dad and Dan had stopped in Torino on their way up to Aosta to meet us. Thus, they were able to lead us directly to the hotel they’d stayed at, and the receptionist recognized and greeted them very warmly. Since it was approaching 10 p.m., the receptionist called ahead to a restaurant around the corner, and the staff agreed to keep the kitchen open for us.
Dad and I all but licked our plates clean and tipped big. Dan, however, could not finish his pizza. Instead of folding it in half and wrapping it in a napkin – my idea – the waitress told us to take the entire china plate back to the hotel.
“Grazie, signorina! Faciamo La Via Francigena, e oggi abbiamo camminato piu di 27 kilometres. Noi siamo…siamo…siamo…”
“Voi sieti distrutti,” she said sympathetically.
You all were DESTROYED.
I had been trying to say “exhausted”, but by thunder, she nailed the right sentiment!
“Si! Si! Siamo stati distrutti.”
I love the Italian language. It’s marvelously expressive.
Lesson learned: it’s much easier to get a bed or a room when there’s 1-2 people. Since we are now a party of four, from here on out we will be pre-booking our lodging in advance.
But enough – we are looking forward to our rest day in Torino tomorrow!
Train ticket to Chatillon: €2.60 ($2.77)
Dinner (per person): €16 ($17.08)
Torino hotel room: €82 ($87.51)