Day 4 of our pilgrimage took us from Saint-Maurice to Martigny. Distance 13.9 miles (wrong turn and two blocked routes increased the distance). Temperature: mid-60s.
Today I managed to sleep from 10 p.m. until 5:49 a.m.! It was the best night’s sleep in months! Perhaps it was because we were sleeping in a sacred place with centuries of history. Or perhaps it was because the bed linens just smelt soooooo good. I felt like a happy baby stuck in a field of wildflowers.
The church bells pealed heavily at 6:55 a.m. I can’t imagine many people in the town need a Rolex or alarm clock to keep them on schedule.
An Unforgettable Breakfast
At the Abbey, we were ushered by a priest to a room with a beautifully set table. Breakfast featured coffee, tea, a generous loaf of bread, butter, and Swiss cheese. The only pilgrims dining with us were two Swedish women who had been friends since their scouting days. They had met up in Aosta to walk part of the pilgrimage together. One had spent four months traveling through Italy, working on farms and making cheeses.
The ladies had actually been staying at the St. Bernard’s Pass when the freak blizzard struck two nights earlier. They pulled out their phones and showed video of snow and ice swirling at 53 kilometers per hour (30+ mph).
As they had walked the route in reverse, the Swedes were a veritable treasure trove of useful information. In addition to showing us how to use the Via Francigena app so that we could properly navigate to our next destination, they were kind enough to share advice on how to stay at church-hosted accommodations along the trail.
For donations that ranged between $17-40 a night, pilgrims got a clean bed, a hot shower, and access to shared kitchen and toilet facilities.
We really enjoyed meeting them, and it’s amazing how much information you can get in 40 minutes. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the priests serve breakfast, and it was a very special experience when they came by to bless us on our journeys.
It may have been a simple breakfast, but the conversation was amazing and that was the best bread and butter I’ve ever had.
A Misadventure with the App
We felt fresh and energetic as we departed Saint-Maurice. What an absolutely marvelous town!
For the first two miles, the Via Francigena app worked like a champ. It was only when it led us along a long field of corn field that things went awry: the area was fenced on two sides, with only one side open. Naturally, we went through the only open spot.
We spent the next half hour trying to get out of the corn field. Imagine finding a corn maze in the Swiss Alps! We were careful not to hurt the crop, and as soon as we got out of there we started looking for a road that would intersect the desired route. That route took us by a cow pasture and ended at a barrier warning against entry.
(In fairness, we have seen many, many signs on the road warning against entry. Most frequently, they’re referring to cars.)
So I walked with confidence around the block and continued perhaps 15-20 feet before freezing solid after looking to my right. I was on a military target practice range! It was not an active range, but I still shouted at Mom to stay where she was at and sprinted back to the road.
Suddenly, all the Swiss soldiers we’d seen the night before made perfect sense. I had thought they were on a field trip to visit St. Maurice, the patron saint of soldiers. NO. They had to have been stationed near the area.
I’m 100 percent certain someone saw me walk around that barrier. There’s every chance that Swiss security were vigilantly tracking our movements by the cows and corn and laughing their heads off.
We now distrusted the app and were frustrated at having used up the better part of an hour. We made our way back to the last confirmed Via Francigena sign. There, we beheld two long-distance hikers, one with an orange backpack heading in the same direction we’d gone. We chased after them as they approached the cornfields, hoping they knew the way. They, too, looked at the wire fencing in confusion and chose the same unfenced path we had.
“Don’t do it!” I shouted. “You’ll be stuck in corn for the next 40 minutes!”
(I left out the part about the possibility of entering a military training zone if they walked past the cows.)
They looked confused by my undignified appearance, but smiled and said thank you in accents we later confirmed were Brazilian. We all consulted our apps. And then saw that the wiring was merely tied as a noose around the wooden posts. To get to where we needed to go, all we had to do was lift the wire noose up. Face palm.
Forests and Farms En Route to Martigny
The route to Martigny is wonderfully varied and scenic. We passed along through forests of beautifully groomed trails and super clear streams. Happily, we continued to find blackberry bushes the entire day. We must have picked hundreds of sweet berries.
In this part of Switzerland, we didn’t really need to carry extra water supplies with us because there are plenty of water fixtures along the way pushing out ice-cold water. The water is so pure you could bottle and sell it as-is.
The route continued past goat and alpaca farms, waterfalls, small towns that took 5-10 minutes to pass, forest bee enclaves, and apple orchards playing Edith Piaf.
It’s truly astounding just how beautiful Switzerland is. The loveliness is so intense it feels surreal.
We made it to Martigny just before 4 p.m. and immediately headed for the Tourist information office to ask for help finding a room. The tourist office stamped our Pilgrims Passports and suggested we try the Protestant church a few blocks away. The woman we met regretfully explained they were already hosting someone for the night. She made a phone call and said we could get two beds at the Catholic Church, less than 10 minutes away, for 20 CHF. We thanked her and zorched it for the Catholic Church.
As it turned out, we had the whole cellar/basement to ourselves. The space had a kitchen, as well as a separate dormitory area with eight beds and super-fast Wi-Fi.
The woman who greeted us gave us fresh stamps and invited us to attend Mass at 6 p.m. or 7:15 a.m. After morning Mass, she said we have the option of having breakfast with the priests, something we are both looking forward to.
Mom and I had dinner literally a stone’s throw from where we’re staying. The restaurant specializes in galettes and crepes, and we loved every bite. In honor of the terrain we walked on today, I got a paper-thin buckwheat galette filled with goat cheese, baked apple, nuts, and topped with fresh salad. AMAZING! We also indulged in a glass of local Merlot.
We’ll need the energy. Tomorrow’s trek from Martigny into Orsieres is supposed to be a difficult one.
Pilgrim encounters today: 4; (2)Sweden, (2) Brazil
Breakfast: included in Saint-Maurice Abbey 35 CHF ($39.54) donation
Lunch: Blackberries + leftover supermarket food
Dinner: 20.5 CHF ($23.16) each
Lodging: 20 CHF ($22.59) donation to Martigny Catholic church.