View overlooking Martigny from castle.

Day 5 of our pilgrimage turned into an impromptu rest day in Martigny. Distance 5.6 miles (unweighted, does not officially “count” towards Via Francigena mileage). Weather: clear day, upper 60s.

Our alarms went off early to ensure we made it to morning Mass on time. Within five minutes of the alarm, Mom suggested we spend a rest day in Martigny and delay our hike to Orsieres for tomorrow.

Initially, I was argumentative. We could make it. We were just starting to hit our pilgrim-hiker groove. It would be ugly, but we’d get there.

Mom was right, of course. The route from Martigny to Orsieres is graded as “challenging”, and many consider it the most aggressive leg of the entire Via Francigena. The prudent thing to do was rest up.

Beyond being pragmatic, her idea made sense from a cultural stance. Martigny’s history goes back over 2000 years, and contains remnants left over from the Celts, Romans, and Napoleon’s forces. Why not take the time to really explore Martigny?

Breakfast with the wonderful priests in Martigny.
Breakfast with the wonderful priests!

To Be a Pilgrim, You Need to Move

The thing about being a pilgrim is that you’re considered a pilgrim only insofar as you are MOVING from one place to another. To encourage people on their way – and to make room for new pilgrims – unless you’re physically incapable of traveling, or the weather makes it impossible, each church gives you ONE night in their shelter.

Ergo, we needed to find a new place. But first Mass, then breakfast with the priests.

The church was literally directly across from us, with one door already open. I’m very intrigued by the way I’ve seen Mass celebrated in Switzerland. Normally, there is only one priest. Instead, many priests gather together.

Breakfast was a two minute walk from the church. Initially, I felt a bit awkward as we entered their personal space, but all of them looked up as we passed their tables and greeted us warmly. I was curious: the priests had already changed into civilian clothes. I’d later learn they wore lighter clothing in the summer to stay comfortable and avoid overheating.

We really enjoyed breakfast with them. As at the Abbey at Saint-Maurice, breakfast was simple. It consisted of bread, butter, jam, a piece of fruit, and coffee or tea. But there is genuine beauty in its simplicity.

Simple can be perfect. The priests were delightful, unpretentious hosts with a great sense of humor. They truly seemed to enjoy each other’s company, and had no qualms making jokes and laughing. During breakfast, they gave us advice on places to stay until we clear the St. Bernard Pass – which, they reminded us – had recently had a blizzard after 90 degree temps.

We thanked them sincerely for their hospitality and kindness, and they wished us safe travels.

Thank You, Protestants!

After packing up our bags, Mom and I returned to the Protestant church we visited the night before and asked about availability for tonight. The man consulted his records and said that an English woman had booked the room two months prior. However, he led us to an area and said that if we wanted to pull two mattresses from atop the closet, we could sleep in the dining room later. The church was hosting a Food Bank in the dining room that afternoon. However, he gave me a key to the space and instructed me to check back in with him again after 5 p.m.

All I can say is WOW. I could hardly believe he was placing such trust in a complete stranger. I’m also full of awe at how closely the Protestant and Catholic Churches in Martigny seem to get along. Not only do they not blink an eye when it comes to calling each other, the man surprised us both when he offered to stamp our Pilgrim Passports. We hadn’t thought to ask whether a Protestant church would carry a stamp commemorating a Catholic pilgrimage. But there you have it – this is religion at its very best.

Finally, I have so much respect for the fact that the churches we’ve seen in Switzerland are not just architectural beauties. They are multi-use, functional and operational, and the people there WORK HARD.

I’ve got nothing but admiration.

Exploring Martigny

After locking our backpacks in the church cupboard, our first stop was stop was at the ancient Roman Road and amphitheater. Martigny’s location near the Alps made it the perfect melding of cultures. Julius Caesar conquered the area in 57 B.C., and traces of ruins from 2,000+ years ago still remain.

Less than 200 meters after that is an attraction honoring the Saint Bernard dog: Barryland.

Barryland owes its name to the legendary Saint Bernard dog breed famous for rescuing unfortunate people from avalanches and deep snow at the Pass.

In order to walk a Saint Bernard, you need to book the experience months in advance. These days, Saint Bernards are no longer used as a rescue dog, but a therapy animal. The vast majority are cared for by the foundation, not at the pass that shares their name, but in Martigny.

Since interaction with the dogs was not an option, the true highlight of Barryland for us was the museum. The history of the dogs and the geography of the Great St. Bernard Pass was phenomenal. One of my favorite legends about the dog is how it carried vials of liquor around its neck in order to help revive people lost in snow.

Knowing that we’ve got some tough days ahead, I purchased two miniature bottles of Liqueur du Grand St. Bernard at the gift store.

Liqueur Swisse aux plantes et au miel des Alps. (Plants and Alpine honey.) It’s 42 percent alcohol…just in case we hit a blizzard at the Pass.

And if we don’t, by golly we’ll take those miniature bottles and celebrate!

Château de la Bâtiaz

During our walk yesterday from Saint-Maurice to Martigny, it was impossible NOT to notice the stunning medieval castle on the hill. The reason we hadn’t stopped to visit was precisely because of that: it came after over 12 miles of walking wearing 17 pound packs. Given how tired we were yesterday after entering Martigny, the was NO WAY we would have made the climb up the steep hill with them.

I can’t imagine many Via Francigena pilgrims take the time to see the castle.

Which is a total shame, because the 13th century chateau is incredible! There is a bit of climbing involved to reach it, but the walk takes you past gorgeous old houses and vineyards. Furthermore, not only is the castle free – there was practically no one there, and the views overlooking the city are sublime!

After we had a beer in the empty tavern, a groundskeeper with a wonderfully gravelly voice spoke up.

“Have you been to the tower? Go.” 

We pushed hard on the tower/dungeon door and traversed up a circular narrow staircase. Pigeon dung coated the wooden railings and steps.

The pigeons quite literally put the “dung” in dungeon. 😊

But hands-down, the castle was our favorite attraction in Martigny.

Lodging Upgrade at the Martigny Protestant Church

Mom and I had fully prepared to sleep on mattresses in the church dining room. However, when the English lady did not show at 5 p.m., we were given her room instead.

I’m grateful for the room the Protestants gave us. Talk about generosity!

Mom was right. The rest day came at the right time, and what a lovely day in Martigny!

It’s onward to Orsieres tomorrow.

Pilgrims encountered: 2 (England)


Ticket to Barryland: 12 CHF ($13.56)

Lunch – Gnocchi with bread: 17 CHF ($19.21)

Beer at the Chateau tavern: 4 CHF ($4.52)

Supermarket market run for cheese and bread tomorrow: 5.35 CHF ($6.04)

Lodging at Protestant church, each: 25 CHF ($28.25)

By Katie Cerezo

Thank you so much for visiting. 😊 I have always loved traveling, and my legs are my primary means of transportation. It's a beautiful world, and I'm eager to explore it…one step at a time.

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