Our day started at 7 a.m. Hoping to be as quiet as possible, Mom and I brought our backpacks down from the loft and re-packed in the kitchen. Our French roommate came down with a sunny “Bonjour”, and was the first one to hit the trail.
As yesterday, the moon was still out and luminous.
There are many practical reasons to start hiking early in the day. For starters, Mom and I already know that we’re taking longer than the posted signage indicates to get to the next destination. Also, the daylight hours are getting shorter. We’re mindful that in this part of Switzerland, we are seeing fewer and fewer populated areas.
But one of the most pragmatic reasons for us hoofing it to the next town is purely out of self-interest: most church-sponsored lodging is available on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s a reason those who stay at church lodging – but haven’t walked or biked there – are viewed with suspicion.
(If you arrive by horse or mule, that’s not only okay, that’s a rock-star level of cool! Keep it classic, baby!)
Route to Bourg St. Pierre
It was such a beautiful morning. Although French is still the predominant language, signs are increasingly in French, German, Italian, and English. It’s a sign of just how close we are to the pass. In two days, we’ll be in Italy.
We walked to the sound of bells. Although it was Sunday, the sound came – not from churches – but beautiful Swiss cows with bells around their thick necks. The delightful and festive tinkling of bells sounded from every direction.
The hills were literally alive with the sound of music. Who would have thought cows would make such a fine orchestra?
The air was so cool and fresh that I at first thought I’d need to put on a jacket. Fortunately, the climb along a wide and well-groomed path begins almost immediately. It was an ideal way to start the morning.
After an hour, we were overtaken by the two American men. Two hours later, Mom and I stopped on a grassy hill near Liddes for a snack of cheese and olives. When we resumed hiking, we encountered the two American ladies we’d seen the day before, who had inadvertently saved us by walking the correct route ON the ridge. I think we caught them off guard with our effusive ‘thank yous’.
Approaching Liddes, we were overjoyed to find an open cafe on a Sunday (since many shops and restaurants are closed). We all had coffee together. The ladies hail from New Mexico, are accomplished walkers, and are using a service that pre-booked their lodging and is transporting their luggage from place to place. There’s zero danger that we will be competing with them for space at church lodging.🎉
Coffee in Switzerland is a lovely affair. The coffee comes with fresh cream from Swiss cows, and is accompanied by a piece of Swiss chocolate.
It was the perfect pick-me-up!
Church at Liddes
At the church in Liddes, we self-stamped our Pilgrim Passports and lit our candles. I like that you are allowed to actually LIGHT a candle. The electric candles that turn on once you deposit a coin aren’t nearly as fun.
This is a wine and and agricultural region. No surprise, then, that there should be GOATS by the saints. Or that there should be vines laden with ripe grapes wrapping around the columns. These country churches take a more natural and human approach to the saints. Oftentimes, when I look at ancient images of the Virgin Mary or maybe a male saint with baby Jesus, I think both look unhappy to be there. The other thought I’ve often have is that the adults have never held a baby before.
At the Swiss parish churches we’ve been passing, there’s an easy, unforced intimacy to how the figures interact with each other. There must also have been a wedding recently. The pews looked so pretty decorated with white heats and single white roses and ivy.
The church in Liddes is also worth a visit for its wonderful museum of art and religious icons. The museum is self-accessed – there’s no one there! There’s simply a sign warning of surveillance cameras. I’m blown away by the faith and trust they take in visitors ability to act honorably.
Onward to Bourg St. Pierre
A long stretch after Liddes took place in direct 78 degree sunshine. It was such a pretty walk. White fluff floated like bubbles off of purple fireweed, and attentive bees continued to attend the wildflowers. For as many bees as there are along the entire route, they’ve been no trouble at all.
It has been a wonderful day. Horses, cows, goats, and absolutely gorgeous scenery…what better Sunday could you wish for?
Lodging at Bourg St. Pierre
As we entered Bourg St. Pierre, the last village before the St. Bernard Pass, we looked for the dormitory the priests in Martigny had told us about during breakfast. At a street corner, who should we see waving at us like an old friend but our French buddy?
His feet had been flying; he’d beaten us by over an hour. In that space of time, he’d located the place, scouted the adjacent church, self-stamped his Pilgrim Passport, and grabbed groceries for the following day.
He now led us past a field full of lounging cows and to a quiet building with four bedrooms and many beds. From the kitchen window you could watch as farmers harvested their hay. We were in shock at how nice things were, and how large the space was. All that was requested was a donation in the drop box. (The recommended donation is 20 CHF).
Mom and I followed the Frenchman’s lead. We showered and washed our clothes in the sink before hanging them on a kitchen clothesline. We then headed to a gas station a half-mile away to pick up snacks for tomorrow’s big ascent.
A couple of hours later we heard the English ladies arrive. It’s the same group as last night.
Mom wanted to rest, so I had dinner at a nearby restaurant by myself. Dinner consisted of paper-thin slices of cold roast beef, perfectly crisp and seasoned pommes frites, and a salad of fresh vegetables, including the corn we had seen during so much of the walk.
Before bed, I also received a sweet email from one of the Swedish ladies we had met at the Abbey in Saint-Maurice. I’m so loving this pilgrim community!
Pilgrim encounters: 4 Americans, 2 English, 1 French
Breakfast: leftover food ($0)
Lunch: 3.30 CHF ($3.71) coffee in Liddes
Snack: 3.30 CHF ($3.71) coffee in Bourg St. Pierre
Donation for a bed: 20 CHF ($22.47)
Dinner with a glass of local red wine: 28 CHF ($31.46)
Snacks for tomorrow (Swiss chocolate bar + butter-filled pretzel): 4 CHF ($4.49)