Day53 Grand Saint Bernard to Etchevannoz – Coming off a High aka Buongiorno!

Day53 Morning Uodate

Tough night last night since both Allison and I were having GI issues. At breakfast others also mentioned issues. So either the food or altitude or combination of the two caused some problems.

Bowls of Coffee

We went to a special Pilgrim blessing service at 7:15am but didn’t get much out of it I’m afraid. Then it was off to a toast and coffee breakfast. The coffee was good and something warm in the belly helped a bit.


After breakfast we packed up and headed out for the short (about 50m) walk to the Swiss/Italian border. Just past the border we took photos at the St Bernard statue before starting the multi-day downhill hike. It was cold 6C and we put on our cold-weather gear. Ten minutes later it was back off as we began walking and also were exposed to some sun.

The views were spectacular and a small wave of depression came over me to know we were beginning the journey away from their majesty. I really would rather not leave. But many Italian joys await.

Today was going to be a long painful downhill day but we’ve decided to cut it in half at the recommendation of many who have gone before us. This will use up one of our spare days, but that’s what they are for.

The tops of the mountains were mostly shrouded in cloud, but they were intermittently brought into view when a cloud broke. The snow on some of them sparkled and the rock faces of others looked strong and bold.


The decline started out steep and rocky and then changed to outright cruel but less rocky. By the time we hit St Rhemy en Bosses my knees were pretty sore but the trail just got steeper. Finally, we leveled out a bit and we got a reprieve into the town of St Oyen. All of these little villages are little more than 3sqkm in size but each played a role in either guarding the valley pass or serving as guides and escorts for travelers trading across the Alps.

The villages of St Rhemy and Etroubles for instance were granted exclusive rights by the House of Savoy to act as escorts for a period of time in exchange for hosting the Savoy landlords and their guests for free.

Lampposts Pilgrim welcome in St Rhemy

St Rhemy (Eudracinum in Roman times) also served as a horse trade-off post and a last chance resting place for travelers attempting the Alpine crossing at St Bernard pass.

Just past Etroubles we were forced to walk along a busy road. It wasn’t the most comfortable place to be walking.

But we were soon at the tiny village of Echevennoz, our resting place for the night. We are staying at a L’Abri lodging. I didn’t know much about them. Check out their founding and mission here:

It’s a beautiful little place and we’ll be having dinner at the family trattoria later this evening. But for now, I’m chillin’ in this cool chair.


For dinner we ate with a pilgrim from Switzerland. He speaks excellent English, Italian and French. We had our first Italian meal with pasta, chicken and polenta. Yum. Glad to be here.

Day52 Bourg Saint Pierre to Grand Saint Bernard – A Feat

Morning Update Day52

<Mark> We started our morning with breakfast at the closet cafe to our lodging. They were very kind to let us in at 7 even though they normally don’t open until 8. Usual fare with the bonus of unlimited coffee or tea.

Roman remnants

Today was the hardest day on paper even if it was the shortest. In 8miles we were to climb just over 3000 feet. That’s one constantly steep path to haul folks.

The dam Toules. That peak to the right ended up well below our destination for the evening.

The day was spectacular with blue skies and scattered puffy clouds. The path was dry and well marked. Life was good.

Lac des Toules

Because of the steepness and short distance there was no need to speed along and honestly who’d want to? I just wanted to soak up this day and stay in it for as long as possible.

Climbing past the Lake

<Allison> We are in the Swiss Alps. The majestic sights did not disappoint. I am so glad that there are lots of photos and video from today because words cannot do justice to the scenery here.

The area is also filled with wildflowers and wild fruits.

We did hear and see several marmots. They remind me of prairie dogs in the western United States. Mark was able to get quite close.

At some point we used my water filter to gather some fresh alpine ice-melt. It was so cold and refreshing.

Oh, let us not forget the Swiss cows which do graze above the tree line. Some wear a huge collar with a cow bell. It is musical. Seeing the cows at such a high altitude made me think along other lines as well. Enjoy the video which will explain the previous comment.

<Mark>. I’d hoped that we’d get to walk past some remnant snow and just before we reached the summit, my wish was fulfilled. The winter images of this hospice, which is open year round, are spectacular. The snow is tens of feet deep. This small piece of snow was my way to touch those images.

<Allison> Mark and I made it to the top walking hand in hand. We’ve walked from London down to sea level at Calais and up to the top of the Grand Saint Bernard Pass. I think it is ok to be proud of moments like this. This is such a beautiful place and very welcoming.

At 8113ft

After our shower and laundry duty was complete we stopped at the nearby cafe for some warm soup and a beer. You’ll note that we didn’t mention lunch in the description above. That’s because it was short and sparse (a bit of bread and a small piece of cheese and ham). We needed a bit to eat to hold out for the evenings events.

The hospice at Grand St Bernard has been in operation for over 1000 years (wow!). The hospice was founded by Bernard himself. It was founded as a way to meet the needs of pilgrims and others in need in very practical way.

The famous Saint Bernard dogs are kept here and we’re used in times past as guide and rescue dogs. There is even a dog museum on-site.

We ended our evening by attending Vespers, a pilgrim dinner (albeit with Covid separation) and then a quiet service called Compli. This last one was sung by candlelight. It was quite nice, but as a non-Catholic and non-French speaker it was impossible to get much from it.

Just before going to bed I snuck outside to take a few nighttime shots.

Day50 Martigny to Orsieres

Day50 Morning Update

Mark> Breakfast was home cooked this morning as I got up early to make the girls some eggs bacon and sausage to add to our yogurt and coffee. As I cooked I watched the compressed VT vs UNC college football game on my phone. You’ll all be happy to know that my team won. Go Hokies!!!

Looking up from Martigny

<Allison> Waking up to Mark’s home cooked meal is heavenly. The smells wafting through the crypt type flat was more than enough to make my eyes pop open. The lodging was underneath the church offices. The kitchen was quite nice and even had a stove. The atmosphere was welcoming just like the secretary and priest who welcomed us yesterday. The presence of the Lord could truly be felt in this place.

<Mark> Today was reported to be a tough climb of about 940m (3080ft) but very honestly it didn’t feel nearly that difficult.

Scene from the legend of St Theodule

<Allison> The views today were amazing!! Following a river which was flowing down from the top of an Alp was just so relaxing and yet surreal. I mean, after all, we are hiking in Switzerland.

The path under our feet was mostly a soft forest type trail. It felt so good on the feet! And, after a few days of anticipation we began climbing, finally! But just as Mark mentioned above, the climb seemed fairly mild compared to what I had pictured in my mind.

<Mark> At one point I forgot the morning we were supposed to cross a “swinging bridge over a deep gorge”. I’m trying to be honest here without sounding smug. Technically all this was true. But if you were picturing something rather precarious and dangerous like I was you’d have been a little let-down with the actual bridge. It was a reinforced semi rigid structure over a medium depth gorge.

Just before this section was suppose to be precariously narrow trail with sharp drop offs. Hmmm, I think there be some degree of exaggeration going on in these descriptions.

I write all this with the knowledge that Mona wasn’t comfortable the whole day and neither was Allison at all times. Some of the short descents were indeed slippery but I felt they were no worse than what we experience in North Carolina. The climbs were strenuous but I suppose after 49 days we’re pretty well toned and ready.

The stopping point for the day was the village of Osieres which is situated at the foot of the Monc Blanc massif. Along the way here there were references to Napoleon and Julius Caesar both of whom used to cross the Alps in an invasion. For Ceasar it was used to attack the Gauls and for Napoleon to aide the Genoese. The famous series of paintings “Napoleon Crossing the Alps” is basically an icon.

Tomorrow is day 2 of climbing. Altitude will just begin to become a factor. It will likely make the hills feel just a bit steeper than they really are.

Day49 St Maurice to Martigny

Morning Update Day 49

This was going to be a great day. I knew it from the start. In some ways ,yesterday was the end of the beginning ,and the beginning of the end of this voyage. We finished our last day of pushing and had built up enough buffer days to allow for some time off in Italy and the ability to slow down. Also, in just the 24hrs since we last posted we’ve met two pilgrims ,from the Netherlands, two German historians, a young priest, and of course our friend Mona from San Diego who walked with us all day today.

The view from our window this morning.

Tonight ,we are staying at a crypt donativo Catholic parish. Memories of the Camino have flooded back and honestly ,I love it.

The other thing that showed promise for the day, was a “whopping” 11mi on the itinerary. That’s just over half of what we have been waking for the last several days. The difference this makes is astonishing….but back to our day.


Allison and I were not only in separate beds last evening, but also in separate rooms. That was odd! We both woke ,however ,before 5:30 for no other reason other than it was habit to do so. We readied ourselves and then went to breakfast in the “guardhouse” of the chapel. We were served toast ,jam and coffee…the usual fare.


We ate breakfast with other pilgrims from the Netherlands and Germany. It felt more like a pilgrim meal than any other breakfast we have had yet. We are finally making connection. This is life, connection!

Our friend Mona was waiting for us after breakfast. She had a more substantial breakfast and I was jealous that she had fresh figs as an option. I adore figs.

It was so relaxing to walk along without the need to push or put miles. It was also an easy day because despite my claim yesterday, There was little elevation to conquer.. We strolled along and stopped to take ridiculously normal photos. We also got to know and appreciate our new friend Mona. She is a nurse…so Allison is in heaven for a kindred soul to share.

Virginia plates? In the Alps? Whaaaat?

The scenic highlight of the day was the spectacular Pissevache falls (I’ll leave it to you to translate the French). The falls were gorgeous and the cool mist would soak you quickly if you didn’t hide behind the rocks. I snuck around the side of the falls and was treated to a beautiful site.

The remainder of the short day was tainted only slightly by some mosquitoes but they were only a nuisance for a short while.

We arrived into Martigny and its beautiful castle and alpine backdrop. Crossing the turbulent Rhône River and looking up we could see the task awaiting us tomorrow. This will be a challenge, undoubtedly. The town has numerous restaurants and cafes but our super cool lodging has a kitchen so we’re cooking for ourselves tonight.

Our kitchen for the night. Chef Mona at work!

So… to that point… we are staying at the Catholic Parrish donativo which is underground adjacent to the church. The lady who greeted us here and checked us in was so kind and happy and full of Godly love. It was wonderful! And…the priest even came down to meet us and chat for a few minutes. This place has such a feeling of love. This a really cool set up and personally I’m in pilgrim heaven.

Our crypt for the evening.

Can you tell it’s been a good day? Told ya so!

Day47 Lausanne to Montreux- Grapes

We woke again early this morning and had a good breakfast at the Lausanne hostel. We both had cereal with milk – something I rarely have at home but had been desiring for a while. The coffee was bottomless – bonus.

Morning Update Day47

Disappointingly the mountains across the lake were shrouded by cloud so we missed the magic hours for photography, but throughout the day the clouds lifted and we drew closer with every step to the steep peaks of the Alps.

But after walking for a few hours out of the sprawling Lausanne suburbs (the rich Riviera side of town this time), the landscape changed from suburban to vineyards. For the remainder of the day until the last couple of hours we were surrounded by Swiss vineyards.

What? You’ve never had a Swiss wine? Well that’s because they don’t export the stuff. As they say “it’s just too good to send away”.

Anyway the vines were loaded with fruit – the harvest must be coming soon. The vineyards grew ever steeper with the vines being terraced to capture every last ray of sunlight. Vineyards of ripe black Pinot Noir mixed with a golden yellow grape variety known as Chasselas spread for miles and miles.

Now today’s journey was around lake Leman so you’d expect it to be quite gentle and flat, right? Well I did. Actually I did know that the path went up and down just a bit into a village or two. But boy did I underestimate it. Today was both long and tough. The ups and the downs were so steep that my knees were aching before lunchtime.

We did stumble onto a wine tasting tent around noon. The gentleman there gave us a tasting of two of the wines for free. He gave it to us as a gift toward our journey which was very nice. We also asked where the nearest grocery was and he told us it was about 45 minutes away. I forgot to factor in that travel time was by car. Mark kept pointing out all the restaurants we passed. I was sure we were almost to the grocery store. Well, by 2:30 pm we finallly had our lunch supplies.


We ate sitting by the lake and enjoyed people watching. It was a beautiful day after all so there was a buzz of activity. Kids and families were out playing in the sun and water sports of all flavors thrived. The area is known as the Swiss Riviera after all. You can tell by the video though that we (I) was getting pretty tired.

We stumbled into our final destination of Montreux still without a place to sleep. In “desperation” we stopped by a hotel and begged for a cheap room. Well….we for a room. It was at the discount price of 170SF ($187/night). Sadly this was actually a decent price. To make up for it we had ramen for dinner ($35 from the supermarket). Folks…I kid you not, this place is crazy expensive.

We did get treated to some awesome sunset views.

Tomorrow we leave the “Swiss Riviera” and enter the gorge valley. The adventure continues.