Pilgrims and Prosecco

October, 2020
by Ali Coldwell

A journey through Aosta Valley following the Via Francigena

Duration: 3 days, 2 nights
Location: Aosta Valley, Italy
Review: *****
Distance Travelled: 70 km

When Tanya (IML and owner at livebreathehike.com) asked if I fancied joining her to recce a leg of the Vie Francigene, I jumped at the chance of an Italian multi-day hike and cultural adventure. (Even if I hadn’t heard of it!) Pronounced ‘Via Franchi-Jenny’ the road to Rome officially starts at the Great Saint Bernard Pass but as with the more well known Camino de Santiago (where I’d previously walked the Inglés way) there are multiple routes for pilgrims – religious and nonreligious alike.

We headed to Aosta, the capital of the Aosta Valley in north-west Italy to start our 3 day, self supported trip. Arriving the day before was a great opportunity to wander around the ancient city walls and a perfect excuse to fill our boots with Italian produce. Soaking up the history whilst watching the sun go down from the main plaza was a joyful way to decompress. Starting the following day in earnest with homemade pastries and proper coffee, we then set off walking through our first roman arch of many.

A keen eye for signage (it has recently been revamped, although is not infallible), lightweight hiking trainers and a small backpack was all that we needed, even in late October. The weather was glorious; donning a hat and gloves in the morning as we looked out to the snow capped mountains yet delayering to t-shirts by lunchtime as we climbed high above the rooftops and rural pastures and up onto the balcony walkways, passing above the vineyards. Often looking across to multiple castles and down to the river Dora, we spotted fancy bridges leading to modern cafes but our impromptu picnic spots with breathtaking views outshone the need to investigate. There were long stretches where we didn’t see a soul and then we’d drop into villages where we were greeted with ‘Salve!’ – coming from the Italian verb Salvere, meaning ‘to be well’.

Staying in a combination of Airbnbs, Monasteries and Pilgrims Hostels, my favourite had to be the monastery in Châtillon. Situated amongst awe inspiring scenery and architecture, yet reminiscent of a Nepalese teahouse with its basic amenities and warm welcome. We’d already stopped off for (our now daily ritual of) a cheeky apero (prosecco, aperol spritz, campari soda along with tapas style nibbles) and had a traditional Italian dinner ahead of us, so roughing it was no hardship. Adding in a bit of pro-stretching at the end of each leg, we truly experienced the Yin and Yang of authentic travelling!

“Il paradiso è sotto i nostri piedi e sopra le nostre teste”
Heaven really was under our feet and above our heads, as we hiked a total of 70k and 1500m through this incredibly diverse area to reach Pont St Martin (where the Valleé d’Aoste finishes and the Piedmont region begins). Dropping into the Valley basin to catch the train back to the starting point, I felt safe in the knowledge that whilst being away from it all, that there were plenty of exit points – an ever important requirement in these unprecedented times.

Grazie mille Tanya!

Fri: Arrive Aosta
Sat: Aosta – Châtillon 30k
Sun: Châtillon – Verrés 25k
Mon: Verrés – Pont St Martin 15k

Ali Coldwell, Freelance Writer

 

 

  • Scenery 100% 100%
  • Food 1000% 1000%
  • Hiking 100% 100%
  • Cultural experience 100% 100%
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