Hiking from Martigny in Switzerland to Aosta in Italy via the Great St Bernard Pass consists in three days for the ascent on the Swiss side and two days of descent on the Italian side. Hiking over the Alps can be quite dangerous under poor weather conditions such as rain, fog and snowstorms. The rain can make the terrain very muddy and slippery, which is particularly perilous when going uphill or downhill. The fog can easily make hikers go off-trail. Snowstorms can also lead hikers to getting lost and often come with a significant drop in temperature. Due to these reasons, I waited in Martigny for about a week, carefully checking the weather forecast everyday and hoping to catch the right weather window to cross the Alps and get into Italy.
During my stay in Martigny I visited the very insightful St Bernard museum and took some pictures with a St Bernard dog, admired ancient Gallo-Roman archeological remains, saw an art exhibition and even a very rich old cars expo. That said the St Bernard dogs are definitely the true heroes of the region as, in the past, they saved so many lives of people trying to cross the Alps via the Great St Bernard Pass. They are incredible human companions and are able to sniff the hiking trail under at least half a meter of snow. I also took the chance to visit Sion and climb on a little mountain where I got a beautiful view of the whole valley extending towards Martigny and went to experience and try out one of the very best bouldering walls in Switzerland 😎.
The first hiking day of my ascent was quite intense and definitely the most dangerous one of the whole hike. I mainly went through woods, forests and a few small villages. The path (sometimes inexistent 😅) was often very narrow, steep and slippery, full of dust terrain, rocks, tree roots and sometimes lacking stuff to grab onto. Moreover, some sections of the path were very poorly maintained. For example, in at least a couple of occasions I had to climb over trees fallen over the path. In one of those instances, I took a serious risk falling downhill towards a potentially untimely demise while climbing a tree fallen on a very narrow and steep path and somehow being held in place in a very precarious position.
The second day of my ascent was not as intense but it was full of beautiful views and landascapes, while the third day was quite epic 😊. As I started hiking on the morning of the 29th of September 2019 from Bourg-St-Pierre, i.e. the last small Swiss village before reaching the Great St Bernard Pass, I felt growing emotions and excitement which filled me with energy and positiveness. I really looked forward to hike over this last stretch, reach the top and cross the Swiss-Italian border. The length of the hike was relatively short but the height difference between starting point and ending point was pretty insane. The natural landscapes I went through are incredible and it was great to see how those landscapes started changing as I approached about 2500 meters of height above sea level. Very bare, rocky and often reddish mountains started replacing the lush vegetation of woods and forests which could be found at lower heights. One of the major highlights of this particular hike was going by a huge dam which creates a very beautiful high-altitude artificial lake 🗻. I must have been at around 2000 meters above sea level when I started hearing singing bells not long before a lonely cow showed up from a nearby bush. She didn't seem very interested in me as she kept eating away at all bushes she could find on her way 😅🐂.
When I finally saw a building perched on one cliff I had to climb, I knew it would maybe take about 30 more minutes of effort to finally reach the top. I was quite tired and exhausted and my heart was pounding as several images from different moments of my whole adventure came back flashing by in my head. That was one of the moments I had been dreaming about for the whole trip and I was feeling happy that I had actually made it.
When I reached the Auberge de l'Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard at the top, i.e. an hospice that has been hosting pilgrims and wayfarers for several centuries, I was welcomed by friars who probably knew I started my journey in Canterbury and offered me a ton of hot tea in their rural kitchen. It was incredible to see the degree of self-sufficiency of their monastery to which they attached an hotel structure in more recent times, as well as the chapel, historical treasures and two museums they have. It's now technically possible to drive over the Great St Bernard Pass typically up until the middle of October when the roads are closed due to the very bad weather during the winter period and the only option becomes going through a tunnel further down the mountain. That said, getting to the top with a car is probably an interesting experience in itself as the roads can sometimes be very steep and have very sharp turns as well.
The following day I crossed the Italian border less than two hundred meters away from the hospice, which was in my heart a very meaningful moment (I will soon publish a bonus post with a video I took when I crossed the border). I had been so used to saying "Bonjour" to everyone I met along the way and I felt it was harder than expected but overall quite refreshing saying "Buongiorno" to the first Italian guy I met on the other side of the border. He is the owner of a small souvenir shop and gave me a little St Bernard plush toy keyring to attach to my backpack as he does to the people coming all the way from Canterbury in the UK and making it up to that point. Then he even took a picture with me to post on his social medias and Instagram account 😅.
Descending into Italy was a fascinating experience given that the view of the valley was really stunning and I had the luck to go over the remains of an actual ancient Roman road. Intially, I had to get over a lot of rocks and it was quite windy. However, below a certain altitude, the vegetation starts picking up again and the landacape naturally changes while hiking downhill. The Italian villages I had the privilege to walk through along the way are absolutely beautiful. Those village houses often display a very warm architecture style and and exhibit so many colourful flowers hanging from the windows or planted in the yards. Moreover, everything looked so tidy and peaceful and as if it came right out of a fairy tale 🏘️. I ended up spending the night in a house a few kilometers away from the Italian village called Etroubles. It was already dark when I reached the accomodation and I was quite concerned about not being able to eat a proper dinner as I was in an area with only a few houses and not really much around. However, my host was kind enough to call his mother who runs a restaurant so that she could cook dinner for me. After dropping off my backpack in my room, I went to the location of the restaurant but everything looked dark and there were no lights on. Then I heard somebody coming to open the door for me. My host's mother literally opened up her restaurant for me and cooked some truly delicious food. She even turned down a wayfarer looking for dinner some time later and redirected him to a nearby village 😰. During dinner and over breakfast the following day, I had good conversations with her including how often the dangers of the nearby mountains are underestimated both by beginners and mountain experts as well.
My last day of hike led me to Aosta, i.e. the capital of the tiny Italian region called Aosta Valley. The last day of hike was very intense as I woke up with strong pains in my legs' muscles (which would completely go away after a few days) and had to hike over very steep paths downhill. It's possible that my muscles had been trained a lot more for flat or upward slopes and found a hard time dealing with going downhill for a very long time. Hence, I took it easy, tried to move very slowly and relax while enjoying the surrounding scenery as much as possible 😏.
Aosta is a very lively town full of history, excellent food such as La Fonduta and La Crema di Cogne which I enjoyed for dinner 😋, medieval houses and amazing Roman remains. I found Aosta to be a very lovely place to end my adventure. I didn't get all the way to Rome as originally planned but I had the chance to spend more time in lovely places along the way and hike over the Alps, which I found quite rewarding 😊.