The hotel restaurant produced one of the best meals we have had so far, with an entree of smoked perch salad followed by rainbow trout cooked in butter. Both perch and trout were farmed locally. We slept very well. After breakfast we followed the road down through extensive vineyards into Aigle, which will be hosting the Tour du France on Sunday. Again, we’re relieved that we will be higher up the valley by then.

We were amused by the pavement art in Yvorne!

After buying some filled rolls for lunch we headed back into the vineyards, passing by the striking Chateau which now houses a museum about wine making. Another addition to our list for a future visit. On the way to the Chateau we were passing the church when a very nice lady driving by stopped to enquire about our pilgrimage and proudly told us she had been christened, baptised, and married in that church. She urged us to have a look inside, but sadly it was locked.

Winding our way up through the vineyards we could hear a train screeching away across the valley and were amazed to see the steepness of the slope it was descending, slowly and carefully. Very impressive engineering and probably pretty skilled driving too.

The train descended from the white hut top right and passed behind the line of trees to emerge further down the slope at bottom left

We could have continued to walk up the valley on the flat road, which would have been easy but boring. Instead, we took a path which headed steeply up onto a wooded spur and then contoured around it. Approaching a col part way up we were again amazed to hear a train grinding up the hill towards us, cross our track, and then disappear around a tight bend taking it even higher. We waved as it passed and the driver responded with a friendly toot.

Our track emerged steeply out of the woods – the train came up from the right

Although the uphill climb was long and steep, we were rewarded with wonderful views over the valley far below through occasional gaps in the trees. From high up you got a sense of how wide and flat the valley is, and a good overview of its use for communications, agriculture, and a range of industries. We later discovered that what looked like large blue lakes from on high were in fact acres of netted fruit orchards when you got down close. Part way along the high level path we met an elderly lady striding along who must have been at least a decade older than us, probably more. She was very encouraging and declared our pilgrimage “magnifique”!

Good example of a roche moutonnee in the valley floor

The only problem with gaining all that height was that we then had to descend all the way down to the bottom again, snake and ladder like, slithering down rooted dirt paths through the woods and then a precipitous concrete track down through vineyards. Wonderful views but very hard on the toes and knees. Thank goodness for walking poles to take some of the strain.

Steep descent into Ollon

Ollon seemed to be a very sleepy village so we walked on through and joined a minor road contouring along the hillside through the woods rather than losing any more hard-won height to go down to the village centre. One of the issues for us has been the routing of paths for apparent commercial reasons rather than the walker’s ease of passage, so we don’t hesitate to ignore detours which look pointless for us and only serve to lengthen our days.

A roadside log in the woods served as seat for our lunch in the shade. At the next village of Antagnes we replenished our water bottles and then struggled to find the onwards path. It turned out to be a well disguised tiny and steep path down through the vineyards with a very small sign notifying its location.

Haymaking, near Antagnes, by hand the modern way –
with a backpack leaf blower!

From Antagnes our route took us back down to the valley floor and across to the west side along an avenue of trees astride a steeply engineered river. It is quite extraordinary how the Swiss have opted to straighten these hillside rivers and deliver the water as quickly as possible to the valley bottom. This practice is very much contrary to modern flood management where the strategy is rather to slow down the delivery of water such that it is more manageable. However one has to respect the Swiss engineers. They’ve been doing a pretty good job for hundreds of years!

Back down to the valley floor and the avenue beyond the wheat fields which was our route across it.

On the south side of the valley we met the River Rhone. Goodness, what a surprise we found! The river was in fair spate and white with suspended sediment. No clear mountain stream here, but the aftermath of recent storms in the mountains.

Rhone blanc!

For several kilometres we followed a tarmac road up the riverbank designated for cyclists and walkers. We have learned that we are expected to keep right to avoid cyclists suddenly coming up behind us without warning. Easy but rather tedious walking.

Eventually, at Massongex, we crossed to the other bank and followed a similarly tarmac’d road alongside the river. As there were fewer trees at least the monotony was relieved by clearer views of the mountains ahead.

Having discussed the potential for canoeing on the river we were amused to see a sign, more or less in the middle of nowhere, declaring that boating on the river is forbidden. We assume this is because the numerous hydroelectric schemes on the river may discharge surges of water at any time without warning, though that explanation was not offered. Even in today’s conditions the river looked quite challenging unless you were content to be swept downstream and fast.

Crossing the local railway line again, we passed around the imposing chateau of St Maurice to find the town itself tucked away behind a spur jutting from the mountainside, completely hidden from view from lower down the valley. As you pass around the chateau the valley widens out again to reveal a sizeable town and railway station.

St Maurice has an active monastery based in its Abbaye, which was founded in 515 and built on the site of a first century BC Roman shrine to the god Mercury. For several hundred years the monastery was known for its 24/7 psalmody – continuous singing of psalms by several choirs in rotation. Since 1125 there have been canons regular living by the rule of St Augustine, and this continues today with some 40 canons in residence under an Abbot appointed by the Pope. Unfortunately we were too late arriving to visit the abbaye so that too is on our list for a future trip as it is one of the most important national heritage sites in Switzerland.

The Abbaye at St Maurice

We found our billet at the Hotellerie Franciscaine tucked away behind the main street. The accommodation is plain and simple but perfectly adequate. No TV in bedrooms – bliss! Simple meals are provided and we enjoyed discussion over supper with a tour guide leading a group of German-speaking tourists who had been to the Abbaye and were going to walk the last stretch up to the Grand St Bernard pass tomorrow. They will be taken up there by bus, which we regard as cheating!

Petanque pitch in the main square in front of the Abbaye

Highlights of the day were the wonderful views from the hillside in the morning, appreciating the feat of engineering which enables Swiss trains to reach places never intended for them, and the surprise of St Maurice completely hidden from view behind its chateau.

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