This morning we decided to go for it and complete the section of the walk we didn’t manage to do yesterday. Our night’s sleep was disturbed by Saturday night revellers and motorbikes roaring through at 1.30am, but the Ibuprofen did the trick.

View from our balcony – the start of another extremely hot day

First we needed to find an open cafe for breakfast as the hotel provided rooms only, and found a small bar/cafe just around the corner in the square. Being Sunday, we were lucky. Then, we had to hike back down the hill to the railway station at the bottom, dodging the litter from last night’s revelries. We’ve found Italian train fares to be good value and the trains have been clean and very punctual.

Striding out on a good track above Nus, looking on down the Val d’Aosta

We arrived back in Nus just before 0930 and headed uphill to rejoin the Via Francigena, initially on a level track above vineyards and orchards. However, that didn’t last for long and we were soon descending steeply to negotiate a ravine, followed by the inevitable climb back up again. All these ups and downs are the reason this section of the VF is labelled as ‘challenging’ – made all the more so by the current mid-30s temperatures.

Back down again….

Fortunately Tom’s calf muscle had benefitted from an overnight rest and appropriate medication, but he was careful not to press his luck too far.

We had good views back up the valley, at least for the morning before the haze thickened. Views down the valley were mostly dominated by the motorway and other roads, the river and railway, all funnelling down between industrial areas and some agricultural activity.

At the village of Roatte we began to see more vineyards, but most of the villages we walked through had several houses either in poor repair or abandoned, and a number up for sale. We had a sense of the counrtyside here becoming depopulated, as it has in France, at the same time as an increase in second homes which tend not to contribute to a vibrant community.

Several of the smaller places had attractively painted chapels, but sadly all were locked up and inaccessible. Even the churches were locked with no sign of any services taking place today, Sunday. Frustratingly several of the churches had signboards outside extolling the merits of their architecture and medieval frescoes, but we were unable to appreciate any of it.

Views across the valley were glorious, with pretty villages perched on the lower slopes of the mountains and several chateaux at intervals. Part way along we could see extensive greenhouses and horticultural fields in the bottom of the valley, as well as lots of small gardens, allotments and orchards on the hillsides.

At Diemoz the church was locked, its frescoes unseen, but at least there were benches outside for weary pilgrims to rest. Here we met a Dutch couple and a British man from Warrington who had started out early from Aosta to walk all the way to Chatillon. The Dutch couple were from near Utrecht and are making their way in stages: having most recently started from Martigny. The British chap had started this morning from Aosta. He inquired as to the state of the PM selection process and then declared the Labour leader unelectable (but couldn’t remember his name!). We later saw him striding past as we were having lunch. He is clearly fit and told us he was not bothered by the heat.

Due to plentiful irrigation the meadows were full of flowers and butterflies, but otherwise the ground was dust dry and dominated by the sound of crickets we rarely saw. A few flowering plants were able to survive the dry conditions, bringing a touch of colour to an otherwise yellow and lifeless landscape.

At the large village of Chambeve we found a bench in the shade to sit for our lunch. Sadly, the restaurant across the way has gone out of business and the railway station below the village is no longer in use, which is a pity as both are directly on the Via Francigena and there is a large number of walkers passing through.

Walking down through Chembeve

The Dutch couple we had met earlier overtook us here, but we then caught them up again after they’d diverted into a coffee shop, the only place open in Chembeve on a Sunday. At the bottom of the village there was a woodworking business which had made some unused wood into seats and a sculpture of a pilgrim, this one not quite such a good likeness of Julie’s uncle.

Another steep climb back onto a track through old vineyards and we were then diverted around the back of a village using small cobbled alleys. To our surprise, in one of the narrowest alleys we came across walls covered in wooden plaques on which children had made drawings and messages to pilgrims passing through. They sat rather incongruently with a sign warning about the fierce dog living there. Should we feel welcomed or intimidated?

A good section of level dirt track again gave way all too soon to uneven ups and downs, passing through a couple of completely abandoned hamlets. A signboard informed us that these houses were previously inhabited by farmers who spent part of the year living on the high level pastures, and the summer months down here growing their vines. That explained our earlier impression that there had once been abundant terraced vineyards here, though there is relatively little active use being made of them now and many have become overgrown and fallen into disrepair.

Abandoned houses…
and their abandoned vineyards

After another short section of arid and dusty path we came into the urbanised area before Chatillon proper. Once at Chatillon its Roman history was much in evidence, with a bridge and archway. The town itself is a large sprawl in the corner as the Aosta valley turns southwards towards Ivrea and Vercelli in the Po valley, still several days walk away.

We were very glad that the day’s walk was over, and celebrated by returning to this morning’s cafe – the only one open! – for freshly squeezed orange juice and water, before heading back down to the railway station to get a train onto Verres where we’re booked into a pilgrim hostel for tonight.

It was a trying day, and we certainly wouldn’t have wanted to walk any further in the searing heat, but thankfully Tom’s calf muscle held up and tomorrow we will have an easier day.

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