Aching legs, shortcuts and a surprise visitor

Fresh snow in the mountains above Aosta.

Day 10: Aosta to Chatillon — 31.9 km (19.8 miles)

I’m not sure how I finally managed to drag myself out of Aosta. When I woke up my legs were stiff and achy, I’d been in my room for two nights and had made a cozy little home of it, and my cell provider decided for an inexplicable reason to cut off my data signal. That last problem would mean I couldn’t leave town until stopping at the TIM cellular outlet, which would make my annoyingly long day even longer. As 7:00 turned to 8:00, my bed felt so comfy. As 8:00 turned to 9:00 I begrudgingly packed, paid my bill at the front desk, and made it out the door on stiff legs.

The cell problem took only a few minutes, but waiting for the office to open had cost me two preciously cool morning hours. With 30 km ahead, that would put me at Chatillon at around 5:00. A long day, warmed by a steady drop in elevation.

To skip the hectic valley floor the Via Francigena stewards put the official route onto an up and down series of trails and roads that traverse the valley’s steep northern wall. My guidebook offered an alternate that was lower and easier, if not shorter. My stiff legs and I opted for the lower route, which I would discover was still plenty scenic. This would mean a day spent on asphalt, something always tough on the feet. It would also mean the pleasant prospect of a daylong march through a nearly seamless parade of Alpine villages. The place names give away their French influence — Angelin, Clappy, Olleyes, Rovarey, Torrent, and many more. So I set out from Aosta under blue skies with visions of my comfy bed still filling my mind.

After a couple of hours I spied another pilgrim, Sergio, from Colombia, who had set out from Canterbury over a month ago. He had also opted for the lower route and after a fun chat and photo, he took off down the hill, headed for another 5 km beyond my planned overnight. I would see him again at lunch in Nus and am guessing that due to his pace that may be the last time.

The lower route crossed the Dora Balthea River — the main waterway in the Aosta Valley — at the touristy village of Feniz, with its charming fairy tale castle. A bonus for taking it easy!

It was somewhere around Arlier where I spied my surprise visitor — a gorgeous, red fox — little smaller than our northwest coyotes, and really rather pretty. He silently crossed the road ahead of me and disappeared into some bushes. Of course he considered me to be the visitor, I’m sure, but I appreciate how unusual it is to see one of these clever animals in the daytime and feel a little blessed.

After what seemed like forever I finally crossed back over the Dora Balthea into the foot of Chatillon. I’m not sure why they put the town’s cathedral at the very top of the town, but my legs allowed me to walk up there for a couple of photos of the church and the gorgeous valley below. Overall a long and hot day, but one full of interesting scenery.

Hikers’ notes: I’m not sure the value of Alison Raju’s lower option from Aosta to Chatillon. Lower, yes, but seemingly also leading to the far reaches of the valley in order to avoid a climb or two. Just a guess, but the bicycle route, which she doesn’t mention and perhaps is new, may actually be quickest and easiest option of all. I spied it on the map and saw it from above as I approached the river crossing into Chatillon from the south. I’ll be looking to see what the bikers have available to them tomorrow, since I’m told there’s a steep climb between here and Verres, tomorrow’s more modest 19 km goal.

Tarmac and vineyards between villages.

Sergio e io.

View across the valley.

Castle at Feniz.

Um, a church.

Quite a church. Atop Chatillon.

Inside the Chatillon cathedral.

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