Day Eleven: Chatillon to Pont-Saint-Martin (Carema) 37.5 km (23.3 miles)
When I left Chatillon this morning I wasn’t quite sure where I’d spend the night. I’d been rebuffed at Verres, the official end of stage. Everything was full. As I made my way a few kilometers after breakfast to Saint-Vincent I met two pilgrims — Morgan of Belgium and Roberto of Milan — who suggested I join them at the parochial hostel in Donnas, about 28 km down the road. That sounded like a good idea, so while we were talking I phoned in a reservation.
Morgan and Roberto soon turned left, uphill on the official walkers’ route. I’d researched the lower, easier bicycle route and headed downhill to the valley floor on my own.
The cycle route ended up being delightful. It mostly hugged the river, giving me a vantage point uphill to the mountains on both sides. I reached Verres about noon, met a Dutch pilgrim there named Derek, and explored the town a little before heading back to the bike trail, assuming that Morgan and Roberto were far ahead.
I then spent the day in occasional shade, on gravel roads with riverfront trees shielding me from the hot sun. I walked by the Saint Germaine Castle, and later the amazing 17th century Ponte di Echallod bridge. After that I enjoyed views of the Bard Fortress, a medieval castle destroyed by Napoleon in the early 19th century then rebuilt. The little touristy-medieval town of Bard was a delight as well, and just afterward was a brief stretch of original Roman road.
By 4:30 I’d arrived at the parochial hostel in Donnas with no sign of Morgan and Robert. Since no one at all was there I had a little time to explore. Eight beds in four twin bunks. A hot plate for cooking, and the most antiquated bathroom I’ve seen in all of Italy. The toilet was a hole in the floor and on the left wall of its cubicle was the shower head. The toilet/shower was separated from the janitor’s/guests’ sink by a bright, plastic curtain, and the light bulb for seeing it all had inhaled its last breath.
I’d already walked 31km, so this whole arrangement seemed unfortunate, but serviceable in a pinch. Except — there was no soap to be found anywhere. Not a bar, not a bottle, not a dispenser of the liquid variety. I had none in my pack. Nothing. And considering the poor performance of my deodorant I was in a bind. I could not imagine climbing into my sleeping bag liner as dirty as I was. Since I was alone in the hostel (had Morgan and Roberto opted for something less basic?) there were no other pilgrims from whom I could borrow some.
My solution was to walk into Pont-Saint-Martin to find a bar of soap. The only problem? On Sunday everything is closed. The farther I walked the more I thought the hostel was a bad idea. I checked the Internet, found a cheap hotel available in Pont-Saint-Martin, made the reservation, and after I returned to the hostel and was packing up, who should arrive at the hostel but Morgan and Roberto? They looked pretty good after a long day on the upper route, but I noted that even though I’d lazed around in Verres, the bike route put me in Donnas about an hour earlier.
Though I’d have loved to spend the evening with them, especially if they were equipped with soap, I said goodbye and headed the three additional miles to my hotel. As I unpacked, wrapped a clean towel around my and walked a few steps to the shared bathroom occupied by someone else in the four rooms on this floor, I was startled to see Charles, who’s staying two doors down at the hotel. I’d ended up catching up to him by walking a long 37 km today. Though I loved seeing him (we’re having breakfast together tomorrow) it was the soapy shower that made my day. So many suds from that little white lozenge. And the bathroom? Why, there was even a separate shower and toilet.
Hiking Notes: I’m wishing I’d called lodging a day ahead as it seems some of the pilgrim hostels are filled by non- pilgrims. To me, the bike path was just fine and looking at the elevation profiles from the guidebooks I’d say it was a lot easier that’s the official walkers’ route. Plus the two do intersect frequently.