Wednesday 15 October.
It had been raining heavily during the night but when we went down to breakfast it had cleared and the sky was blue.
We joined Carlos and Gabriel for breakfast, Carlos was hoping to make Aosta today but Gabriel was having a rest day, he hadn't stopped since Arras in France where he had a day off. He wasn't from Spain but from Argentina and that was why he could converse with Carlos. We said 'Buon Camino' to them and finished packing then set off. Carlos was already on his way when we came down to get our shoes from the basement.
Initially the track was going to dropped very sharply and after the rain we reckoned it would be very wet as well. Not being good on steep downhills with our old and creaky knees we decided to take the road. It was a winding route with lots of hairpin bends. The VF route more or less went straight down and cut across all these twists and turns. This meant that the road was quite a bit longer but we figured that we would be able to cover it faster and it would balance out in the end.
Another advantage of taking the road was that we didn't have to concentrate on where we were putting our feet and could take in the wonderful scenery.
The views coming up to the col yesterday in Switzerland were wonderful but on the Italian side that were truly outstanding. Right from the start when we left the hospice we had a lake surrounded by a ring of snow capped peaks that were reflected in the still waters. We were in the middle of these glorious mountains as we crossed the border and made our way down into the Aosta valley. As well as white covered tops we had pinnacles of rock and jagged ridges; streams ran down from above in all the gullies and crevices.
There was a long tunnel with a flat roof we and to go through, this was to protect the road from avalanches and landslides. It seemed to work, when we emerged and looked back we could see that a slide had covered a third of the tunnel.
About halfway down we came to the Grand Bernard tunnel that cut through the mountain to come out near Bourg St. Bernard where we stopped for coffee yesterday. It wasn't particularly impressive as it entered the side of the hill and along the very long covered approach we could hear the traffic passing. Our road ran below this covered motorway and eventually we reached the first village on the Italian side, Bourg Saint-Rhemy. It was an old quaint place with colourful tiling on the roofs of the houses. We found a bench near the church and had our tea break. It had taken us over 2.5 hours to reach here, according to Cicerone it was 7.5 km by the off road route but from the kilometre markers on the road side we had covered more than 10 km., but a lot of time had been used stopping to take numerous photographs.
When we left Saint-Rhemy we got on to the off-road track. It wasn't the VF marked way but a more directed route to the next village of St.Oyen. It was the 14c marked route and wasn't in fact marked at first. I got out my iPad and followed the described direction from it. I carried it until we were certain that we were on course and it became tricky as it zig-zagged downhill through the woods. The VF route went in a loop through a few villages on the other side of the river and was a lot longer. Before entering the woods we had wonderful views up to a village in another valley and further down there was a hanging valley with meadows of brilliant green. The distance to St. Oyen was supposed to be 5 km but we reached the village in under an hour.
Where we had decided to stop for the day was the small town of Etroubles and was just a further 2 km; we could see it down the valley. The distance was another generous estimate and we got there in 15 minutes. There was a hotel as we entered Etroubles and it was open, a lot of the hotels we had passed had closed at the end of September. We checked it out and although a bit over our budget at €120 for dinner bed and breakfast we decided to splash out. Somehow when you arrived without a reservation a room is available immediately, when you have booked and they have your money then for some reason your room isn't ready. The room was fine, en suite, and we had WiFi.
Moira went out after showering and bought some milk and a couple of beers. The rest of the afternoon until dinner time was spent updating my blog, sending an email to our local newspaper and booking accommodation in Aosta. Moira found a hotel in the centre of the city at a reasonable €60, we decide to have a rest day there and booked for 2 nights. Next we spent about an hour pouring over maps of Aosta and the route we take into the centre to find how to get to this hotel. The map on the iPad and the one in Cicerone didn't seem to match up. The street names were different and also unfamiliar to us. At last we made sense of it and traced a route from the VF to the hotel.
Dinner was at 7:30 pm and there was only another couple there. It was a fixed menu and we ordered minestrone soup to start then I had a pork chop and chips while Moira chose the chicken. It was like Spain in that they don't seem to serve any vegetables with their food. I checked the wine list and the prices were crazy, I asked for water and indicated to get it out the tap. He came back with an expensive bottled water, I had to take him to the bar and show him the tap there. He was very reluctant to give me that as if it was poison but I got my way and it didn't kill us. The meal was all right in that it stopped us starving but that was all.
We went back to our room and into bed. There had been a roaring fire in the bar and dining room but the room was cold. I don't know when they get round to turning on the central heating. I wanted to listen to the radio, we were picking it up earlier but now the WiFi had packed in. We read for a while then had another early night.