Grand St-Bernard Pass is a gateway between Switzerland and Italy that has been used by travellers for thousands of years. But at an altitude of 2473 m (8114 ft) the weather can be very unpredictable, as I discovered last Saturday! I travelled up to the Pass to attend a 'Compagnons de la Via Francigena' celebration. It has been 20 years since work commenced on alpine segments used by pilgrims. Their hard work has made it possible for Via Francigena pilgrims to make the journey from Canterbury to Rome.
Last Saturday, a Swiss group walked from Bourg St-Pierre, in the blizzard-like conditions, to Grand St-Bernard Pass Hospice to meet the Italian group who had walked from San Rhémy. There was great excitement as the two groups met, followed by exuberant speeches in the magnificent Chapel, and a communal meal.
The Hospice has cared for travellers ever since it was established by St Bernard in 1050. The hospitality today is just as amazing. Somehow they managed to cater for our large group, a big parish group, a wedding and many pilgrims. And then, there were the famous St Bernard dogs walking the Alps and in their kennels in the Museum.
See my article on Via Francigena official website.
Lausanne in situated on the shores of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). When I visited I headed straight for Lausanne Cathedral. It is a very steep walk from the Lake up to the Cathedral. But, well worth it as a tour of the city, and for the amazing views to the Lake and Alps.
The Cathedral is considered to be the most beautiful Gothic Church in Switzerland and the spiritual heart of French-speaking Switzerland. Its construction began in 1170 and it was consecrated in 1275. It is famous for its examples of polychromy which is the coloured paint still visible on its statues in the Chapel of the Virgin and the Painted Portal. The Painted Portal is enclosed with glass and I sat peacefully for some time absorbed in the beauty of the statues.
Medieval pilgrims flocked to the Cathedral to pray before the Golden Virgin hoping for miracles. Sadly, in the Reformation, the Golden Virgin was melted down to make coins! But, the glorious south rose window has survived.
In the evening, I walked along the shores of the Lake towards Vevey admiring the sculptures, the Lake and the Alps. After a while, I found a great spot to sit and sketch the Alps and watch the sunset. I imagined I was Turner sitting there! And was surprised to see the golden yellow colours, so typical of Turner's sublime paintings, appearing in the evening sky.
I did indulge in the luxury of eating a very tasty veal knuckle and risotto in a Swiss/Italian Michelin star restaurant near my hotel. But the best part was sampling the local Lavaux wine. I could see their vineyards in the distance as I sat sketching. Lausanne is well known for its amazing food and has many events throughout the year celebrating its cuisine!
Go to http://www.lausanne-tourisme.ch/en/ to find out more about how to enjoy a visit to Lausanne.
Romainmôtier Abbey is the oldest Romanesque Abbey still being used as a Reform Church in Switzerland. I first became aware of it because it is one of the cultural highlights when travelling the Swiss Via Francigena pilgrim route. When I was staying in Lausanne, on Lac Leman, I took a 30 minute train trip to visit the Abbey. But, I accidentally got off the train at Arnex-sur-Orbe, one stop early. So, I decided to use Google Maps on my phone, and walk to the Abbey. I had the Swiss country side all to my self and became immersed in the golden fields, green pastures, and snow clad Jura alps in the distance.
Although it was still winter in Switzerland, it was very hot walking for two hours through the Swiss countryside. But, the blue dot on my Google Map faithfully led me to Romainmôtier Abbey.
When travelling the Via Francigena, I always manage to get lost in labyrinths. And, here is one in the garden of a man who helped me find the right path to the Abbey. Then, as I headed round the bend in the path, the Abbey was finally in view!
Entering the Abbey grounds I was so pleased to see a tea room, I failed to notice the beauty of the orange building. The orange building used to the residence of the Prior!
The Via Francigena begins at Canterbury and then continues to Dover in order to cross the English Channel to Calais in France. It is a 20 mile walk which takes 7 to 8 hours and passes through the rolling hills and farmlands of Kent. Local Kent produce can be sampled on the way!
Here is a sample of the tranquil farmlands typical of Kent countryside. Then, arriving at Dover, the White Cliffs provide a panoramic cliff walk. In addition, the Dover Castle has much to offer and is especially stunning at sunset!