The Via Francigena in Switzerland
Switzerland took hold of my life many years ago! Ever since, it has held me captive! I love the Alps, the Lakes, the Valleys, the Castles and Cathedrals, and all of its history and culture. But what I love most is the feeling of leaving the busy world behind and heading off into the Alps.
A few years ago, I fell in love with the Via Francigena pilgrimage which goes all the way from Canterbury to Rome, a distance of 1900 km. Switzerland happens to be right in the middle of it. The pilgrim route being rediscovered today was a major highway in medieval times. So today we can enjoy all the castles and cathedrals that were built along the way. But best of all, every step of the way is filled with spectacular scenery!
It takes 90 days to walk the entire Via Francigena and it is just as exhilarating whether you walk for one or ninety days. My favourite part is the Via Francigena in Switzerland. There are 11 stages covering 220 km from the Franco-Swiss border to Grand-St-Bernard Pass. The journey passes through the Jura, Vaud and Valais Cantons and meets each of the 3 Iconic Swiss Hiking Trails.
The Via Francigena meets the Jura Crest Trail because the Jura Mountains are crossed in the passage from France to Switzerland. My favourite experience is walking across the Franco-Swiss border in the tranquility of the Jura Mountains under the watchful eye of grazing cows. Next, there is an enchanting forest at Ballaigues where it is fun to walk along an excavated Roman road. This road is featured in a superb display of ancient Roman mosaics in Orbe. Then, after an exhilarating walk following the Orbe river we arrive at Romainmôtier, a small village nestled in the Jura foothills. I thoroughly enjoy visiting the Romanesque church and Abbey. But after a long walk the soup, cheese, bread, cakes and hot cup of tea in the Tea House are the best!
After Romainmôtier the Jura Crest Trail heads towards Geneva and the Via Francigena towards Lausanne. The Cathedral in Lausanne is a Gothic masterpiece and was once a focal point of medieval pilgrimage. After visiting the Cathedral, we walk around Lake Geneva. At times we walk close to the Lake and at other times high up in the UNESCO listed Lavaux vineyards. The views of the Lake, vineyards and French Alps are mesmerizing. At the end of the Lake near Montreux we meet both the Via Alpina and the Alpine Passes Trail.
Leaving Lake Geneva behind we walk through the Rhône Valley from Villeneuve to Martigny. But not without the distractions of visiting Château de Chillon at Montreux and Aigle Château. Then we head up into the Alps for some strenuous walking before arriving at St Maurice Abbey which is over 1500 years old. On our way to Martigny we stop to admire the Pissevache waterfall in its peaceful forest setting. Arriving in Martigny there are many amazing sites, but my favourite is the Roman amphitheatre.
After Martigny the challenging alpine ascent begins. The trails lead us into the Alps surrounding the River Dranse as we pass through Bovernier, Sembrancher and on to Orsières at 563 m. Next is the 1000 m ascent to Bourg-St-Pierre surrounded by very spectacular alpine scenery. The final stage to Grand-St-Bernard Pass takes us to 2473 m or 8114 ft. This walk is my favourite because I love the scenery above the tree line with its colourful lichen-clad rocks, small alpine flowers and a lacy network of streams. But nature must be respected at this altitude as the weather can rapidly change. The Hospice at the Pass is well renowned for its hospitality and the warm welcome and bowl of soup makes the whole walk worthwhile!
I highly recommend walking the Via Francigena in Switzerland. Via Francigena Tours is here to help you plan the perfect visit to Switzerland.
This is a copy of the article written by Via Francigena Tours for the current June version of Great Walks magazine. The magazine is currently promoting the ‘great walks’ in Switzerland. So make sure you buy a copy of Great Walks magazine!