Bushwhacking to Ste. Croix and Wow, We’re in France!

A view from the path

A view from the path

Day 51 – Charvonay – Sainte Croix

It was mostly farm roads early on today through fields of wheat. Swiss farms are neat and tidy, like everything else in Switzerland. Wild strawberries were ripe and we managed to scarf down a few as we walked.

A coffee bean and grinder in the traffic circle outside the Nestle plant … Nescafe coffee, of course!

A coffee bean and grinder in the traffic circle outside the Nestle plant … Nescafe coffee, of course!

We passed through the city of Orbe… a mix of medieval and new. Below the old city traffic snarls, business bustles and Nestle has a huge plant that takes up city blocks. We could see the old walled city above us, but our planned 16 mile day just didn’t include climbing up to explore. The old chateau and the Tour Ronde (c. 1233) dominate the cityscape.

Orbe deserved a closer look, but the path beckoned us on.

Orbe deserved a closer look, but the path beckoned us on.

There were several picturesque villages and vineyards here in the center of the Côtes de l‘Orbe area known for its winemaking.

We walked through several vineyards, all neat and tidy on the steep hillsides.

We walked through several vineyards, all neat and tidy on the steep hillsides.

Towards the end of the day, we left the hilly terrain and began a monumental climb from the Jura Plain in Vuiteboeuf up to Sainte Croix… 450m to 1050m or about a 2000’ change in altitude. It was challenging to say the least. We trudged up and along a steep, ancient, medieval road with centuries old wheel ruts evident in the rocks from wagons hauling goods up and down. This was the old Salt Road between Bern and the French Jura and is now a Swiss trail known as the Via Salina, Switzerland's most important preserved medieval road system traversing the slope between Sainte-Croix and Vuiteboeuf.

Wheel ruts from centuries of hauling wagons up the steep Salt Road

Wheel ruts from centuries of hauling wagons up the steep Salt Road

The Via here was not particularly well marked or perhaps we weren’t paying close enough attention, but at one point we found ourselves on a very narrow ledge and off the track. Rather than backtracking, we decided we could bushwhack our way down to the path which we could see some 100’ below us. Bad, bad decision! It didn’t appear initially as steep as it was, but after ramming our way through thick brush and looking down, we realized our folly. Once committed, however, there was no turning back. David managed to zig and zag, keeping his balance and inching his way down. I, on the other hand, am not particularly good with heights nor zigzagging on steep slopes. I held on to tree limbs and kind of slid uneasily from one tree to another until at last there were no more trees to grab onto. In an attempt to zig, I evidently zagged, wound up on my butt and had a swift, sleigh-ride of a descent atop soft layers of leaves to the bottom of the hill, ending abruptly in the middle of the correct path.

After this adrenaline rush, we continued our climb continually up and finally reached Sainte Croix (pronounced Sant-Quah). We had had no luck making hotel reservations in advance, so we headed to the tourist info office in an attempt to find Via Francigena accommodations. There were several folks in the area that were willing to host pilgrims in their homes and Jean-Samuel Py was one. His house was old, huge and somewhat unkempt with a warren of rooms on three floors … some evidently rented out. He lived on the top floor, two flights up. Our room, on the ground floor, was quite basic, with a single bed and a trundle and lots and lots of books.. There was a rather crude toilet a few rooms away, but the shower and sink were in Jean-Samuel’s apartment, two flights up. Inconvenient, but we managed.

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Jean-Samuel, we found to be quite charming. He is a collector of things … books, music boxes, comic books, books, toys, trains and more books. He was pleased to show us some of his prize possessions. He asked us to send him a postcard when we arrive in Canterbury which we shall do.

Jean-Samuel stamps our pilgrim passports.

Jean-Samuel stamps our pilgrim passports.

Day 51 – Bavois (Charvonay) – Sainte Croix

15.8 miles walked / 36,738 steps

Leg distance: 16.7 miles / 568 miles to Canterbury


Day 52 – Sainte Croix – Pontarlier

After an uneasy night, we were up and out by 0630. We stopped in a small cafe for a croissant and coffee on the outskirts of Sainte Croix and then hit the path. We figured since we’d climbed up, up, up yesterday, we should be heading down today. Wrong assumption. There was still more up to be realized.

Looking back at Sainte Croix and still climbing up.

Looking back at Sainte Croix and still climbing up.

We maneuvered up steep forest paths and through farmer’s fields, our shoes soaked with morning dew and intermittent showers. We climbed over styles, kept our distance from electrical fences, skirted around mounds and mounds of cow pies (fresh and aged varieties) and very carefully traversed barbed wire fences.

Through styles, over styles, we worked our way along several footpaths through pasture land.

Through styles, over styles, we worked our way along several footpaths through pasture land.

Snail bliss! Finding these snails led to a lengthy discussion concerning the mating habits of gastropods of which we knew naught. There’s never a dearth of conversation while walking.

Snail bliss! Finding these snails led to a lengthy discussion concerning the mating habits of gastropods of which we knew naught. There’s never a dearth of conversation while walking.

We found a patisserie that happily accepted the last of our Swiss francs before we crossed the border at L’Auberson into France. The border crossing was a non-event, like crossing from state to state in the USA. The old Customs/Immigration building was still there, but unmanned and we just walked by.

Crossing from Switzerland into France was a non-event.

Crossing from Switzerland into France was a non-event.

Not far from our day’s goal of Pontarlier, David found a shortcut using the Maps.me app that saved us a mile or so. It was definitely a more direct path, but it happened to be through thick forest and very steep. We climbed up, over and around rocky outcrops, up a gravelly, slippery path and finally emerged, surprisingly, at Château de Joux, a local landmark.

Château de Joux

Château de Joux

The walk down on the auto road from the chateau was steep, but it was down and paved and that was good. At the bottom, we followed a path along the river. Swans floated lazily by and ignored us as we passed.

A swan couple totally ignored us as we passed by.

A swan couple totally ignored us as we passed by.

Finally, we reached Pontarlier, absinthe capital of the world, we’re told. Again, without a hotel reservation, we relied on the local Tourist Info to help us find a room. The Hotel St. Pierre was just what the doctor ordered … a reasonably priced, comfortable hotel room with a terraced bar offering cold beers. The best part of the Hotel St. Pierre, however, was the view from our window.

Hotel St. Pierre

Hotel St. Pierre

A view of the Pontarlier Arch from our hotel window.

A view of the Pontarlier Arch from our hotel window.

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A note about absinthe which we didn’t try … According to Wiki … Absinthe is historically described as a distilled, highly alcoholic beverage (45–74% ABV / 90–148 U.S. proof). It is an anise-flavoured spirit derived from botanicals, including the flowers and leaves of "grand wormwood" and other herbs.

Absinthe traditionally has a natural green color and is commonly referred to in historical literature as "la fée verte" (the green fairy). Originating in Switzerland in the late 18th century, it rose to great popularity as an alcoholic drink in late 19th- and early 20th-century France, particularly among Parisian artists and writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, Toulouse-Lautrec, Pablo Picasso and Edgar Allan Poe to name a few. Because it was considered addictive, it was banned in the US and much of Europe by 1915. Recent studies have shown that absinthe's psychoactive [and addictive] properties have been exaggerated, apart from that of the alcohol. In the 1990s, barriers to its production and sale were removed. Guess, we should have tried some, huh?

Day 52 – Sainte Croix – Pontarlier

14.59 miles walked / 33, 930 steps

Leg distance: 13.0 miles / 555 miles to Canterbury