Well, we hit the weekend again and once more we were forecast good weather for most of it. This time, I decided to make some plans and had originally hoped to visit Turin, or even go further afield to Berne, Zurich and Liechtenstein. However, most of my European friends were busy so I decided instead to just hop over the border to Martigny. A short visit, but a chance to pick up some decent bargain-priced chocolate.
I don’t have a company vehicle and I’d originally intended to hitch elsewhere for the weekend. However, the director told me to just borrow one of the vehicles. So I did. And I had a very nice, gently, careful drive through the hills on Saturday afternoon. Now, those who know me also know that “gently” and “careful” are not words that go together with my driving. However, when the vehicle you’re driving is a new-model Toyota Hilux HX2… in bright red… right hand drive, in a left hand drive country… and belongs to the man who owns the company you work for sometimes exceptions can be made.
So off I set around midday. Window rolled down, nice high view, surprisingly easily adapting to the gear stick being on what’s now my “wrong” side, and with Brian Johnson screaming at me that he’s a “Heatseeker” and “don’t need no life preserver”. Very loudly indeed. Nice stereos in those Hilux’s.
It’s only about an hour to Martigny from Chamonix if you drive at a moderate speed. It’s also gorgeous. I stopped at a few places to take photos, including off the windy road above Martigny as I could see the town stretching out in the distance beneath me. The mountains in the area are fantastic and still snow-capped, and there are definitely some lovely hiking trails in the area if such takes your fancy.
Swapping from France to Switzerland doesn’t even involve stopping as long as you have one of the mandatory Swiss vignettes in your window. It’s the Swiss road taxation system. Even if you’re only there for 15 minutes, you have to have one. Mind, at 40 Swiss Francs a year (approximately Â£20), it’s a fraction of the UK road tax fee.
On I drove, meandering up and down the windy roads. No bad traffic in the way, no camper vans or ageing Sunday drivers. It’s days like that when everything just seems all right in the world (even though we all know it isn’t – the incidents in Burma / Myanmar are weighing very heavily on my mind). All I needed was a very attractive driving companion with a good taste in music and loose morals and I’d have been on cloud nine. Ah well, if we had everything then we’d strive for nothing.
As I approached Martigny, I spotted one of the large road signs telling me that part of my planned day out would have to be cancelled. The Col de Grande St-Bernard was still shut, I assume due to weather reasons, so heading that way would only take me through the tunnel into Italy. A pity as I only spent a paltry few minutes up there the last time I passed through and I’d have liked to have seen more. Another time!
Instead, I located a Migros and spent a bit of cash on some groceries and chocolate. All cheaper than back in Chamonix, and definitely better quality. Frankly, the fruit and veg in Super-U can be a bit hit and miss quality-wise. It was nice to get tomatoes and peppers that didn’t look more wrinkly than a 90 year-old who’s been sunbathing too long. As for the chocolate… even Migros’ bargain basement cheap and tatty stuff is superior to the pricier own-brand muck sold in France. And it’s cheap.
I’d already made sandwiches for the trip, so I drove around a bit to find a nice place to park up. On the edge of town is a small fort perched on a hill. Below it, an old wooden bridge (closed for refurbishment) crosses a beautiful clean river. And right next to it, under some carefully-arranged trees was a nice empty bench. Lunch break.
Having driven round a lot of it, Martigny isn’t a startlingly beautiful town as such. From above it actually looks a bit like a Spanish resort town. A lot of the buildings are fairly modern and regularly laid out. It doesn’t have much character. However, there are a couple of small parts stuck on the edges (such as the road leading to the fort) which appear older and stand out when you see them.
And then there’s the scenery. You walk out of Migros into the car park and facing you is a mountainside completely covered with bright green trees. It stretched both directions as far as you can see. Look over your shoulder and there are grey mountains topped with snow. Lower down on their foothills, grapes are being grown although it’s early in the season so they look a little bare right now.
Oh, and being Switzerland it’s very clean!
After my lunch, I packed up and drove back the way I came. At the border I was stopped by one of the French guards and told that my front numberplate was damaged. News to me – when I collected the van it had been parked nose-first towards the hotel wall. It later transpired that “we” already knew about this and a replacement plate is in the van. Somewhere. Thing is, virtually every French speed camera catches you from the front, so they’re bound to be picky about front license plates.
I also made a couple of pit-stops to take more pictures. The weather continued to be glorious until I returned to Chamonix in the early evening. I do wish I’d had a vehicle to hand more often over the season – and more time off to make use of it. The whole area around here is tremendous for jaunting around and taking days out or weekends away. Having to work here has been a joy, but also slightly frustrating in the knowledge that so many other wonderful places were right on my doorstep – but unreachable at the time.
Ah well. All the more encouragement to come back another time, perhaps as a full time tourist!