July 7, 2013. We had one more day scheduled in Chamonix and asked the hotel clerk what we should visit on our last day and she recommended the Swiss town of Martigny. I had never heard of the place but we set off gamely, and passed into Switzerland without incident. For those of you who do not know, Switzerland has FOUR official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Two-thirds of the Swiss speak German but around a fourth speak French, and we were on the French side of the country. It is interesting to note that Belgium has trouble with TWO official languages, but the Swiss handle four with the efficiency of, well, a Swiss watch.
Just inside the border we stopped off at a hotel to get coffee and ended up sitting in an Italian garden that the owner had created for his customers. While awaiting the coffee I wandered into the hotel and was surprised to see that their dining room had frescoes all over the walls. What a charming, pleasant place! The serveuse came out with the coffee and I remarked on what a lovely place it was and she said proudly, “Le patron est un artiste!”–meaning the owner is an artist. I also learned he was the chef in the hotel. Wow! How often can you find that sort of thing in the United States? I’m sorry I didn’t take a picture of the place but it was relatively nondescript from the outside, and we simply lucked out in finding it.
Martigny is set in a valley surrounded by mountains (I’m not sure this picture is of the town itself, but it’s a similar setting). I found Martigny to be in a lovely location but the town itself not particularly distinctive. The purpose of the trip, however, besides the terrific scenery, was the Musee Gianadda. This museum advertised itself far and wide both in Switzerland and France (our hotel clerk told us about it) and was well worth the trip. It is a very modern structure built over Roman ruins and holding a wide variety of art and artifacts. On the second floor (the entrance) were a variety of prehistoric and other artifacts, while the first floor had modern art from people I had never heard of. A corridor led you into a room that had impressionist paintings, including work by van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec that I coveted. Anther room had black-and-white photography and another room had the finest selection of antique automobiles I have ever seen–harking back to when cars didn’t have a steering wheel but just a lever. We then went out into the garden which had various trees and shrubbery and a number of modern, abstract sculptures. They also had an excellent restaurant where the cooks took your order and then served you in the garden. All in all, it was one of the most impressive museum’s I’ve ever visited. In my opinion, the Musee Gianadda is the future of museums: well thought out and well executed.
The following day we took off and headed toward Geneva but halfway there I saw a sign that said “Samoen” and remembered what a great place it was from a previous trip. We detoured and had the best day of our trip. Driving along with mountains all around, we stopped in a tiny town called Mourrire and chatted with the people in the Tourist Bureau who said that Mourrire had one open hotel but no restaurants, and Samoen, five miles down the road, had several open restaurants but no open hotels, because it was off season. We ended up staying in the Best Western in Mourrire that was ultra-modern and extremely pleasant. We then visited a fabulous state park called Cirque de Fer a Cheval (Circus of Iron Horses) which is where the first picture of the first installment of this travelog was taken. This is a valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains with waterfalls from melting snow cascading down the sides. In one centralized spot we counted fifteen waterfalls all around us.
The weather was perfect and we just lingered and enjoyed. On the drive back to Mourrire we stopped off at Samoen, a very pleasant town with a number of old, medieval-looking buildings, and had some wine and dessert under a canopy in the middle of the town square. The French just love to eat outside and will put tables up anywhere.That night we returned and ate at one of the two open restaurants. I had a main course of Coquilles Saint-Jacques and a sugar crepe for dessert and got up from the table staggering. One does not visit France in order to loose weight!
For those of you dying for me to return to my writing-and-rejection-slip obsession, I will conclude my travelog with pictures next week. Cheers!