Pass Of The Echelles
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
AFTER leaving the village of Pont de Beauvoisin, we pursued our route through beautiful fields and wooded scenery, here opening into the first highland pass. On the right hand rise mountains, steep and abrupt—on the left are high rocks, presenting a fine front, to the extent of a mile and a half—and below this deep precipice, rolls the mountain stream Le Guierre, foaming, and tearing its way among the rocks—its clear and sparkling waters receiving their tint and colouring from the surrounding objects. At times, the stream, sinking into deep dells, and winding amidst abrupt clefts, seemed totally lost, and then again bursting forth, hurried down in a full rapid current, along banks shaded by the richest copse-wood.
We now began to ascend towards the Pass of the Echelles, formed by Charles Emanuel, Duke of Savoy, in the year 1609.: perhaps one of the most singular works in the world. The village below is called the Echelles, as from thence the former pass into Savoy opened; the ascent being carried along steep and rugged rocks, resembling an almost perpendicular stair-case, or flight of steps.
Through this pass, on mules and beasts of burden, all the commodities of Savoy were carried. The road formed by Emanuel, and substituted for this, excels in grandeur every work of art and nature combined which can be conceived. It mounts by a steep and difficult ascent: on the left, a low parapet guards it from the deep precipice which overhangs the river; while on the right, the mountain, vast and stupendous, rises straight and perpendicular as a wall. From this elevation all the wide expanse of hill and valley below is open to view—it presented a cheerful and tranquil scene of cattle, and peasants busied in all the labours of the field, while rural sounds, falling on the ear, produced a pleasing effect on the mind.
After a little space, which yet, from the labour of the mules, seems long, you strike all at once into the rock, the entrance to which gives you the impression of the gateway into some strong, and almost inaccessible fort. A few steps further in this deep pass, which lies before you in a long and gloomy line, you look back on a view truly magnificent. In the centre of the opening, and dividing the entrance, stands a huge mass of rock, as if de-signed for the sculptured form of a giant. On the right, but on a level considerably lower, is a portion of rock resembling a tomb-stone, bearing an inscription, in memory of the founder, Prince Emanuel. And on the left, the mountain rises in stupendous basaltic pillars, straight as the stem of a cathedral column. On either side, you look down from a vast perpendicular height, as from the walls of a fortress, on a smiling country, rich, varied, and of great extent; in which the village of Echelles forms a picturesque feature. Climbing upon the natural parapet of the great central stone, and again looking down from the dizzy height, you see, far beneath, the steps of the Echelles entering the mountain, through a vast arched chasm of nearly three hundred feet in height. Turning from this prospect, and proceeding onwards, you continue to traverse a channel of more than half a mile in length, and so narrow, as to oblige the passengers, on entering, to ascertain, by loud hallooing, that no returning carriage impedes the way. This pass is styled " Passage de la Grotte." It is difficult to divest yourself of the first impression received on entering it, of its being a great fortress: its causewayed path, the hollow echoes from the horses' hoofs, its walls of dark, gloomy, and drip-ping rocks, rising perpendicularly to such a height, as greatly to impede the light, combine to give it the aspect of an inclosed building. On the left, where the rock seems to bear an elevation of about two hundred feet, you pass the mouth of the chasm where the Echelles, or stairs, formerly opened. This stupendous and princely work, forming the entrance int Savoy, is of such a nature, that twenty valiant men might dispute the passage against a whole army. On emerging from the pass, we looked down on the Guierre, so lately seen dashing from rock to rock, now gently gliding, in a full and quiet stream, through a rural plain, its waters urging the progress of several mills, romantically situated on its banks. We continued to travel along a beautiful road bordered by pine trees, occasionally deepening into thick woods; and traversed a bridge which crosses the Orbanne, a broad, rapid, and powerful river. From this bridge a steep ascent leads to an elevated summit, and here the eye rests on most en-chanting scenery. The mountains of the pass, which you have just left, stand high and dark in the outline, forming an imposing back-ground to the small, richly-cultivated valley, spread out below; while the bridge, far beneath, lies in one long flat line, crossing the river, which is now seen winding its way, in various bends, and gathering its tributary waters from the adjacent rocks.
After a day full of interest produced by the grand and varied scenery which had marked our progress, we descended upon Chamberry, the capital of Savoy, and the ancient residence of her sovereigns.