The MBFF tribe had driven past the starting point to the 💦 Gorges Mystérieuses de la Tête-Noire on numerous occasions, on our way to the 🇨🇭 Bisse du Trient family hike, or en-route to 🇨🇭 Martigny or 💦 the Bains de Saillons . . . but until a few summers ago, I hadn’t ventured any closer to this “ mysterious gorge ” . . . but I had certainly wondered what was so mysterious!
And now I know! Mysterious and impressive indeed, this force of nature!
It took the visit of my intrepid dad to spur me on with my quest and to venture forth (and after having already hiked to the Glacier du Trient and back, no less!). My boys have yet to learn much from their grandpa about hiking stamina!
The most direct hiking path is not long (30 mins down and 1h back up), but it is a steep descent (and therefore a steep return!), with a few ⛓ chains to help you on the tougher sections, so it is not for the faint-hearted! With small children, you do need to be vigilant, and especially down on the wooden viewing platforms, some of which weather damage from the elements each year!
A little history
You learn a lot of history on this short hike, as there are numerous informative panels with photos – do take the time to read them, as they are fascinating!
Le Passage de la Tête Noire was a tunnel carved through the rock, located on the old road that linked 🇨🇭 Valais ⇒ 🇫🇷 Chamonix, and passed through 🇫🇷 Vallorcine. The road was hence used by tourists who travelled on foot through 🏔 the Alps; still visible upon leaving 🇨🇭 Châtelard, in the 19th century it was one of the most picturesque sites and often depicted by artists of the time.
In the 19th century, there was a hotel strategically placed at Tête-Noire, to receive travellers and tourists travelling between 🇨🇭Martigny and 🇫🇷 Chamonix. This hotel, nestled within grandiose nature, was one of the most well-frequented alpine hotels of its era! The construction of the 🚞 Martigny – Châtelard train line in 1906, and then the succession of WWI and WW2, brought an end to this famous hotel, and it finally burned to the ground in 1974, leaving no trace!
In August 1883, a tourist was invited by the then-owner of the hotel, Valentin Gay-Crosier, to visit a 💦 gorge and its cascading waterfalls a mere 50m from the hotel! This visit led to the construction of a path for tourists, and shortly after the 🧚♀️ Grottes des Nymphes (a huge cave) was discovered – thereafter, the 💦 Gorges Mystérieuses de la Tête-Noire became one of the most visited tourist destinations in Switzerland!
The hike – several options
You have several options for this hike:
- 🗺 a direct aller-retour, down and back up to 🅿️ the Tête-Noire parking area (1204m);
- 🗺 a boucle taking you back along the ancient international trade route connecting Martigny and Chamonix;
- 🗺 or a hike from Finhaut;
My dad and I opted for the most direct option, largely because we started late in the day and did not have the proper maps at hand!
🗺 the start of the hike: we started our hike at 🅿️ the Tête-Noire car park, and unlike many mountain hikes, on this trail you descend first! (so make sure to leave some energy for the way back!).
Early on, you will come across a wooden hut with explanation panels . . . a great spot for 🍏 a picnic!
You then continue downhill for about 30mins, in the shade of the 🌲 larch trees . . . there are some stone steps, wooden ladders and tree roots to clamber over and a few ⛓ chains to help you on the more difficult sections. Be careful, as this descent can be slippery, especially after some rainy days!
Eventually, you reach a junction: one way heading towards Finhaut (1h30) or Trouleyro (45mins) and the other path heading down to the 💦 gorges . . .
🗺 return hike: expect between 45mins and an hour of uphill. Pace yourself and take breaks!
Les Gorges Mystérieuses and la Grotte des Nymphes
The 💦 gorges are simply spectacular, majestic . . . and there is definitely something mysterious, my dad and I agreed . . . ethereal nature in its purest form. The visit simply took our breath away, literally and figuratively!
There are 120m of wooden passerelles, ladders, and viewing platforms . . .
The descent into the 🧚♀️ Grottes des Nymphes is awe-inspiring . . .
And another little (more modern) mystery: upon exiting the 🧚♀️ Grottes des Nymphes, I looked up and spotted 🧗♂️ this little chap climbing! We happened to meet some friendly French and Canadian tourists at this point and pointed out to them the wee climber, to their delight!
[ update: I asked the Société de Développement de Trient for an explanation for this little fellow, and it turns out that it’s the fairy that protects the Grotte aux Nymphes . . . a little more ethereal magic! “ . . . la nymphe en verre (sic), c’est la “fée” qui protège les gorges . . . elle a été posée il y a 3-4 ans par la Société de Développement de Trient. Elle a été fabriquée par le souffleur de verre de Trient, M. Christophe Huguenin . . . elle est enlevée en hiver et remise en place chaque printemps ! “.
distance of direct aller-retour: 2,7km;
timing of direct hike: 2 hours (with rest breaks and viewing time);
dénivelé: – / + 252m;
best time to visit: May until October (to be avoided after huge rainfall, as path and wooden walkways would be very slippery);
more information: here;
🚙 parking: 🅿️ Tête-Noire car park (Le Plan bus stop, 1929, Trient, Switzerland);