At the centre of a huge commune which covers 165 km2 and borders both Italy and France, the village of Orsières is the fruit of an arranged marriage : that of the route over the Saint Bernard Pass (or Mont Joux as it was then) and the River Dranse. From Bourg-Saint-Pierre to Martigny the Celts’ (the local tribe were the Véragres) track later became a roman road and then a royal thoroughfare always following the same route with a single bridge over the river: in Orsières.
This bridge was of great strategic significance so a fortified house was built to guard it. This castle gave the name "Châtelard" to the hamlet around it. A little lower down another village grew sufficiently important to be called a borough - "Le Bourgeal".
But it was on the east bank of the river that the village grew most, with three churches successively occupying the same spot and a long street of shops stretching out whose colours today bear witness to the wealth of bygone years.
The town that now bears the name of Orsières is first mentioned shortly before the year 1000 AD. Bishops and brigands (highwaymen), emperors and adventurers, pilgrims and merchants often passed through. But, in 972 AD, the gangs of Saracens who were pillaging the area around the Mont Joux and holding travellers to ransom, seized Mayeul, a Papal Councillor and Abbot of Cluny, not far from the bridge in Orsières. The story of this kidnapping put Orsières on the map, but the hostage takers were chased out of the Alps shortly afterwards. The bears, which were common in the area, gave Orsières its name and its coat of arms.
Up until the 13C Orsières was home to the Entremont "vidomat". An administrative reshuffle by the Count of Savoy put the community under the jurisdiction of the Lord of the Manor of Sembrancher, while everyday business was overseen by a bailiff, an office which, with few changes, became that of the President of the Commune at the end of the “Ancien Régime” or Old Order.
At the junction of two alpine valleys, Orsières is the gateway to Aosta and Italy over the Great-Saint-Bernard or from the Val Ferret or Champex up into the mountains around the Mont Blanc. One can’t leave without admiring the 14C bell tower and the century old church. Nearby those interested can visit Champex where the Alpine Garden is a rare jewel in the setting of the lake or they can explore the Val Ferret, stopping to admire the restored water mill at Issert. Also close by are the sunny balcony that is home to Verbier and the Nature Reserves of the Haut Val de Bagnes, the Combe de l’A and the Val Ferret.