5 Oct 2019: Brives-Charensac to Le-Puy-en-Velay

Distance 5km High temperature 61

Finally the big day arrives: to complete the route between Prague in the Czech Republic and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border.

Of course one begins with breakfast, in. most civilized fashion, listening to Mozart and overlooking the peaceful garden. Then it is an hour’s walk along the river – a very pretty route.

Just on the edge of the old town, the Chapel of St Michael comes into view, perched atop its volcanic rock.

Le Puy has been a pilgrimage site in its own right since before the millennium; there was a station here of the monastic order whose duty was to protect pilgrims.

After dropping my pack at the hotel, I set off for the cathedral, which sits on its own lofty perch.

On the way up, the other major landmark comes into view: a 16m (50 ft) statue of Notre Dame, cast from 210 cannons captured at the Siege of Sebastopol on her feast day.

The cathedral is famous for its combination of Romanesque architecture with Moorish decoration.

There are actually two Black Madonnas in the cathedral; the upper one is in the main nave, while the lower one is in a side chapel.

And the famous departure portal, where pilgrims head southwest toward Santiago.

Not long after, I cross paths with a Swiss woman from earlier in the week. We agreed to dinner and it was quite a celebratory feast!

Lodging: Le Bilboquet Hotel

4 Oct 2019: Saint-Julien-Chapteuil to Brives-Charensac

Distance 13.2 km High temperature 61F

Starting wind chill 32F

Now that we are over the mountains the towns are larger: more services, more lodging options, more suburbs. While organizing the logistics in the small towns is a challenge, the walking is very pretty.

Underway 0830 to a bit of sunshine peeking under the cloud bank. While it did not last long, it did an excellent job of taking the chill off the air. Some of the local horses are enjoying the morning sun.

The route follows the highway shoulder for a ways before descending to cross a pasture and then a stream. Do not be put off by the vehicle ford and your lack of long legs; there is a foot crossing 100m further on. The hamlet of Eynac is nestled against one of the old volcanic cores. You can clearly see the long crystal rock formations – from the same process that produced the Devils Postpile formations at various places around the world.

At Tournecol, which is more exurban than farming, there is a small park with comfortable bench and picnic table. The town of Saint-Germain-Laprade is not as nice. The entry to town pulls one of the FFR’s “three sides of a square” routing, when one side would suffice. So, at the knoll just past the highway underpass, bear left rather than right. Also, The Romanesque church dating from 1100’s is completely closed up. As a saving grace there is a park bench in the plaza in front of the church. Also a public WC and, the next block on, an ATM. Then suburban walking to the edge of town, where there is a roundabout with bus stop (frequent service to Le Puy). After about a half- hour’s Road-shoulder march the route departs the highway, heading up and over a ridge and descending by a forested draw to the suburban edge of Brives. Then, more suburban sprawl-marching through Brives.

Lodging: Chambre d’hotes Charteux, an Estate in a former Cistercian monastery, built 1750.

3 Oct 2019: Queyrières to Saint-Julien-Capteuil

Distance 11 km High temperature 52F

Starting wind chill 32F

Attention, all you walkers who write to the forums inquiring about shoulder-season weather on this route! The season has changed, and the daily highs have dropped 20 degrees F. The wind was blowing all night and into this morning.

The cloud deck at ground level, the fresh breeze and the near-freezing chill combine with the short distance planned for today to induce a leisurely start. Underway at 1000 wearing merino t-shirt, lightweight fishing shirt, puffy jacket, rain shell, hiking pants, rain pants, and my Buff turned into a beanie, I am comfortable only if I am walking. The sheep are hard at work already.

Vistas over the valley below show the old volcanic cores.

After a steep and Stoney descent to the valley floor, it is a bit warmer with less breeze.

We pass some interesting new construction, combining eco-engineering with modern architecture. Not everything in France is ancient stone.

The route passes through hamlets whose stone walls must be centuries old, then skirts some of the old volcanic cores.

In the event one is interested, a climbing route is available over the top. It would surely offer a splendid panorama.

Where the route divides, and the GR 65 goes uphill left, we instead follow the SDC Scallop downhill to the right, along a creek where mills were located, before coming into Saint-Julien-Chapteuil from the northeast.

Lodging: Chambres Pelerins Guillard. This is a private home that makes overnight lodging available to credentialed pilgrims. M&M were themselves pilgrims, ten years ago. Quiet, friendly location only 4 blocks off the GR 65.

2 Oct 2019: Saint-Jeures to Queyrières

Distance 11.5 km High temperature 53F

The squalls of last night have eased to passing showers, and the wind is a steady 22+ knots (would be too much for an umbrella). So I am phenomenally relieved that my plan for the day is to stop at Querières rather than going on another 10km to Saint-Julien-Chapteil, as my fellows from last night all elected to do.

Underway at 0930, having waited out the most recent shower, and rigged for rain.

Today is pastures and small hamlets with only a short stretch of forest. I see more horses today, mostly the big beefy butterscotch-colored ones I think are Comtois draft, originating in the Jura mountains east of Lyon. On previous days I have also seen the dappled gray Percheron, another French draft breed.

In Araules, the first town, the gite, bar, and restaurant are all closed. That means Tence is the last point to resupply. However there is a covered bus stop that shelters from the continuing wind and rain for a morning break.

Then more pasture as the trail works its way up to the high point of the route. Literally: in French “point culminant”, in German Hochtestpunkt. 1268 meters.

Past it and the next hamlet of Raffey, vistas of the Le Puy volcanic plateau open up.

Lodging: La Boria Delh Chastel chambres et Table d’hotes

Very friendly host and a very comfortable setting.

This place is full of some truly gorgeous woodwork, very similar to the old Swiss chalets.

Dinner was a homemade aperitif, garden tomatoes in vinaigrette with dried ham, sausage and mashed potatoes, cheese and fruit for dessert. My companion at dinner was a late-arriving Swiss woman from Zurich, who had previously met the group I had dinner with yesterday. It’s a small world!

1 Oct 2019: Tence to Saint-Jeures

Distance 9 km High temperature 73F

Today is an actual short day. Honest. I need a bit of rest before tomorrow’s climb.

Today is Tuesday and so all the shops are open in Montfaucon as I pass about 0900. It is another crisp fine fall day, with a Danish couple ahead of me and a Swiss man from Bern behind. As I await the ride from Madame, she directs me to visit the chapel, which has a series of 12 very special oil-on-wood paintings by Abel-Grimer (c. 1520, a student of the Dutch Masters). No Pilgrim stamp but very worth the visit nonetheless.

Tuesday is market day in Tence, with everything needful on offer: fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and cheeses, shirts, pants, shoes, hats, scarves. And noshes to nibble on site.

Tence is a larger town, with a winding Pilgrim route, easy to walk in a circle even if careful. Watch for the poorly marked stone portal on the left, leading the the way out of town. Approaching the stream, we pause to let the shepherd and his large flock (a hundred?) go across first. Sheep don’t share bridges.

After a short climb through a suburban area, the way breaks out into nice views, with the usual alternation between forest and pasture, and a few small hamlets.

Although the day started a cloudless blue, I know Rain is forecast for tonight, and clouds approach from the north over the course of the day. They are quite threatening by the time I enter Saint-Jeures.

The speed-demon Danes (remember I was driven 16.5 km to Tence; they walked it) have beat me to the gite by ten minutes. Bravo! And no sooner had we settled in our rooms than those black clouds opened up and rained sideways. Good timing! Not to mention the second squall line, that brought lightning and hail.

Lodging: Le Fougal chambres et table d’hotes

Wonderful place, 12 for dinner which was a feast: vegetable soup, rolled pork roast, roast root veg with fromage blanc, and for dessert baked alaska. I’m sure the French call it something else. Delicious!

30 Sep 2019: Montfaucon-en-Velay to Tence

Distance 16.5 km High temperature 71F

Underway at 0930 for a surprisingly complicated day that was intended to be shorter. Under normal circumstances I would be staying in Tence tonight (10 km but the next town is another 8 km, making too long a day, and I am in no rush). However Tence is full. So Madame my host in Montfaucon-en-Velay will retrieve me late this afternoon from Tence, and take me back to her hotel for the night. Then, in the morning she will return me to Tence where I will resume walking. Simple?

Due to these arrangements I can leave behind the majority of my kit, taking only a jacket, water and e-reader in my small compressible day-sack. (Such situations are only one reason to carry such.)

At breakfast I chat with the other lodgers, all with packs and hats, obviously walkers. They are three German men who have been walking from their home in Düsseldorf by sections over the past 15 years.

Montfaucon-en-Velay is a big town with all services; within 2 blocks of the hotel, in the center of town, I see 2 banks, at least 2 bakeries, a Tourism Office, and 2 churches.

Leaving Montfaucon-en-Velay, it is a fine fall day, cool with a bit of breeze. There are fine views to the north …

and to the south … (note the cones on the horizon)

… which is my direction of travel today. Backyard gardens have thriving zinnias and dahlias, even hydrangeas (although it would be too late for these at home).

At a crossroads, with an ubiquitous roadside cross, stands a plaque which explains why this is so. It’s helpful to remember how very superstitious the countryside was, and how religion and magic and the supernatural were often conflated. Apparently in olden times, it was thought that demons and sorcerers gathered at the crossroads at night. Crossroads made it easy for them to meet up. So the roadside crosses were a way to stake a territorial claim for the forces of good, denying the place to the forces of evil. This explains why we see so many of them as we walk along, since our Pilgrim route often uses the old roads.

About 45 minutes from Montfaucon-en-Velay there is a bus shelter at a small roundabout, that would provide a roof against rain.

The route continues over an alternating pattern of pasture and forest, giving occasional panoramic views from the ridgeline. The small cones of the ancient volcanoes are multiplying on the horizon.

Mid-afternoon I pass markers commemorating an internment camp on this, the site of an old silk factory, where refugees from the Spanish Civil War were housed.

As it turns out, the French guide, which claims today’s route is 10.2 km, is incorrect. The Swiss guide, counting 16.5km, is correct. I’m extremely glad this was only a day-pack day!

Lodging: Hotel Le Platanes in Montfaucon

Dinner tonight was a feast well-earned: cream of pumpkin soup, pan-browned trout with zucchini flan and lentils du Puy, and fromage blanc with berry coulis for dessert.

29 Sep 2019: Le Setoux to Montfaucon-en-Velay

Distance: 17km High temperature 79F

This was another very long day, but with much shorter climbs: three of 125m, 70m, and 160m respectively. Underway at 0830 and arrived 1530, including the hour break for lunch. So it was not so difficult, but I am ready for a few shorter days!

On departing Le Setoux, there is a modern statue to St Jacques, showing the four routes crossing France.

A nice mix of pasture land and forest today. The three climbs were up three successive ridges, so there were fine views of the valleys as well as welcome breaks of shade.

Just outside Montfaucon-en-Velay I came across (actually they nearly ran me over) an enormous off-road vehicle rally. About 500 vehicles in the camping area, another 50 parked heater-skelter in the woods, and yet another 50 on the obstacle course, which had been seriously engineered. The medic tent had at least three ambulances standing by. This was a huge event! And some of these guys were stuck- great committees gathered to try to unstick them. I would have had more sympathy except their raucous racket had no place on my Pilgrim path. Think I’ll write the FFR.

Heaving a sigh of relief, I made it into town with no further ado. Do take the compostella marked route rather than the GR one; it will save you 15 minutes and passes the first gite.

My lodging – normally closed on Sunday, but since I was a Pilgrim and called ahead for reservations, they would feed and lodge me (this is why you call ahead, folks) is the hotel Les Platanes, which has been in the same family since 1907. Madame speaks English.

28 Sep 2019: Bourg-Argental to Le Setoux

Distance 17 km. High temperature 71F

After lingering over breakfast to address some business networking issues for my host, I was finally underway at 0845. There was also a church stop with a Black Madonna (possible copy of the one at Le Puy). No Pilgrim stamp however.

The climb started immediately; this was to be a long day and a ~2000ft climb, mostly a track wide enough for two abreast or a vehicle. At the edge of Bourg-Argental the elevation was 534m. A steep but short section ended at the Mounes fork 643m. After it was mostly a very gentle grade along an old rail line, the latter half being paved. Passed a Hunting party assembling, with trailers of very excited dogs and many neon orange shirts. Some camouflage pants and a few belts of shotgun shells. Later there was a hillside with dairy cows and a cacaphony of cowbells. About two hours in, passed St Sauverin de Rue picnic ground with tables. This is the location of a former rail stop. The old station has been converted to a lending library – and is recessed enough to offer considerable shelter from any inclement weather.

Departed the rail grade at 850m with another short steep stoney section, ending in forest. The forest track, although wide, is generally quite roughly stoned underfoot. There is a forest shelter at 966m. The second shelter indicated on iPhiGéNie did not materialize. A false top appeared at 1045m then contour following until the GR7 junction, after which more climbing until the actual top at 1204m.

In the forest there were active logging operations; only it being a Saturday saved me from their noise and bother. It being forest and this being autumn, mushrooms were springing up all over.

It was a long day -8 hours – but the views westward (of the days ahead) were lovely. This included hourly rest pauses and a longer noon break, so even at my slow pace this is doable.

Then the real adventure began: finding my lodging. There was a very large family party that had booked up the gite (Gite Le Combalou), so the gite host prepared an alternative. I was to wait for her at the chapel, and she would pick me up at 6pm, and drive me 2 km to the next town to an affiliate establishment for the evening. So, arriving about 4:30, I found the chapel. And watched the townspeople stroll by. And the cows come home. Twice. But 6 o’clock came and went. I was becoming concerned that neither meal nor bed was going to materialize. We ended up with Plan C before it was all said and done. The Auberge (rustic country inn) had planned to be closed, but was now open because of the gite overflow.

I had a fun dinner with two Swiss women from Bern, who had passed me in the morning. The menu was rabbit in cream sauce with pasta, followed by cheese, fromage blanc with homemade berry preserves, and several rounds of the local digestif.

Lodging: Auberge Riboule

Small place with only 5 rooms and a shared bath, but M&M were kindness itself and a godsend.

27 Sep 2019 St-Julien-Molin-Molette to Bourg-Argental

Distance: 7 km High temperature 78F

SJMM is a former silk manufacturing center, now artist colony, sitting at the bottom of a very narrow stream-carved valley. The town has several restaurants, a couple groceries, and a tourism office.

Underway at 0930, but lost time hunting for a bank: the post office has an ATM but does not open until 1015.

The initial climb, from creek bottom at 590m to the first bluff at 670m, is quite steep along an old wagon track (I pity the horses). But it offers wonderful views looking eastward across the SJMM gulch to the Rhône valley beyond.

The climb continues over an unpaved farm road across rolling upland pastures with a few interested cows. It is a fine day for walking: clear, sunny, a crisp autumn day, with a breeze strong enough to blow my hat (thank-you, inventor of the chinstrap). We descend a bit to the tiny hamlet of Lamponey (716m) which shows signs of previous glory: large buildings, stone walls standing, roofs long since dissolved.

Then following the contour line to the crossroads at Col du Banchett (678m), and continuing down the roughly-graveled farm road to Bourg-Argental (550m).

This is a large town, the biggest since Condrieu. A municipal campground is on the left, entering town. The main street has a bank and several restaurants and bakeries, along with quite a bit of traffic. There is bus service to Saint-Ettiene several times daily; from there rail connections to Lyon and Le Puy.

Near the gite is a cluster of bars and cafes with outdoor seating. However each establishment has its own chairs and tables, and one must sit in the proper spot. Lunch was at one of these, Freikot, which I learned after the fact has a splendid assortment of Belgian fried things-on-skewers, accompanied by Belgian fries. And Belgian beer. All of which I missed out on, because the daily special board promised a composed salad with tuna. Which was quite tasty, I must admit.

(Sorry, photo editing on the road is a bit limited. Also apologies for so few food photos; when I’m eating Demi-pension, it’s a bit awkward taking pictures of food in private homes.)

Lodging. L’isba de la Tortue. This is a brand-new gite, very conveniently located (close to the Belgian and the bank, as well as bakeries). The house itself is older of course, and the character has been preserved. Those of you familiar with my own house-renovation saga will appreciate the sort of memories elicited here. M. is friendly, a hiker herself, and speaks some English and German.

26 Sep 2019 Roisey to Saint-Julian-Molin-Molette

Distance 12 km High temperature 73F

After a lovely breakfast – including ham and eggs in consideration of my diet – we are underway about 0915. I say “we” because Madame is escorting me as far as the pass. This is an old footpath, with stone walls dating to the 1800’s but now sagging a bit in disrepair. After 1.5 km I rejoin the GR65, about 0.5 km before Le Buisson. We have a high thin overcast, but it is due to be dry today. A bit humid however.

This whole area is a spiderweb of the GR65, various marked local and regional routes, some for horses and others for bicycles. The IPhiGéNie app is invaluable for choosing your actual way. Ever since crossing the Rhône, the GR 65 route markings have been excellent: frequent, large, well placed and freshly painted. Sometimes even stickered. Also the blue and gold CSJ markings are often seen; they focus on the through-route rather than the scenic one.

All morning I flirt with the 500m contour line, until midday after Pourzin when the climb starts, topping out at St Blandin (695m) before descending, sometimes steeply, into Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette.

Although most of the day is on farm roads, paved or not, some stretches are on the stony, eroded, old footpaths. After Pourzin, the orchards of espaliered apples give way to pastures lined with chestnut trees. And views!

It was during a noon pause under one such leafy chestnut that I met an eastbound walker. These are exceedingly rare. Turns out she was walking from Barcelona to her home in Konstanz. And she said the eastbound route markings were perfectly satisfactory. True to form, the three German women from Lake Constance that I met yesterday were well ahead of me – she had run into them this morning.

My lodging tonight is in a private home, one of the pilgrim association friends. M&M were themselves pilgrims in 2009, and they enjoy sharing their home.

After an aperitif of pastis, and a huge plate of salad from her garden, the main was something I’ve never had before: stuffed eggplant. Related to a stuffed pepper, with which I am familiar. Very tasty! And a cheese plate to conclude. Wonderful tri-lingual conversation over dinner.

25 Sep 2019 Saint-Clair-du-Rhône to Roisey

Distance 15 km. Temperature 71F

Breakfast this morning was the most robust I have ever been offered in France: orange juice, at least two breads, fresh fruit compote, six cheeses, coffee or tea. And since I am on a low-carbohydrate diet, Monsieur fixed bacon and eggs as well.

Then we spent an hour trying to sort out a reservation for tonight, resorting to Google when all the options listed in the Pilgrim guide came up empty.

It has rained overnight, so things are quite humid, and there are dark clouds over the ridges to the west.

There are two ways to cross the Rhône: either the D37b bridge at Saint-Alban-sur-Rhône, or the bridge at Condrieu. The D37b, while shorter and marked as the through-route to SDC, has much more commerce on its approach and -reportedly- somewhat less pedestrian safety in its crossing. It was the original plan, once upon a time. However, since my lodging was only a km away from the Condrieu bridge, I went that way. The GR65 route goes via Condrieu and offers a perfectly lovely and peaceful paved bike route down to Chavaney.

Underway at 0900 due to aforementioned delay, reaching Chavaney about 1130. It’s very pleasant walking along the river, watching the swans. Fall is just beginning to touch here; the fall berries (rose hips? Pyracantha?), yellow fall crocus, and honeysuckle all add color. Morning joggers and some cyclists pass occasionally. A few of the bicycles are rigged for touring.

The Lyon area is famous for its trompe l’oeil paintings, with 3-D realistic street scenes. Chavaney sports one too.

Just as the route departs the main street there is a small grocery, and 50m further a small park by a stream, which offers a shady bench for a noon pause.

After exiting Chavanaey the climb starts, and today ascends about 260 meters (155 to about 410 – some of the crossroads signs indicate elevation). This has an early steeper section that is only a footpath of an ancient sort, judging by the depth of moss on the rock walls and the banks way over my head.

The climb is broken up by a stop at a small pilgrim chapel, recently renovated and open. A large group of walkers could take shelter here, or just rest a bit. Unfortunately no pilgrim stamp. I met three German women from Lake Constance as I was leaving; they too are walking to Le Puy this year. Three earlier French walkers did not stop to speak.

Later on, the climb is on more gentle paved farm roads. The grape harvest is starting, and I see quite a few tractors towing carts of grape bins. No wonder, as pregnant as these vines are looking.

I leave the marked GR65 at Ribaudy, heading up more farm roads (some paved, some not) to my lodging.

A passing shower tests how quickly I can rig for rain, but clears after only a few minutes and I escape my fig tree shelter. The sun comes out and dries me off in short order.

Lodging: Le Grand Noë

This is a gorgeously renovated farmhouse on a ridge with expansive views of the Rhône valley. Also more high-end than I would normally use, but finding a place was very difficult. M & M both speak English (trying to keep up with their Anglophone grandchildren), and are very friendly and hospitable.

Madame prepares a lovely dinner in her impressive kitchen: rolled pork roast, green beans, ratatouille, tossed salad, and a cheese course followed by apple-pear crumble. Absolutely delicious! We were joined at dinner by a German couple (he formerly a Swiss) so it was a Tri-lingual conversation around dinner.

Turns out, the reason all us walkers are having a hard time finding lodging near Chavaney is that the new nuclear plant employs 6000 people, and the employees and commercial travelers have filled up the available rooms. This situation will likely persist for awhile, so walkers are advised to book well in advance in this area (a days march radius around Chavaney).

Once More Into the Breach 2019

There is still the “missing link” from the Rhône up to Le Puy, so with the end of the series of record-breaking heat waves in Europe, I am setting off again. With the end of summer, temperatures have moderated and the weather is good for walking. While I am not very interested in walking in Spain or reaching Santiago, I would like to return to Le Puy, where I started so many years ago.

What’s different this year? For one I now carry a portable baggage scale – to help my pack resist the temptation to add weight as I go. I am also carrying a Garmin InReach Mini, which allows calls for help in the event of no cell service. And, because I am tired of endlessly chasing French market hours, I am carrying 2 pounds of nuts, which can easily become breakfast, lunch, or dinner as the need arises. My smartphone also has a few new tools: an IPhiGéNie subscription so I get detailed route mapping on topo maps; a subscription to iTranslate because my French is still poor, and Dark Skies, which gives temperature and precipitation forecasts hourly.

I flew into Lyon, took the Rhone-express into town, and the SNCF commuter rail down to Saint-Clair-des-Roches. From there it was an easy ten minute walk to my chambre-d’hote. I was able to book here through Booking.com from the US, and there was no online booking available in Pelleagues du Rousillion, which is where I actually left off last year.

The train station in Lyon offered its usual magnificent assortment of take-away food, so I picked up a sandwich for dinner.

My fellow-lodgers were a German couple of bike tour down the Rhône to Arles, and we had a nice chat.

Lodging: Guest House Domaine des Grouilleres

This place offers two comfortable bedrooms with baths ensuite, a separate shared kitchen and a small reading area. Lovely views of the ridges westward. Although neither Monsieur nor Madame speak English, they worked with my sparse French and were very adept with Google Translate. A huge breakfast is included. Highly recommended.

Equipment Notes 2018

This is my seventh year walking the Way of St James across Europe (hard to believe, I know – who would have thought this in the beginning?). So I have had lots of practice refining my equipment kit.

Pack. 38 liters is quite enough unless you need to carry extensive rain or cold-weather gear. I used an Osprey Exos 38 (last year’s model) which saved at least 225g (8 oz) over the Exos 48 liter model, which had been my trusty companion for many years (being itself nearly a kilo lighter than the Kestrel 48 model). It really pays to attend to the weight of the empty pack itself. The 48 is still more comfortable and gives extra space; the 38 is a tight fit but sufficient.

Poles. Pacer poles forever!

Sleeping. In anticipation of more seasonal autumn temperatures I carried my half-kilo down bag, which was comfortable but overkill. A silk sack would have been sufficient (but confining – I hate that!).

Footwear. Heeding the experience of through-Hikers on the Appalachian Trail, I opted for fabric trail runners rather than my trusty leather Lowa Renegades that had served me so well. The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 shoes (combined with my prescription orthotics) worked quite well. Their lighter weight was noticeable especially at the end of a long day, and with the orthotic they were stiff enough for the occasional stony sections. This type is especially recommended for road-walking, which is the majority of this route. I used a lighter sock also, the Darn Tough Light Hiker. No blisters or foot problems of any sort.

Headwear. In past years I used a Tilley LT6; it’s good in light Rain but hot in the sun. So this year I used a wide-brimmed raffia hat from Operations Research. It is much cooler and I’m very happy with it. Although the tag says “100% paper”, it held up well to repeated crushing (in transit) and dousing (horse troughs on hot days) without complaint.

18 Sep 2018: Begin the Return

Transit connections. 91F. 32C

I’ve made the decision to depart the route and return home. Since I have both personal friends and also pilgrim planners reading this, let me explain my reasons to both.

For friends: The heat (mid-80’s plus) in little to no shade – with prospect of more of the same throughout the coming week, plus the frustrations of poor route marking and difficulty arranging lodging, have just done me in. And we haven’t even started the big climb up to Le Puy yet. This town (Clonas RN7) has access to transit; the next town with access is Le Puy in another week. Absent the obnoxious heat, I would have walked the 10 km to Chavanay today, and taken a rest day. Or two. Chavanay is supposed to be a very nice town, right on the Rhône. In fact that would be my usual plan: to take a rest day at the one-week point.

For fellow pilgrims planning this route: I had hoped the heat of summer would moderate by the middle of September; I was wrong. Better to start around the first of October- however then there are the 2-week school holidays in France, with dates changing every year. Also the fact that the Amis guide indicates a transit connection in a certain town does not necessarily make it so; check the SNCF app to see whether there is actually transit.

Madame my host at the hotel organizes a taxi for me; €15 to the station in Peáge-de-Roussillon, which offers sporadic connections northbound and southbound by train and by bus. What you get depends on your timing. Two blocks from the station is a main square with bank and grocery. Remember, “Casino” is a chain of markets and not a gambling establishment.

Our “train” to Lyon is a bus. This is my first experience on the long-haul buses in France; it was a pleasant and relatively timely experience. We were only 15 min late leaving. SNCF, the French national railway system, has gone to using buses on the lighter runs.

I recall from previous visits the wonderful sandwiches at the Lyon train station, so I grab a portable lunch there before embarking the tram to my hotel. This is a ham sandwich with an interesting condiment: tomato pesto. Think homemade (ie, chunky) ketchup made by the spaghetti sauce ladies. It was quite tasty and worth finding a recipe. (Foodie alert!!)

To accompany it is a rhubarb tart.

Dinner is at Les Vieux Garçons, a locovore bistro recommended by the hotel. I just love sitting outside.

Starter is a Salad Lyonnaise.

The main course is a local specialty, Pike Quenelle. I was expecting small ones, like a long meatball but they do things differently here.

The cream sauce was terrific- the whole thing was not too far from a (very light) biscuit-in-gravy.

Cheese course was a local goat cheese, quite young and loose and sweet, just past butter.

Lodging: Quality Inn Confluence, which might be my new best favorite in Lyon.

17 Sep 2018: Bellegarde-Poussieu to Clonasu

Less than 17 km. 86F

Monsieur sketches for me the shortcut from his house to regain the route, which walking from town center to town center along the marked route, would be 17 km. However, I am 1-2 km past the town center, and I am Road-walking along the D134, which “splits the difference” between the main route and the marked variant. So I am shaving off some distance.

Getting an early start while the morning is still cool is vital. Roads offer gentle grades; shade and traffic vary with time of day. A few morning commuters pass me, maybe a half-dozen in 45 min, which is more than one sees on the route by-ways, but certainly not a problem for me.

After 45 min I arrive at Chappell-Sur-Surieu which has lodging, a restaurant, a bus stop.

After another 45 min I arrive at Saint-Romain-de-Surieu and regain the Route. Several hours later I pass the outskirts of Assieu, which is alleged to have services but none are visible. Then it is across cornfields and scrub along farm tracks to Clonas. Route markings are quite intermittent, leaving me in suspense for uncomfortably long intervals.

This is apple harvest time; I see quite a few orchards of these espaliered apple trees, their bird netting held aloft lest they become apple-pie trees.

This afternoon heat is a killer! Even though I carried – and consumed – 3 liters of water, it was another liter plus at the hotel, before I felt halfway normal.

The hotel has a campground adjacent; both are about a km south of the roundabout. Usually I opt for campgrounds but I really needed to escape the heat. This is a two-star establishment (indicates the placard), of the sort we usually describe as “mom-and-pop”. “Pop” seems to be not in evidence however. Madame is the sort of bottle-blonde, lifelong smoker, barkeep who often saves the day in noir detective stories.

Dinner is decent and acceptable but mundane: pasta salad, medallions of pork tenderloin with potato cakes, ice cream for dessert.

Lodging: Hotel Des Nations, Clonas (RN7). The room is clean and decently appointed; Wi-Fi has an intermittent connection.

16 Sep 2018: Revel- Tourdon to Bellegarde-Poussieu

10 km 81F

Between the weekend, and the spacing of towns, and the warmer weather, I decided to make today a shorter day. It’s Sunday after all.

After more multi-lingual discussions over breakfast, I set out just as the local market was beginning to set up. The cheese lady was first. Shortly I passed a goat dairy (why else would you have a herd of goats?) which might have been hers.

The route is mostly paved this morning, and makes some unexpected turns, which are marked if you look carefully. The first bench is by a Gîte and two walkers are just departing; I have a nice chat with the two young Bavarians. They invite me to walk with them, but I know their pace will be twice my own. They report two French and one Austrian in addition to themselves last night. Our parties continue to bump into each other over the course of the morning as we wend our way up the hill in the increasingly hot and humid day. At midday, shortly after the water tower (always at the crest of the hill), the route forks. The north route is shorter but the southern route has more and nearer towns. There is also a large picnic shelter, with a water supply across the way. From there it is all downhill to Bellegarde-Poussieu.

Sort of. At the entry to town, there is some mistake with the markings and I end up quite misdirected, with the result of an extra hour slog. (NB: ignore the double-X route markings, follow the sign towards the “Restaurant-Bar”.

Fortunately the Restaurant is open, and offers a redemptive experience. The first course was escargots on a bed of spinach topped with garlic cream sauce (and then the lot run under the broiler).

The main course called itself a filet of trout in mustard sauce, but either they ran out of Plan A and substituted salmon or else it was steelhead trout. Served with a vegetable sauté that was almost a ratatouille (mustard instead of tomatoes). Entirely exquisite.

Dessert (it’s Sunday dinner after all) is a tart. Pink. Perhaps nuts or praline; certainly not berry.

Alas, two hours is really as long as one can stretch a lunch break, even for Sunday dinner. So I set out once more and after more than an hour of road-hoofing, finally arrived at my lodging. The bad route markings had added 5-6 km to what had been planned as a short day. All told it was a 4-liters of water day, leaving me just done in.

Because of the paucity of lodgings on the Geneva route, the pilgrim association has organized private homes as a supplement. These have been available all along the route, but I have not used them before. Since everything else in the vicinity was fully booked, though, I gave them a try. Everyone’s private home is different of course, but this particular experience did not leave me inclined to repeat. Your mileage may vary, as we say.

16 Sep 2018: Faramans to Revel-Tournon

12.5 km. 74F

Madame warned at breakfast that Pommiers, the next town, was celebrating Heritage Day this weekend, so everything would be closed (except the church and the chateau). So it is just as well I had not planned to overnight here.

The route from Faramans is flat and totally unedifying farm roads for the first hour. Then, just as the route was turning into a shady lane, things got more exciting. Yesterday I had noticed a wayside placard warning walkers to wear their orange safety vests, due to hunting season. Today is Saturday, and the guys, their gun dogs and their guns were out. Fortunately they spotted me and held their fire until I was well past.

Pommiers is a hill town. So one must climb the hill; some stretches are shady but not all. It might be an unpleasant surprise at the end of a long day from Côte-St-Andre.

As you enter town, there is a low retaining wall, making the first bench of the day. It offers a fine view, with prospects of the surrounding ridges and countryside. And a cooling breeze, which is very welcome.

Another hundred meters brings us to the actual crest of the hill, with its Romanesque church. Nearby are public WC, Mairie and post. No other services.

Outside the church I meet three Swiss women from Neuchatel, who are walking the route in one-week stages due to ongoing family commitments. They are moving more quickly than I (25 km/day) and today is their last day walking.

The afternoon is a farm road along the ridge line so there is a breeze and often shade. I see the first field of sunflowers this trip, with the Central Massif in the hazy distance.

The route through Revel-Tourdon is a bit circuitous, looping around several blocks before swinging past the church and depositing me at the Auberge. The church still has an altar and an important grave (legend indistinguishable), but no seating so I doubt it is still in active use. However, the stained glass windows are modern and stunning.

The Auberge is a small (6 rooms) country inn with a bar and restaurant. Friendly staff and very comfortable.

It’s a lively dinner table, with a Canadian couple from Montreal (first timers, no credential) and a couple from Venice (they did the Via Francigenia from Canterbury to Rome), none of whom had yet been successful in making reservations for the next night. Around about the cheese course we solved that problem. This is a simple inn, so the meal was simple but well-prepared. Tossed salad, pan-fried cod with carrots and potato croquettes, cheese.

Lodging: Auberge-Restaurant L’Escapade, Revel-Tourdon

15 Sep 2018: Saint-Hilaire-de-la-Côte to Faranans

14.5 km. 78F

After a plentiful breakfast, I set out fairly early to take advantage of the morning cool. There had been a brief shower overnight so temperatures were returning to their seasonal normals.

The route today, as was the case yesterday, is a half-half mix of unpaved farm roads and paved but very lightly traveled country byways. Many stretches have shade (much appreciated!); others are pasture or corn.

About a half hour in, approaching Gillonnay, is the intersection with the route to Arles. This runs south along the length of the Rhône valley. From Arles the route turns west towards Santiago, making one of the four great pilgrim routes through France (the others being Vezelay and Paris). Everything meets up at St-Jean-Pied-de-Port on the Spanish border, just before crossing the Pyrenees.

Another half hour and one arrives at the parish church of St Maurice in the hamlet of Valeniers, which has a credential stamp, public WC, shady benches with views of the valley, and lovely modern design stained glass windows.

A half hour yet again brings one to Côte-St-Andre, which ranks as a small city. This ancient place had a chain of water-driven mills and was the birthplace of Hector Berlioz. Entering from the east, there is a tiny pilgrim rest with info placard and bench.

It takes a half hour to traverse the town. Be attentive to the markings as you are routed downhill via a series of staircases, ending at a large market shelter just across from the Mairie. The Mairie has a WC if you ask at the Accuiel desk. (Mairie generally do a good job of looking after pilgrims.) Leaving town there is a five-way intersection where you must again be attentive to the route markings.

After awhile one comes to the foot of a very old way – the depth of erosion is well above my head – that leads swervingly uphill.

Shortly after you come out, there is a bus shelter with full-length bench. Perhaps another 200m brings you to Balbins-Ornacieux. The church has a covered bench on the approach side; on the further side the Bibliotheque has a public WC and an unsheltered bench.

The rest of the afternoon is a bit of an agricultural slog, until nearly at Faramans. There is a quite lovely county park, with WC, lake and picnic tables. Also a parcours if you happen to have some spare energy. Crossing several footbridges can be disorienting so mind the route markings. Soon you are on the main drag into town.

My lodging is in a “farm Gîte”. That means chickens, with their fresh eggs for breakfast. Also roosters – no one sleeps in around here. Madame and Monsieur are cheerful hosts. She is busy making quince preserves while calling for my upcoming reservations. Dinner is a simple, homey meal of tomatoes fresh from the garden, sautéed carrots with onions, beef medallions au jus. Cheese of course. Prefaced by Eau de Noix she made herself, and followed by Chartreuse, the locality liqueur. Oh and quite a bit of conversation!

Lodging: Gîte á la ferme, Faramans Run by a lively older couple.

14 Sep 2018 Le-Grand-Lemps to St-Hillaire

8.5 km. 88F

It’s warm and muggy this morning (think Washington DC in August). The Lyonnaise are dressed for the weather though: many young adults wearing very dressy shorts, in costumes that would be entirely appropriate in an office. Older women are in capris, and I see only a few men in suits. Scooters outnumber bicycles among the train commuters; I suppose their light weight and compact size win the day.

To reach Le-Grand-Lemps from Lyon takes metro, tram, and two train segments. The apps from Lyon Metro and SNCF are invaluable for planning these connections. While the entire country is not as well-served by transit as Switzerland is, there are large zones around the major cities that do have good service. So about 2 hours by train, in zones surrounding Geneva, Lyon and Paris. This is helpful as the Via Gebennensis (GR65 from Geneva to Le Puy) passes southeast of Lyon. My connections this morning take several hours.

The countryside is in corn, some of which is still standing in the field, well-browned by the heat waves of this summer. Some has been harvested already, leaving behind flat and dusty bare earth.

The town center has a church, post, bank, Boulangerie and a bar. Madame the baker had lovely sandwiches on multi-grain baguettes she baked herself. One was made with duck; I adopted it for lunch later on. The small rail station at Le-Grand-Lemps is on the south side of town. The pilgrim route lies along the north side. So I elected to take the county road D73 out of Le-Grand-Lemps, because Pythagoras. After thirty minutes we joined the pilgrim route and all was well.

The route is well marked in this area, using both the red/white GR scheme and the blue/yellow scallop (not necessarily on the same tree).

The plan for today was abbreviated due to the late start and the heat; but it was a good decision.

My lodging is a Gîte in an old farmhouse, complete with chickens and sheep (who are busily mowing the lawn). It’s just immediately up the hill from the church plaza, perhaps 20m off the route.

The church was locked tight, but across the church plaza is a pilgrim picnic shelter with public WC. No other services here; the town business district is down the hill.

Madame, the owner’s daughter, is catering for me. She speaks a little English, and I speak a little French. We limp along just fine, between us. This farmhouse is actually her father’s, and she is responsible while he is away on vacation. For dinner, she took me to her house for a home-cooked meal with her family. Tomatoes and zucchini from her garden, grilled steak, fresh figs, a cheese course, and a bit of flan to top it off. Just delightful to share in a family setting.

Gite La Ceriseraie, Saint-Hiliare-de-la-Côte

2018 Geneva Route Part 2: Once More Into the Breach

This year’s section, from Le-Grand-Lemps to Le-Puy-en-Velay, is the missing link between Prague and the Spanish border. After suffering in the heat of July last year, I had hoped that returning to a September schedule would be cooler.

I was wrong. Lyon was baking in a 91F humidity haze when I arrived. The airport, recently constructed, has the same circuitous flow that is maddeningly familiar to anyone who has passed through CDG. Eventually one escapes the terminal building to encounter this spectacular new train station.

However, that is not the station you want. Pass through it, following the signs for “Lyon Express” which is the light rail to town center. Its platform is squirreled away in an oblique corner. Not intuitively obvious – but then that applies to all transport in France. At €16 one way it is stiff, but not as stiff as the €70 taxi fare last year (warning for early flights: trains don’t start running until 0500 and take 30 min one-way.)

I settled comfortably into my room at Hotel Silky, the same place I used last year. It is only two blocks from the Cordeliers Metro and can be booked on Booking.com. Dinner was at the cafe next door.

Cafe G has abundant outdoor seating (with a separate smoking section- do not choose it by mistake) along with sumptuous inside seating with a classic pre-war motif. Dinner was an aperitif of champagne and Aperol, and two salads. The first was a lovely composed salad of green beans, artichoke hearts and tomatoes, topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a poached egg. The second was a local dish – all meat – prepared from veal feet and noses. While I can envision your reaction, trust me, it was delicious! For dessert a sundae of three different ice creams (praline, raspberry, white chocolate) topped with whipped cream.

Lodging: Hotel Silky, Lyon

2017: Geneva Route Part I Logistics Retrospective

The Geneva-Le Puy section takes about a month of walking at my pace (15-18km, rest day once a week). So making the halfway point at Le Grand-Lemps worked as well as any. The other possible dividing point is Les Abrets, which also has a train station.

This section has some significant differences from the route after Le Puy. It is much more populated; so the towns are larger, they have more services, and they come along more frequently. Lodging choices are relatively abundant, and also more expensive (while walking solo I was averaging €60 a day; sharing lodging in the group averaged €40). This is an area favored by tourists so they compete for the lodging.

July, with its quite hot weather and its competing tourists, is not the right time to walk this section (nevertheless many do). It sometimes offers splendid views, which are rightly earned. The lower elevations are easier walking but not as visually interesting. The river dominates the geography, and offers boating and camping.

Most walkers encountered this month were Swiss. We found two Germans, one British, and one Austrian. According to one host, in the spring he gets the through-walkers heading to Santiago all in one go, in the summer he gets working people who walk 1-2 weeks on their holidays, and in the fall he gets retirees who are also walking fairly short stages.

Wifi was available every night save one; cell service was generally available. Groceries were less abundant and rather sporadic, so one needs to plan carefully, especially if camping and self-catering. (One Swiss family with small children at one of the campgrounds had been hungry, since there were several days without supplies early on.) Breakfast was typically generous in the French fashion: plentiful bread, butter, jam, and coffee or tea. Often cheese as well. Lunch was sometimes available at a restaurant if the day is timed properly. Dinner generally included an appetizer, plentiful main, cheese course followed by dessert – all featuring produce from the garden.

Transportation connection information in the Amis’ “yellow guide” is somewhat misleading, as they indicate train connections when there aren’t actually any. Check the SNCF smartphone app for actual train information. Buses are also notable by their absence and taxis are practically non-existent. So you and your pack are going to walk. This minimal transport infrastructure is a considerable difference from the situation in Switzerland.

Lodging hosts are friendly and helpful with recommendations, and will call ahead to organize the next night if asked. Calling for reservations is the norm; very few of these have email or websites. The Amis guide has all the lodging contact info.

On this section, I did not take advantage of any of the Amis private home accommodation; the one or two towns I checked, the homes were located in the suburbs and required an additional 2-3 km walk.

The campground facilities for non-tenting pilgrims should definitely not be overlooked. These can be a lifesaver when more standard accommodations are full, and a budget saver as well.

Drinking water was generally not available between towns; I have indicated every water point I passed on this route. Be prepared to bring enough water for your day. I often used my auxiliary water bottle as well as the water bladder when the day was hot.

The second half of the route crosses the Rhone valley before ascending the central massif that is the old volcanic heart in the middle of France. Just based on town distance my estimate was 13 walking days; however after looking at the elevation profiles – some days have a 1200m climb – I think 15 walking days is probably more accurate.

Perhaps next year, but surely not in July!

26 Jul 2017: Le Pin Plage to Le Grand-Lemps

Distance: 11.8 km

Weather: Sunny, afternoon high 80

Route: Dawn was a busy painter on the Lac du Paladru, for our last day of walking together.

Before setting off from the farm, we were thrilled to discover the donkey barn: a pair of solid white adults and also a solid white colt. Much cooing ensured, as we began what was to become Livestock Day.

In 2 km of Road shoulder walking we regain the CSJ route at Le Pin (bank and small grocery). After cuddling two really beautiful black horses, we proceeded along country byways and farm roads, past geese and the first of two (captive) deer herds. It really was Livestock Day apparently. The first of two stout hills appeared, climbed by some more of those darned French mango-sized stones that roll treacherously underfoot.

Coming down this descent, we can see in the distance the imposing elevation of the Aubrac Plateau, leading to Le Puy. Two of us (the younger Swiss and the Lichtensteiner) are headed that direction, while the older Swiss and I are heading for home, done with this year’s stage.

The final hill of the day (hah! There’s always another hill!) features a quite steep and treacherous descent to Le Grand-Lemps. At the foot of said hill, bear left into town for the train station or to continue on the CSJ.

This station connects (eventually) with Lyon, and after deciphering the ticket machine (no translation function available), we obtained tickets with only minutes to spare. After making our good-byes, the pilgrim party split up to go our separate ways. I have a rest day in Lyon before returning home Friday.

(Note to current readers: I will be editing and amplifying some posts from this trip later next week; you may want to check back if you were only catching them when first published.)

25 Jul 2017: (past) Les Abrets to Le Pin Plage

Distance: 12.5 km

Weather: Rain overnight, cloudy and cool for the day’s walking, afternoon high 65F. The sun came out later, followed by drenching rain.

Route: Rolling countryside with stony farm roads giving way to chestnut forest and views overlooking the lake.  Although rain threatened all morning, all that dampened us was a few minutes of mist – hardly worth the trouble of rigging for rain, which we all did at the noon halt.

Lodging: Gite-Chambres et table d’hotes Les Balcons du Lac, 145 Chemin de Baluran, Le Pin Plage 38730
An old farmhouse overlooks Lac du Paladru.
From a crossroads 1 km before Le Pin, take the side road 1 km downhill towards the lake. There is a connecting path in the morning, no need to climb back up the hill.

Madame and Monsieur are close to their 90’s if not well into them, but they are friendly and generous hosts. Since we are short-notice guests at the height of tourist season, we gratefully accept the simple supper prepared for us from her garden abundance. There are tomatoes so dripping with juice it runs down our chins, and a zucchini tart, for starters. The main is a plate of Spanish-style ham with salami, and a filling sauté of fresh potatoes, mushrooms, and tiny green peas. A cheese course of bleu-style Camembert and Emmenthaler follows. And dessert is slices of Panetone, topped with homemade berry sauce. All very homey and domestic, and we are immensely grateful to be warm, dry, and quite well fed (as the contrary alternative was very near miss).

This is a farm, and they keep horses overnight as well.

24 Jul 2017: Saint-Genix to (past) Les Abrets

Distance: 17.5 km

Weather: Rain started at dawn, continued to late morning, and threatened the sunny rest of the day with menacing but unproductive black clouds. Cooler, with an afternoon high 73.

Route: With no breakfast ordered at the campground, and the boulangerie closed, we decided to picnic our breakfast from supplies at the grocery next door, and make a substantial brunch.

By 11 the rain had subsided and we set off, through mostly gently rolling agricultural areas. The hills all seemed to be in the “up” direction. Two hours in, a scattered shower caught us just as we arrived at a (presciently well-located) bus shelter. Then it was a long afternoon slog.

Les Abrets is a big town with all services (including a real train station). Our lodging was a further 3 km out of town on the route, however, so we continued through more cornfields and climbing more hills, until we reached the gite.

Lodging: Chambre et table pelerin- Le Juvenin, 970 route bas- Juvenan, 38490 Charancieu

23 Jul 2017: Yenne to Saint-Genix-sur-Guirs

Distance: see discussion

Weather: partly cloudy, light breeze, afternoon high 78

Route: So today I finally found the boat. This had been suggested by my hostess in Collonges and I had looked in Seyssel without success, but I was looking for the wrong thing.

One can canoe or kayak on the Rhone, and your pack will be delivered at the destination. Two available legs are Seyssel to Chanaz or from Yenne to Saint-Genix.

So the Lichtensteiner (one of my tent-mates) and I went by boat while two of the Swiss men tackled the 25 km route over the 800m mountain.

The Rhone has a spectacular limestone gorge in this section, with steep walls rising 1000ft/300m from the valley floor. Since the cameras were safely tucked away in the waterproof lockers, I have no pictures, but will try to find some links later. It was very quiet and peaceful, which was lovely. And we saw quite a few waterfowl, including a bevy of swans as well as herons and cormorants.

Afterwards, our host organized the luggage onto the camping ground at St-Genix. We spotted a tent-camping pilgrim from last night, and invited him to join us for dinner. Roger started from his home in Shrewsbury, England 109 days ago and has walked the entire way; he’s heading for Santiago. One of us asked him what he’s learned on his pilgrimage. He responded, “We all need community.” He has a blog too:  https://rogerbreakell.wordpress.com/

Lodging: Les Bords du Guirs, Saint-Genix. Highly recommended. In addition to tent spaces they have lovely modern recent cabins, very well engineered and squeezing sleeps for 5, along with full bath, kitchen, and living/dining area, into 270 sq feet. Cozy! But with four to split the bill, it was quite reasonable. Restaurant on the premises serves dinner on the terrace, and breakfast too if you order when you check in. There is a grocery next door.

22 Jul 2017: Chanaz to Yenne

Distance: 20 km

Weather: Foggy in the morning, warming as the sun broke through mid-morning. Afternoon high 90.

Route: After a few minutes steep climb out of Chanaz the route followed mostly level farm roads until late morning.

It’s cows and pastures in these higher zones, giving way to vineyards as one descends, with corn fields down near the river.

At Barcontian, the route divides again. These emblems show the two different markings. The one on the left is the main route, going left. The one on the right is the variant route (note the “point”), going right.

The main route has a steep climb up to Jongieux followed by an equally steep descent, although there are views in between. The variant heads for the river bank, which it follows in level fashion through dense underbrush for several hours before arriving at Yenne.

It has been a miserable day; long and hot. Since the Tourism office is closed for lunch, and none of my morning calls were answered, I start tramping the streets in 90F heat to find accommodation. The hotel at Yenne is full. So is the gite. Fortunately the campground has space in the eight-man tent, which is now full (one German woman, one Lichtensteiner with me, and the rest Swiss men). I’m grateful to have a roof of any sort over my head, as the first thunder claps at 4  pm.

After a shower and laundry, the world looks much more positive actually. I stop at the bakery for some pain chocolat and join two tent-mates for what starts as an aperitif and turns into a night of a very nice three-course dinner. Good food! New friends! The day is redeemed!

Lodging: Camping du Flon, Yenne. Recommended. Very friendly staff and owner. They have two tents with 12 beds total for pilgrims. Restaurants and shopping about 200m into town.

21 July: Serrères-en-Chautagne to Chanaz

Distance: 10.5 km

Weather: Partly cloudy, humid, afternoon high 85, with afternoon thunderstorms warnings

Route: Serrières-en-Chautagne has a public WC and a public camping ground with swimming lake and beach, just as the route exits town. For 45 minutes this variant works its way through county-owned tree farms, then rejoins the main route at the bank of the Rhone. This is very pretty, green, level walking with occasional views to the ridge across the river.

At the junction I meet another pilgrim, a German-speaking Swiss man who began in Konstanz and is headed to Santiago, all in three months. At the speed he is going, I think he is quite likely to make his schedule. The route follows the shady riverbank for awhile, making a sharp left at a transmission tower to join a paved bicycle route for an hour. At the Pont de la Loi railway bridge, the bicycle route turns east towards Vions (approx 1 km, with lodging and an actual train station). But our route continues ahead along a shade-free levy for an interminable half hour before arriving at Chanaz.

Chanaz is a very pretty (and somewhat touristy) village, with picturesque cafes overlooking the canal. The Tourism office has a stamp and a toilet with water, and a shady bench immediately outside.

My plan had been to continue onward another 5 km to the gite at Montagnin, but when I called for a reservation, they were full. (I suspect the group of Girl Guides leaving the Tourism office as I arrived might have had something to do with that.) At any rate, with thunderstorm warnings posted for this afternoon, there are worse places to spend a quiet summer afternoon than a garden in France, especially one with a shady reading chair.

Dinner was at a small bistro near the water. Mid-aperitif, the promised thunderstorms arrived, and we adjourned to more sheltered tables under the awning, quite secure behind the weather-drapes. A tasty plate of grilled brochette, ratatouille, and salad. As I was leaving, a young man asked about my Kindle. So I chatted quite awhile with Simon; he loves rock and roll, and had traveled in the States. He insisted on buying me a drink, a local digestif- which turned out to be Chartreuse Vert served in a frozen snifter. Well, one must wait out the thunderstorm somehow, eh?

Lodging: Gite et chambre d’hote El Camino, 89 montée du Fort, 73310 Chanaz

20 Jul 2017: Seyssel to Serrières-en-Chautagne

Distance: 12.5 km

Weather: rain last night as several showers passed through, breaking the heat somewhat. Afternoon high 84 (better than 92 but still hot!)

Route: The variant through Seyssel follows the riverbank, making a pretty morning walk. There are islands in the channel, beloved by the waterfowl, swans especially. I saw three different family groups, each with their gaggle of growing cygnets. (Gaggle is for geese – what is the collective for swans?)

After an hour and a half we meet up with the main route again at the bridge over the Fier River, whereupon another variant splits off, to follow the road  heading uphill. I decided to keep to the flat. Shortly I came to an interesting complex, something like a commercially-operated state park (a concept Americans will recognize – I’m not sure how to describe it for others). There was a ropes-type obstacle/confidence course, a lake with swimming area, a snack bar, and several different age-groups of children, each being led through activities by young adults. I would say it resembles a summer camp – under the same aegis as at the campground last night – except that there were no tents or other lodgings in sight. Just past this complex was a restaurant- bar, Le Nymphée, which offered an excellent cup of coffee. They were also preparing a very nice looking lunch – if only I were two hours later. So for walkers coming from Les Côtes rather then Seyssel, this makes a good lunch stop.

Returning to the Rhone from the Fier, soon I see a huge sign warning of “Barrage”. Immediately I think “artillery”, as I have passed military reservations in years past. However,  the French have a different language lesson in mind for me. This word is related to our verb “to bar” and refers to a dam. (I won’t bother looking up “damage”; who knows where that might end up.) Just another example of a French word that came over to English intact but changed its meaning. Another example happened at lunch. My server offered me a plateau of cheese. It was a platter that was being offered, not the geologic formation resembling one. So I stumble merrily along, thinking I am reading French just fine, when I get these surprises!

After the dam-age, there are a few quite steep ups and downs mixed into an otherwise quite routine forest track. These are steep enough that I would not want to contemplate walking this section in the reverse direction- the highway would be a much better bet.

Breaking out into the open again, the hamlet of Les Iles has a renovated lavoir, with running water but not certified potable. Still, it makes a nice place to wet one’s hat in the heat. The next hamlet, Mathy, has a picnic table and another non-potable water tap, but no other services. Here in the Rhone valley, the gardens are different: all flowers (dahlias and lillies especially profuse and colorful) with some tomato plants. These have a suburban feel, quite different from the huge country vegetable gardens of the higher region before Seyssel.

At Mathy I take the variant into Serrièrres-en-Chautagne for its food and lodging. The auberge offers a menu du jour, and the very kind lady rattles off the formula. “Yes,” I say, having no idea what will arrive, but the place is full, and locals know a good meal. They have a nice cold salad buffet, the same pork tenderloin with gravy as yesterday, that cheese platter I mentioned earlier, and a chilled fruit compote dolled up with vanilla ice cream and whipped cream on top. With wine and coffee, €14. Eat to walk, walk to eat!

Lodging: Auberge Chautagnarde and they have Demi-pension as well as lunch

Camping in Europe

Since this is such a different experience I thought I would address it at some length. Camping places are very viable as pilgrim lodging, but it’s not what you might expect.

Of course there is camping: a whole panapoly of tents and small RVs are crammed in here. I see bicyclists roll in as late as 6 pm with camping packs.

Most pilgrims don’t carry camping equipment because of the weight. This situation is also catered for: there are little cabins, or huts, or chalets, or (as here) tipis. Each sleeps 2-4, and has basic kitchen facilities (fridge, coffee, micro, griddle). With a few porch chairs and beds (bring your own sheets, or use that sleeping bag liner I know you have).

The plumbing, however, is elsewhere. All the plumbing. There is a washhouse with WCs and showers, and sinks for washing-up dishes and laundry (separately) lining the outside.

My previous experience of such places was in the Czech Republic very early in the season, and I was the only resident. But this is high season in France, and I have hordes of company. Many young families with small children, and some sort of youth group that breaks out into summer-camp chants at regular intervals – probably 200 people here altogether.

19 Jul 217: Desingy to Seyssel

Distance: 9 km

Weather: Clear and sunny, hot by 8:00, afternoon high 88 but this should be the last of this particular heat spell.

Route: From the church at Desingy (bless Monsieur my host for driving back up the hill a kilometer) the route follows mostly level country byways, through hamlets of farmers older than I, with a sprinkling of retired city folk now enjoying country living. Everyone has enormous gardens.

At Curty there is a pilgrim rest area with water point.

At the crossroads, I take the variant route to Seyssel, down a steep and gravelled (not the best combination) farm road to reach the hamlet of Les Côtes.

And then we continue down that same somewhat treacherous road. Seyssel is a very picturesque small town on the Rhone with population perhaps 3000, which counts as a big town in these parts. It has train service (station is across the river), a large church (no stamp), and a well preserved central core that has nice pedestrian streets. Lunch was at an unassuming bistro on the main square, across from the Mairie (I figured it couldn’t be bad and still be open, in a location like that). The menu du jour (often a bit of a mystery: order first and ask questions later) turned out very nicely: a composed salad plate featuring a stack of diced raw vegetables (carrots, sun dried tomatoes, yellow bell pepper, and something white – turnips maybe?) garnished with salad greens in balsamic. With a saucer of Dijon mustard on the side, it was a stir-to-your-taste. The main course was roast pork in gravy with sautéed squashes, and the dessert a chilled fresh fruit compote. With wine, less that €15.

Lodging: Camping Municipal Le Nant Maraz, 18 Rue de Genève, Seyssel. This comes recommended, and the location is terrific, right on the banks of the Rhone. A 24/7 bakery is one block towards town, and a big Carrefours grocery is directly across the street. Like most European camping grounds, you do not need a tent – they have small cabins as well as tent spots. After the splendor of last night’s castle, this bit of rusticity will restore my pilgrim “what I need is enough” mentality.

The weather has turned, which is a good-news/bad-news affair. As our local weather guessers would say, an upper level disturbance moved in midday, bringing clouds (and so, cooler temperatures) but also gusty winds and the distinct possibility of rain (somewhere, sometime). So we will see what tomorrow brings.

18 Jul 2017: Collonges d’Haut to Desingy

Distance: 9 km

Weather: Clear and sunny; warm at 9:00 and hot by 9:30, but very pleasant in any shade. Steady gentle and very welcome breeze beginning in late morning.

Route: The French do love their conversations, and with four of us at breakfast (two of Madame’s friends had stayed over), it was 9:00 before I was underway. The route descends over farm roads, past a colony of rabbits, to the town of Frangy. There is a potable water fountain at the entry to town, by the church (which has no stamp). There is a Carrefours grocery about 50m off the route. And there is a restaurant, also a bakery.

Warning: Amis Guide incorrect! Contrary to indications, there is no transport in Frangy. Also, despite having two ATM’s, neither was inclined to dispense cash. And the hotel is out of business.

Departing Frangy, the route ascends along a secondary road, which I elected to continue at the point where the marked CSJ route turned to an uphill footpath. I will take a vehicle-grade over a steep hill scramble in this heat any time!

Stopped at Champagne at the lavoir for a shade break. One sees these in small villages sometimes- the village women would gather here to wash the laundry (and socialize!). This one is being renovated. And a pilgrim pair overtook me: he from NZ (South Island), she from Geneva and on her first pilgrim walk. Young, strong, and ambitious- I wished them a good journey.

The route continues upwards, sometimes by farm road and other times by shady footpath at a decent grade. This is hard-working farming country, and the first hay crop is just in. The blackberries are turning, and vegetable gardens are in their glory. Most houses have flourishing hanging baskets of petunias, or boxes of geraniums guarding the windows.

Desingy has a WC, water point and stamp at the Mairie (city hall, where the mayor works), right across from a very pretty church with a shady north portico, perfect for an afternoon break. The marked route turns left just after the church, but I continued straight ahead and downhill for a kilometer to reach tonight’s lodging.

The shorter day was definitely the right approach for today’s heat. Tomorrow will be very hot again, and then the heat breaks. So they forecast!

Lodging: Château de Pelly, 761 Rue de Chatel, Designy

I have never stayed in a castle before! Although I’ve visited quite a few, none were overnights. So this is a new experience, driven by the need for shorter days in this heat. The original building dates from the early 13th century, according to the current owner, who has been working on the renovations for eleven years, during the winter months.

There are accommodations for families on holiday, as well as separate arrangements for pilgrims.

This nicely balances out the much more basic lodgings I had in Charly a few nights ago. And I do enjoy the variety!

17 Jul 2017: Rest Day

Fortunately Madame does not have another guest slotted in for tonight, so I am able to stay over. This is the end of the walking season; the daily afternoon temperatures are so high, the authorities have issued heat warnings.

Instead, it is a day for the garden. Madame claims she is not a good gardener, only a good cook. But the surrounding lush greenery belies this falsehood. Still, we went to visit her cousin, a few doors down, who has a very productive vegetable garden. They picked fresh herbs, tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, for a ratatouille for lunch, and a moussaka for tonight’s dinner.

Fortunately Madame speaks some English, and we have enjoyed chatting at meals. In addition to the bedroom I occupy, she has an apartment that sleeps four, with complete kitchen, all one would need for a week. Most of  her cooking is vegetarian with most of the ingredients from her own garden (some from her cousin’s, and eggs from the neighbor two doors down in the other direction).

This evening she had friends over, so we were six for dinner, very convivial. It is special to be treated like a member of the family!

We will see what the plan is for tomorrow, once tomorrow arrives.

16 Jul 2017: Charly to Collonges d’en Haut

Distance: 17 km + 5km wrong turn

Weather: clear and sunny, afternoon high 85F, a pleasant breeze.

Route: The day began sublimely, with a gentle climb and panoramic views from the ridge top. A day meant for walking; everything was just super. The village of La Motte has a rest stop with water. There is another, 200m before Contamine-Sarzin.

After that the devil required his due: the route followed an old road (deeply eroded and surfaced with stones the size of softballs) steeply up, down, and then up again over some very rough terrain. In addition to being beastly hot, this was most inconvenient for my plan to have lunch while it was actually being served. Hill climbs and races against the clock are not a good combination.

This made the midday halt at Chaumont most welcome. The terrace at Auberge du Pralet was a shady and comfortable respite from the heat, and a light lunch of lamb stir-fry was in order, since I knew there would be dinner tonight. 

After lunch, due to some faulty signage in Chaumont, I made a wrong turn exiting the town, resulting in an hour’s climb under the hot sun in the wrong direction. Fortunately when I reached a road with a landmark I was able to call my hostess for this evening, and she drove up to retrieve me. Immense gratitude!!

The views of the Pre-Alps and Jura here are super, but the heat is making me seriously reconsider my itinerary. I am only getting three decent hours of walking a day before it is just too hot – and the predictions are for warming through the week.

Lodging: Chambre d’hotes Baudet, Collinges d’en Haut

15 Jul 2017: Archamps to Charly

Distance: 19.5 km in 5 hours

Weather: Partly cloudy, afternoon high 78F, strengthening breeze as the afternoon progressed.

Route: Not only was yesterday Bastille Day, but this is the holiday weekend accompanying it. And although I had lodging reservations last night, I do not have them for tonight or tomorrow. So the usual places are full. There is a municipal  gite in Charly, so that is my objective today. This is a bit further than originally planned, so I am cutting a few corners to save the distance. This morning I walked the Road shoulder of the D18 road for the first hour, saving me 4 km. In La Forge I picked up the CSJ route again, which immediately climbed to a ridge with a nice view and a welcome breeze. A little wayside chapel – the sort I saw frequently in Germany but never in France – was erected in honor of the local men who returned from German prison camps in 1945.
After more climbing along farm roads and occasional woods, I came to the restored monastery at Pomiers. The French name for their order is Chartreuse – and yes the monks are the makers of the liquor of the same name. In America they are known as Carthusians, and in Britain their monasteries are called Charterhouse; both are corruptions of the French. This is an order of hermits – you can get a sense of their life if you watch the film Into Great Silence on YouTube. The building is now in private hands and used as an event and conference center.

Yet more climbing – gentle but insistent- about 1250 ft for the day, giving wonderful panoramic views of the Alps and Jura. And then the descent to Mount Sion for lunch at Le Clef Des Champs restaurant, a splurge since I know dinner will be sparse. Once again I sat outside; I hate to dirty up these nice places with my dusty pack and sweaty clothes. The menu du jour looked good. The appetizer was a very nice cold seafood stew of mussels and shrimp in a lemon sauce.

For the main course, local freshwater fish with summer vegetables.

Another 30 minutes walk brought me to Charly, where, despite the housewarming party involving several dozen, I was able to find the municipal gite. The elderly lady sitting on her terrace next door was kind enough to help me get settled. This is an old (several centuries) house that has been slightly updated with a full bath and small kitchen, and a room with a couple mattresses on the floor. Basic, but clean, and the location was just what I needed. I have the place to myself.

Lodging: Relais de Chez Odette, Charly

14 Jul 2017: Geneva to Archamps

Distance: 12 km (approximately)

Weather: Partly cloudy; it warmed rapidly in the morning to a high of 81F, with the breeze waiting until mid-afternoon to develop.

I’ve been visiting pilgrim friends who live near Lake Neufchâtel, northeast of Geneva. It’s been lovely to see them again, and give myself a chance to recover from jet lag. But, just as ships were not built to stay safely moored in port, this pilgrim must set foot upon the road once again.

Route: From the Protestant cathedral Saint-Pierre, where I ended the previous section and where I got an initial stamp in my pilgrim credential, the way is well- marked as the “Route 4: Via Jacobi”, as it has been all across Switzerland. Leading along lightly-trafficked streets in this heart of the old city, I see many wrought iron balconies and flower pots in the typical French style, as well as an assortment of shops, bistros, and cafes. I was too early for lunch however. Several repurposed horse fountains are along the route, starting before the cathedral, and all are marked “eau potable” so they are safe for drinking (the spigot, not the trough). It’s a great way to wet your hat on a hot day, which this was turning into. After about 30 minutes’ walking, there is a Lidl (discount German food mart) of good size with fresh baked goods. Another 10 minutes later there is a Migros (Swiss grocery chain). These are directly on the route, and the best place for resupply I saw all day. If you are disinclined to hike through downtown and suburban Geneva, tram 12 stops one block toward the Lake from Saint-Pierre, and follows the Via Jacobi exactly for the first 45 minutes of walking, where the old town ends, the suburbs begin, and there is an end-of the-tram-line loop.

Not long after that, things became interesting. The marked route departed the sidewalk and was headed toward a lovely shaded footpath; however, the path was completely blocked by a gate and chain across the entire path, wall to wall. A sign indicated two months of construction was in progress, and a map indicated a circuitous detour that tripled the distance of the affected interval ( think three sides of a square). So I set off in an effort to follow the detour. I should mention that suburban Geneva is one of those places where you cannot go around the block and end where you started. Fortunately I still had the Swiss Mobility app loaded on my iphone, with its complete map set of the Via Jacobi route across Switzerland. And Google Maps has a setting for “walking”. The walking was a bit cross-country, along paved sidewalks through some exceptional neighborhoods (Troinex was one) with very fine homes. Occasionally I would pick up a marked regional walking route, but I kept going in the right general direction. As it happened my hotel was also not directly on the route (now labeled the Chemin St Jacques because I have crossed over into France), so it all worked out in the end. For a while though, I was worried.

Meals: Having been too early for lunch in Geneva proper, I swore to stop at the first opportunity occurring after 12 noon (the canonical hour to begin lunch). The place turned out to be the very unprepossessing Auberge Croix de Ronex, which had outdoor seating under the shady sycamore trees. Do not judge a book by its cover. The kitchen produced an entirely satisfactory cold salad plate composed of fresh ripe tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella drizzled with pesto, and some thinly sliced Parma ham, all dressed with vinaigrette. Entirely routine – and entirely delicious!

Dinner is at the hotel dining room. The salad was huge; a nice assortment of chilled vegetables as well as some couscous atop a bed of local greens vinaigrette.

As well as a main plate of cheeseburger and green beans, which disappeared before the photographer noticed, I’m afraid.

Hotel: Ibis Hotel, 23 Rue Ada Byron, Archamps France. This business hotel is near the Chemin, and as it is Bastille Day here in France, I did not want to leave the lodging to chance. Clean, spacious, all the mod cons and free wifi. Available through Booking.com.

Packed and Ready 2017

It’s been a challenging two years. My plan to walk last year was scotched by a back injury sustained while carrying a rowing shell, and since then my physical therapist and I have become very well acquainted. But now I am all mended, and I have been training for several months. So I’m ready to get my foot in the road again!

What’s different in the pack this year? This is the first time I’m hiking in summer; usually I’ve been walking in May or September. So I have left behind the Ferrino Trekker raincoat with gaiters, taking instead a lightweight Helium II jacket from Outdoor Research. Rather than the sleeping bag, I’m taking only the silk sleeping bag liner. Also no long underwear, or insulated jacket. And the good news is that the dry load (no food or water) weight is only 13.5 lbs (6.1 kg)! I’m liking this a lot!

The remaining gap for me is between Geneva, where I stopped in 2015, and Le Puy en Velay where I began in 2010. (Blogs for the earlier sections are listed at the right.) However, at more than four weeks of walking, that is too long for me to be away from home these days. So I will do the first half, ending near Lyon. There are actually two routes available: one going directly from Geneva to Lyon, and the other passing south of Lyon on a more direct line to Le Puy, which is the one I will take. You can see maps and an elevation profile here: http://www.gr-infos.com/en/gr65a.htm.

The main guide for this route is published by the Amis-St Jacques (Friends of Saint James) Association (http://chemins.amis-st-jacques.org/?page_id=6) in bilingual French and German, and includes lodging information. The same association publishes guides for the related routes: to Lyon, connecting to Arles, and connecting from Vezelay.  FFR, the French hiking association, has a topo-guide available in French:  https://boutique.ffrandonnee.fr/topoguides?gr=216 .

Since this is a far more lightly-traveled route than the section from Le Puy onwards, there is not a lot of lodging infrastructure. Many nights I will be staying in private homes – the homes of Amis members. The contact phones are listed in the Amis guide. I have been working on my French ability (thanks to the Michel Thomas and Duolingo apps), but we will see if it is up to the task.

After so many years of walking, why do I still do this? Walking pilgrimage routes is many things: an amazing adventure, a spiritual retreat, and – in the week an old friend passed at far too young an age – a celebration of the sweetness of life.

Iona: Reflections

There  is something, subtle yet undeniable, about this place. It is often described as a ‘thin place’, where the boundary between Earth and Heaven is less concrete. But it is certainly a place where there is no boundary at all between Creation and the Sacred. Ican clearly sense that here, and I hope to carry it with me as I travel onward. 

Iona is a Quiet Place as well: physically quiet, with the absence of traffic, crowds, advertisements and television. Yet also a quiet place in relationships: people are respectful, compassionate, and considerate — rather than demanding, judgemental, and selfish. 

Iona is a place of Peace. Even though nature seems ready to reclaim the entire island at every turn, and the wind ruckuses, the snow swirls, and the surf pounds. The rocks, the 2 billion year old basalt and the softer green marble, still stand along the steadfast stones of the ruins. The determined hairy cows, the blithe sheep, and the endlessly playful lambs are all at home here.

There is something to be said for that: a place of Home. A place of Safety. Not necessarily a place to return to,but surely a place that prepares one to depart on the onward journey. A place of foundation. A place of new beginnings.

Iona: (Dis) Comforts

iona is a small island, 1 mile by 3 miles, in the Inner Hebrides off the northwest coast of Scotland. There is nothing between Iona and the North Atlantic. There is nothing between Iona and the Norh Pole, either.

Tuesday the wind blew, all day long and all night long, in excess of 32 mph. There were whitecaps on the sound from one side to the other. The ferry, a converted Landing Craft (Tank), wallowed from side to side in the swell, with its flat bottom. I felt for the craft master in his Sisyphean task.

We attend a service of Silent Prayer before breakfast each day, in a chapel at the Abbey. This, too, is U heated. We can see the fog of our breath, if our eyes are open. Even with the door closed, the wind howls over the roof.

The sheep, and their many lambs, know how to find shelter from this onslaught. They find safe places, in the uneven terrain of the pastures, and in the lee of stony ruins.

The daffodils, those sturdy souls, bend a little but their sunny faces remain upright, despite the flattening gusts, constant in their optimism.

Your heaviest fleece is not too heavy. Too many layers are not too many. Rain pants are not superfluous. Neither hat, not gloves, nor scarf is extraneous.

Iona: Arrival

For me, the essence of pilgrimage is struggle; it may be internal or external — or some combination thereof — but there is some difficulty undertaken.

Even with modern conveniences of travel, the journey to Iona is a lengthy one. From Glasgow, it is three hours by occasional train up to Oban. Then an hour by large ferry across to the Isle of Mull, an hour by bus across Mull, and ten minutes by small ferry over to Iona. From the ferry landing it is a quarter mile walk up to our hotel (St. Columba). I am chilled to the bone — with temperatures in the mid-40’s and winds above 25 mph — and the warmth of the hotel is immensely comforting.

Our group of pilgrims on retreat assembles: out of 26, there are 3 Canadians, 1 Australian, 1 Brit, and the rest Americans. North Carolina is well represented, as is the Pacific Northwest, but there are others also. Several are making repeat visits.

We gather and commence introductions: who, whence, why. I struggle with formulating a response to why? Others offer responses that have some resonance for me but don’t quite touch the center. Finally I settle on, “Needing to learn how to listen to the Sacred.” Then we conclude the day with Evening Prayer, incorporating this chant, and I am pierced.

Let me hear, let me hear

The words that You speak

When I turn to you in my heart

En Route to Iona, Scotland 

Travel is a privilege and a blessing. These are the months of travail for refugees fleeing the horrors of war in Syria. We heard, in Sunday’s sermon, of the equally horrific plight of youth in El Salvador, where one is forced into sex-slavery or soldiering on pain of death by the drug gangs. So to travel in safety is a great privilege.

When I walk the Jakobswege in Europe, it is the intentional unknown that makes me vulnerable, that opens a crack for encounter with the Divine. This year’s journey is different- offering community, which can be vulnerability of a different kind. But for me intentional vulnerability is still a key for the Divine.

On the flight over, I watched the film The Martian and I was struck by the forms and strength of community this astronaut experienced. In the initial disaster, of course the astronaut feels his loneliness and the loss of community. But his crew mates also feel the diminishment of community, as does the NASA staff — in fact the whole world mourns. With each step of re-established communication, the sense of community connection is restored a little bit more. Until, in the final measure, he is physically retrieved and fully restored to community. We are shown that communication leads to connection, and connection leads to community. But that is not the only element. There is also a mutual sense of belonging; this particular individual belongs to this ship’s crew, this organization’s staff, this planet’s people. He feels it, and they feel it. And each feels a mutual accountability; this makes a bond they all feel.

Pilgrim Blessing: Iona

This year’s journey on the Way of Saint James/Jakobsweg/Via Jacobi/Chemin St Jacques/Camino Santiago has become instead a pilgrimage to Iona, in Scotland. As many of you know, a pilgrim follows the call, wherever it leads. And this year it leads to the Iona Community, where we will be attending a weeklong retreat with John Phillip Newell, a well-known scholar of Celtic spirituality. I have been reading his books for years, and when this opportunity arose, it seemed the right call to answer. Another year, I will return to the long walks.

This is not a solitary pilgrimage. I am traveling in community, with a group from my parish, Grace Episcopal Church. Some of us are veterans, some are new to the parish, some are friends yet to be made. Just like any other pilgrim band.

At our send-off, we received this blessing. It’s a good one for any pilgrim setting off.

You call us, God, to leave familiar things and to leave our “comfort zone”.

May you who travel from Grace on pilgrimage to Scotland open your eyes to new experiences, may you open your ears to hear God speaking to you, and may you open your hearts to God’s love.

May you experience the freedom to wander, the freedom to hope and the freedom to love as you journey.

May God the Father who created you, guide your footsteps.
May God the Son who redeemed you, share your journey.
May God the Holy Spirit who sanctifies you, lead you on life’s pilgrimage.
And the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be with you wherever you may go. Amen.

Logistics Notes on Switzerland 

This is my fifth year walking Europe’s pilgrimage routes and Switzerland is the fourth country I have walked in (not counting the US). Here are some observations that may help with your own journey planning.

  • Switzerland is quite different from the other countries and well worth your consideration as a Jakobsweg section.
  • The most dramatic scenery (and the most demanding climbs and descents) are east of Interlaken and mostly east of Briënz. And I do mean dramatic – comparable to Yosemite Valley in drama (not in wildness of course). Both were formed by similar geologic processes.
  • The availability of lodging and stages is quite good. The section between Thun and Fribourg has smaller towns with fewer options; in some places very limited indeed. 
  • The availability of food shops, both location and opening hours, is quite good; the best I’ve encountered in Europe yet in fact. The variety of cheeses, butters, yogurts, prepared meats, and fresh fruits and vegetables is excellent. One could easily self-cater all three meals a day.
  • While there is not a baggage transport system in place, Switzerland has Europe’s best public transport system.  There are buses and trains everywhere and it is easy to shorten days or skip sections if you need.
  • The way-marking is excellent, again the best I’ve seen in Europe. Still, the Swiss Mobility app with its downloadable maps for offline use was invaluable.
  • The variety of lodgings is quite diverse. Sleeping on straw is in fact enormously comfortable and I highly recommend you try it. Some places were exceedingly plain and almost shabby. Others were splendidly spare and modern. Everything was clean and appropriately priced when compared to other similar Swiss lodging. That is to say, 30 francs gets you one level consistently, 60 francs a different level.
  • Quality of lodgings is quite good. A sleeping sack is generally mandatory; I was very glad to have a light sleeping bag. Blankets were always available; pillows not always (apparently I should have asked, but I do not know the word). Toilet and shower down the hall and shared was common. Soap and towels were not always provided. I hung my wash in the room and it dried overnight.
  • I reserved lodging two months in advance for my travel in September and even then there were some places already full. Email in German and English worked well. My reservations only covered the German-speaking zone; my French-speaking Swiss friend has been making daily reservations for us by phone, with no problem but it is near the end of the month.
  • The list of available lodgings is on the Swiss pilgrim association site, www.jakobsweg.ch
  • Lodgings often offer a discounted price for walkers, so do ask. The price you get by showing up in person is lower than the one offered for Internet booking, sometimes.
  • Weather this time of year is lovely for walking, most days. There was a serious storm about once a week however. A lightweight fleece and rain gear are essential.
  • Pricing is, well, Swiss. Over 16 days ranging from some extremely simple lodging and meals to some very comfortable, I averaged SFR 86 daily, including transport. This compares to EUR 60-65 in Germany and EUR 40-45 in France. In Switzerland one pays per person rather than per room.  I could have spent less and stayed only in the simplest lodgings and self-catered all meals, reducing the average.

23 Sep 15: Lausanne

Distance: 10 km Total Climb: 100m Total Descent: 200m

After a very wet and windy night, dawn broke to a light and weakening mist. We set out on an immediate hill climb, which was at first glance gratuitous, until we came upon this historic and perfectly charming street.

Then it was downhill and across the river Broye, which had risen at least a half meter since we last saw it yesterday afternoon, and was now boiling merrily along. We continued along the riverbank at least an hour before turning uphill again. Darkening clouds loomed over the turkey farm and the single track woodland trail. As if we had planned it, the rain started the moment we sat down to lunch at the entryway to the Vucherens chapel, and ended with our meal. 

Not much further along, we encountered a woman walking from Lausanne to Strasbourg (northbound). With a donkey. In five years of walking the pilgrimage routes, this is the first time I’ve personally seen this historic mode of travel. Many times I’ve heard tales, so it’s nice to see in action.


Another hour and we found a bus stop at Eschedeboef, a couple kilometers before Montprevere. It was equipped with a bus, which we quickly took advantage of. Line 62 runs to Cloisages, which is the transfer point to Lausanne’s Metro. Five stops on, at Ballages, we left the Metro and once on street level it was only two blocks of level walking to the Lausanne Cathedral. 

Just as we entered, there was a guided tour beginning – in English! So we took advantage of that too. Much interesting information on the Swiss reformation as well as the construction of the cathedral and its role as a pilgrimage site.

And that was the end of this year’s pilgrimage. I travelled onward with Beatrice to their home north of Lausanne, where I will visit for a few days before returning home on Sunday.

22 Sep 15: Moudon

Distance: 17.5km Total climb: 181m  Total descent: 365m

Breakfast at the abbey was generous: brown bread with butter and jam, choice of yogurt, three cheeses, coffee and tea. And do your own dishes, thanks. The Congolese priest joined us, making for a merry start to the morning. 

We got underway at a decent hour, stopping at the abbey church to see the modern stained glass windows, by British glass artist Brian Clarke.

 Then it was a lengthy climb uphill (Romont could easily be categorized as a “Hill town” in the French sense) to see the Church of the Assumption (Stiftskirche Maria Himmelfahrt) and its remarkable modern stained glass windows. 


The route led down to cross the valley, up and over a very exposed pastured knoll, and made a long descent down to the valley of the river Broye. The last two hours were a pleasant and park-like farm road along the river to Moudon. Definitely not remarkable scenery, and I was cheered to have the companionship of Beatrice along an otherwise rather dull section.

Our lodgings tonight are on the main square, directly across from the St Ettienne church, which also has modern stained glass windows, by yet a different artist. I do not know the source of this fondness for modern glass, but it is definitely the high point of today’s walk.

This is the season for game, so when the hotel restaurant had venison as the daily special, I could not resist.

(Note to readers: pictures from the past few days have now been updated to the previous blog posts, now that I have wifi access.)

Lodging: Hotel Chemin de Fer

21 Sep 15: Romont

Distance: 20km Total climb: 200m Total descent: 100m

After a very simple breakfast of brown bread with butter and jam, plus coffee or tea, we bid a fond farewell to the very hospitable monks at Hautrive. 

We three set out, up a wooded hill and through small towns and farmland. The terrain is gently rolling; we can see mountain crests to the south but where we actually walk is very gently contoured. I have come to the conclusion that all the dramatic scenery in Switzerland is east of Interlaken.

Lunch is a picnic on one of the many wayside benches provided here by the local hiking groups. Because of the time constraints today we did not take advantage of the village offering fried chicken as the local delicacy (I think they schnitzel it – Colonel Sanders has not passed through here just yet). Some more brief bits of woodland shade break up the long grind of shade-free pastures on a sunny afternoon. 

We push on, as the nuns at tonight’s convent have directed that we arrive before 5pm, or we lose our beds. And it’s 20 km, a distance I would not undertake unless there were no big hills. We made it with time to spare, but my calves are really complaining! I haven’t had much soreness at all this trip, except for the two 20km days. 

The convent is right on the route, just at the beginning of town. Quite convenient since town proper appears to sit on a hill, which will be the first order of business tomorrow. The convent dates to the 1500’s but the guest quarters have been recently renovated and it is quite comfortable.

Dinner was a most congenial cream of spinach soup, followed by a generous portion of creamed spinach and a delicious cheese quiche. All vegetarian and all very tasty. We were joined at table by a Congolese priest on temporary assignment from the Gregorian University at the Vatican, filling in for the local priest. Since he spoke French, Beatrice was able to translate and we had a lively and very interesting discussion.

Lodging: Abbeye Fille-Dieu

20 Sep 15: Kloster Hautrive / Abbeye d’Hauterive

Rest Day.

Every large group of people has a daily routine to help things run smoothly. Here is the daily routine for this Sunday at this monastery.

4:15 Office of Vigils

6:30 Office of Lauds

7:10 – 8:00 Breakfast (brown bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea)

09:30 Office of Terce combined with Eucharist (on weekdays Eucharist follows Lauds and precedes breakfast) This is quite a long service, complete with entrance procession, incense, and chanted entrance psalms, as well as introit, Kyrie, gloria, sanctus, angus dei, with an offertory anthem also chanted.

11:50 Office of Sext

12:10 Midday meal

2:30 Office of None

5:15 Office of Vespers

6:30 Evening meal

8:00 Office of Compline

The Offices are sections of the Daily Office, lasting about thirty minutes each and including several psalms, each sung to a different plainchant melody; a short reading or two; and a litany of intercessory prayer.

The midday meal is the big meal of the day, at least here in the European monastery guesthouses. Starter was a delightfully light cream of vegetable, mostly green onion I think. Main course was an assembled pork roast, with mushroom gravy, pomme frites and freshly pickled kraut. A cheese plate and fresh watermelon completed a very nice meal. This was a Sunday, and I don’t know if the weekdays are similarly grand.

The evening meal this Sunday was lighter fare: brown bread, assorted cheeses, sliced salami, butter and jam, coffee and tea. The Swiss call this coffee complete and it is a common Sunday evening meal.

The Abbey church is late Romanesque (the arches are beginning to show a slight pointedness) including the decoratively painted plaster walls; parts of the building date to the 12th century and it was completed in the 14th century. The main building, including the monks’ residence, refectory and quarters for male guests, dates to the Baroque. Outbuildings including the guesthouse for women also date to the Baroque. But it is a rather simple Baroque, if that’s not an oxymoron: the ornate urge is limited to the railing ironwork and a small bit of ceiling moulding in the public spaces. 

The Cistercians, as best I can summarize, are reformed, less-comfortable Benedictines. The history and lineage of the monastic orders makes fascinating reading, especially the story of the powerful Benedictine abbey at Cluny (which funded construction of most of the infrastructure along the Chemin St Jacques in France and the Camino Santiago in Spain).

My Swiss friends Beatrice and Yves have arrived now, so tomorrow we will walk on together. 

19 Sep 15: Kloster Hautrive 

Distance: 9.2km Total Climb: 200m Total Descent: 230m

The hotel breakfast room was the madhouse one might expect with a bus load of Chinese tourists. The offerings were quite varied, including cold meats and cheeses, yogurts, fresh fruits, cereals and muesli, and a hot line, plus juices and the coffee maker. I’m afraid the food was disappearing faster than the kitchen could replenish the trays.

It took a few minutes to work my way over to the cathedral, dedicated to St Niklaus, for my credential stamp. The stained glass windows appeared to be early 20th century, and the interior decor was an interesting combination of French and German styles. Certainly more Gothic than Baroque.

From the cathedral, the Jakobsweg route (now Chemin St Jacques) works uphill through a pedestrian shopping street that is just beginning to come to life this Saturday morning. At the main train station, several hiking routes converge, so pay attention to the markings and your Swiss Mobility app. Once north of the tracks, it continues uphill through residential districts towards the edge of town. It is likely possible to make this bit by bus (from the cathedral to the edge of town) but today is a shorter day, it’s not raining (yet), and I do enjoy the walk.

Lunch was at the parish church cemetery in Villars-du-Glâne; lest you think me ghoulish, I must point out the French dead are very hospitable. They always provide a bench and fresh water. The French-speaking Swiss follow suit.

Then it was down a big hill, to make a very interesting river crossing. The bridge there dates to before 1250 (when stone replaced the preceding wood) and there might have been a bridge there since prehistoric times. Apparently the lay of the land drives these things for thousands of years. 

So these past few days I have been walking the actual historical Jakobsweg route. It is not always the case – sometimes the best route got paved over as a highway, or the hiking association decided the view would be better from that hilltop over there. After the bridge, the route continued in historical fashion; you can see how deeply the trail has eroded over the years (more than 3 m or 10 ft).

At the top of the next hill I have an interesting conversation with the trail-marking people:

  • The Abbey is 30 minutes off the Jakobsweg route, that-a-way.
  • Keep going.
  • Keep going.
  • Not that building. Keep going.
  • Keep going.
  • Oh all right you can turn here. I tried to keep it a secret.
  • Keep going
  • Still
  • You’re here! Reception is the 4th door down

This is a Cistercian monastery dating back to 1185, home to about 20 monks. Of all the times I’ve stayed overnight in monasteries, I’ve never been able to take a rest day or attend services, so I’m really looking forward to this time. 

 Cistercians are the white monks – their choir dress is a while wool habit. Outside the church, I see some in the white habit with a black apron and others in a gray cotton habit (which one might think of as a working uniform I suppose). Vespers was conducted in French, and the psalms are sung to antiphonal tunes that were new to me (that is they didn’t sound recognizably Gregorian).  Dinner was in silence for those at table, while a reader read a piece in German. We visitors ate in a separate room and never saw the monks together. After dinner we visitors all did the dishes together in silence. (For folks at Grace: try to imagine the kitchen on Tribe Sunday, in silence.) I’m lodged in the guesthouse, in a spacious room with two windows overlooking the garden and main building. From 7pm onward they observe the Great Silence (you’ll remember this from Call the Midwife). 

Lodging: Kloster Hautrive

18 Sep 15: Freiburg/ Fribourg

Distance: 20 km Total climb: 130m Total descent: 310m

This city has two names, one in German and one in French, because it sits on the line that divides the two parts of Switzerland. Half the city is on the east side of the river and speaks German, the other half lies on the opposite shore and speaks French. I’m told the French can tell the French-speaking Swiss are not French, but they can’t tell whether they’re Swiss or Belgian. Apparently the vocabulary rules are looser outside of France proper.

As you might imagine, this dividing line is somewhat fuzzy. I started hearing the schoolchildren say Merci outside Wattenwil two days ago, and there was a whole table of French-speakers in the breakfast room this morning. Some of them were having difficulty with the German-speaking server.

The route this morning descends some 200m on an old and historic section of the Jakobsweg. It is a good thing I did not attempt this bit during yesterday’s storm: I would have slipped on these wet smooth cobblestones and slid all the way to the bottom of the hill. The freshly shorn sheep looked well-washed though. We continue along the wooded edge of pastures, and then through forest. 

 The Swiss, consummate innovators, have done a fine job of engineering the trail for water drainage, so the erosion damage is minimized. I have not seen this anywhere else in my European walks.

By the time I reached Heitenreid the threatening clouds started to make good on their promise, and even though I had rigged for rain, the bus shelter was very inviting. So we had a 45 minute rain delay. Then I marched onward, being passed by the first of four walking pairs out with me this morning. Lunch – a sandwich made from breakfast surplus – was on a quiet church porch, which gave some shelter from the breeze as well as a nice view of the surrounding rolling countryside. Small town, both Protestant and Catholic Churches, noontime : bell wars. 

After lunch continued through pastures and small farms, with quite a lot of pavement walking all told. In Tafers, there are two side chapels that are actually outside chapels, and one was dedicated to St James. The pilgrim association here has been going on since the 15th century. 

Across the street was a small grocery, and a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. So I went in to restock supplies. As I was checking out, the young man who is cashier asks me, “Apfel?” Now, my speaking of German is not half bad, apparently, but my listening needs some work. Still, this just did not compute. Finally we shifted to English and he explained that today was Apple Day, they were giving them away free, and would I like one? Why yes I would. An Apple a day …

No sooner had I stepped outside and finished stashing the new supplies in my pack than another pair of pilgrims stops me. “Are you American?” Why yes. Then he asks my name, and I tell him. “You left your credential in the chapel. We have it!” This is really good news because the credentials are necessary for the pilgrim accommodations at the monasteries, where I am planning to stay tomorrow. I thank them – two young men living outside Munich, one Austrian and one German -with some of my new favorite cookies.

More pastures, some suburbs, and Fribourg looms across the river. This is a big city! So after having made 20km on my own steam, I hop a bus for the last leg into the middle of town. I’m staying at the NH Fribourg, which is centrally located and decently priced (this is Switzerland after all).

Since I’m not inclined to wander far after such a long day, dinner was in the hotel restaurant and classic French. A huge salad of fresh tomatoes dressed with balsamic

Veal with mushrooms in a cream sauce, Rösti on the side

And for dessert a multi-layer berry cream


17 Sep 15: Schwarzenburg

Distance: 15.9km Total climb: 160m Total descent: 130m

What a day of joys and sorrows! The dawn was overcast and there had been light rain intermittently overnight. And the forecast was for a chance of rain early, with certainty later on. So after a small breakfast in the bakery workroom, I rigged for rain and set out. (Rigging for rain means: pack cover on, hat off, Ferrino Trekker hiker raincoat on, gaiters on)

Through mist that grew progressively more serious, I made my way up the big hill of the day. It would have been a nice walk with a gentle grade on a sunny day. After 45 minutes though, what we had was real rain, and wind that was blowing the rain nearly horizontal. The eaves of a barn in the hamlet of Thomwil offered me a dry and sheltered corner. In another 45 minutes things let up a bit, and I was able to progress another 100 m before the next wave of wind and rain. Fortunately this was a road junction with a bus stop and a shelter. 

By this point I realized I was damp all the way though and cold to the bone. The Trekker raincoat was not as waterproof as it should have been. Time for a fleece and an additional jacket. And a little exercise to warm up again.

I had just begun to consult the transport apps on my smartphone for some ideas as my next step when I got a text from my Pilgrim Friend that the weather report for the afternoon is for a lot of rain, and could I use a lift? (As in, if what I am looking at is not considered “a lot of rain”, then I’m not sure I want to see what is!) What an angel! Since I had not received a response to my reservation request at the Heitenreid monastery, we agreed the nearby town of Schwarzenburg would be a better choice. It has a train station as well as bus connections. And TripAdvisor showed a Gasthaus nearby.

Gasthof Bühl offered several lovely lunch plates. I had the cured pork loin in mustard sauce, with potatoes and green beans. A very rich cream of vegetable soup was a fine starter for such a day of miserable weather.



Gasthof Bühl, 3150 Schwarzenburg, +41 (0)31 731 01 38 , http://www.gasthof-buehl.ch

16 Sep 15: Riggisberg 

Distance: 16.3 km Total Climb: 207m Total Descent: 185m

The day dawns cloudy and briefly spatter rain, as I follow the meandering route across rolling pastoral countryside.

This is the halfway point in my journey this year, and I must confess the length feels about right. It is long enough for mental space and healing, and takes some effort — but not so long as to be a grind (or intolerable for my household left behind). So for those of you who do not have the time to spend months on the Camino or Jakobsweg, be reassured that shorter stages can still offer considerable refreshment.

Each day I have seen a few other walkers; more on the weekends of course. Yesterday there was a pair of women heading to Geneva and then doing the three week stage from Leon to Santiago, the last of the Spanish sections. Today – only one walker, up ahead of me and pulling away.


 Cresting the big hill before Blumenstein there was a “free cold drinks for Pilgrims” kiosk that was most welcome. Shortly before Wattenwil, the darkening skies finally made good on their threat and it started to rain. I met a pilgrim forum friend here, and we had a delightful lunch at Rendezvous-Vous, located two blocks from the middle of town. Pork roast stuffed with prunes and a red wine sauce, plus carrots and polenta, and a mixed salad before. Highly recommended.

The hill coming out of Wattenwil is a substantial 170m climb, so do not underestimate your afternoon’s work. The rolling pastures and farmland continue all the way to Riggisberg, where I have my room for the night. There are only three places with rooms here, as it is such a small town. Backeri Ernst is to the left as you enter town, and two flights up is my small and simple room. But it has all that I need, in true pilgrim fashion.


Rendezvous-vous Restaurant, Musterplatz 4, 3665 Wattenwil


Backeri Ernst, Vordere Gasse 9, 3132 Riggisberg, +41 (0)31 809 36 36, beck.ernst@bluewin.ch , http://www.beckernst.ch