Monthly Archives: July 2017

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:

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

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:

The main guide for this route is published by the Amis-St Jacques (Friends of Saint James) Association ( 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: .

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.