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