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

Advertisements

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