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.