Tag Archives: 2019

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.