Day 12: Larche to Saint-Robert

Walking in France: About to attack breakfast

About to attack breakfast

Monday, 30 June 2014
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 563 m, descent 319 m
Map 154 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

In the morning the rainstorms had gone, leaving a pale washed sky – we had timed our night in the hotel perfectly.

Breakfast took place in the dining room where we had eaten our evening meal, at the same table in fact, and once again we were the only people there.

Walking in France: The aftermath

The aftermath


Our hostess brought croissants, bread, butter, jam and a copious supply of coffee, all of which we devoured. We could feel it stocking up our reserves for later in the day.

Walking in France: Crossing the Vézère

Crossing the Vézère


As we took our leave, madame told us that we were magnificent and asked how old we were. I did not want to alarm her with the information that we were over 70, so I answered with a vague wave that we were probably about the same age as her parents.

It was only a few steps from the hotel entrance to the bridge over the Vézère. On the other side we kept going straight ahead, across the busy D1089 and later over the railway line.

Soon after that we came to the small road that we had trudged along in blinding heat in 2009, so it was a point of intersection and required us to stop for a ritual kiss.

Walking in France: Leaving the river

Leaving the river

Beyond that the flat riverside fields ended and we climbed steeply through a wood until we came to a communications tower. At its base there was a man asleep in a yellow postal van, seemingly in no hurry to go back for the next load of deliveries.

We continued on our peaceful way, undisturbed by anything as vulgar as a car, and after a time we passed through the dozen houses of Gumond, where a large woolly black dog rushed up and tried to lick us. “He thinks everyone is his friend”, said his owner regretfully. She had probably got him as a guard dog.

Walking in France: Arriving in Gumond

Arriving in Gumond


Having crossed over the howling torrent of the autoroute, our little road rose steadily through undulating land covered with vegetable farms and orchards.

We had worked out an ingenious short cut to the village of Yssandon, but when we got to where it turned off, we realised that we had forgotten about the contours – it plunged far down to a stream and up the other side, so we stayed on the ridge, where the road was.

At les Pirondeaux there was a fork in the road and we turned left, still on the ridge, went through a wood and soon came to Yssandon.

Walking in France: Rich farmland

Rich farmland


It was at the base of a huge steep-sided hill that we had seen from a long way off, the Puy d’Yssandon. It was no surprise to learn that it had a ruined tower on top.

The houses were of fine old stone, and each stood apart from its neighbours, which gave the village a rather scrappy look. Beyond the Mairie and the community hall, both covered in putty-coloured plaster, was a little shop which doubled as a bar, but as it was Monday it was all locked up.

Walking in France: Roadside vegetable patch

Roadside vegetable patch


This was not the disaster that it could have been because we were still going strongly, thanks to the hotel breakfast. Also the weather was cool and fine.

Leaving the village, we climbed around the forested flank of the Puy and joined a slightly bigger road, the D3, going north through rich farmland.

Walking in France: Perpezac-le-Blanc

Perpezac-le-Blanc


We could see the church and clustered houses of Perpezac-le-Blanc on the next ridge, but they were not as near as they looked – there was a deep valley between us. (We later found out that the suffix Blanc was to distinguish it from Perpezac-le-Noir, about 20 km away to the north-east).

It was only a kilometre or two before we turned off on a thread of a road that coiled down into the valley.

Walking in France: Solar panels

Solar panels


Towards the bottom we came to the biggest array of solar panels that we had ever seen. They covered the roof of an enormous barn which had evidently been built especially for this purpose, although the farmer had hay and machinery stored in it.

Once over the stream, the long twisting ascent to Perpezac began, past fields that were so steep, we wondered how the livestock could remain upright in some of them.

When we finally made it to the ridge, and into the streets of the village we were delighted to see, just opposite the church, an awning with the words “Cafe Tabac”.

Walking in France: An unseemly rush to the bar in Perpezac-le-Blanc

An unseemly rush to the bar in Perpezac-le-Blanc


The door beneath was open and we were soon comfortably settled inside, next to a massive stone fireplace and surrounded by old-fashioned knick-knacks.

Two old matrons sitting behind the bar interrupted their conversation just long enough to produce a couple of coffees for us, and were puzzled when I expressed surprise that they were open on a Monday – evidently the annoying French habit of closing on Mondays had not penetrated to these parts.

Walking in France: In the bar

In the bar


It was midday when we emerged, much restored, and set off through the village, but although it was pretty, we did not stay to admire it, as there was still a way to go.

Walking in France: Leaving Perpezac

Leaving Perpezac


Walking in France: The newly mown lane

The newly mown lane


The road went up for a short way until we met the D2, at which point we turned off along a newly mown green path under ancient, hoary oaks, shady and surprisingly level.

Crossing another small road, we plunged into a wood, but not before catching sight of our destination, the village of St-Robert on the ridge ahead. We were in a pleated landscape of ridges and valleys, all draining into the Vézère.

Walking in France: Saint-Robert

Saint-Robert


In the steeply descending mass of trees we followed a rough wheel track marked with red paint, expecting to come to a triple fork as our map showed, but this never happened.

Instead we went on and on through the forest and finally came out into a walnut plantation. We went down sharply to a bitumen road and saw a village high above us.

Walking in France: Climbing to Saint-Robert

Climbing to Saint-Robert

By this time I was lost, but Keith worked out that we had got ourselves onto the D95, below the village of Ayen-Bas. A road sign confirmed this at the next turn-off.

Our mistake was not such a bad thing, as all we had to do was walk along until we rejoined our intended route, which looked a good deal more hilly than the road we were on. One car and one tractor came past us in the fifteen minutes we spent on this road.

The last part of the day’s walk was on a narrow bitumen road climbing relentlessly to the village of St-Robert.

Walking in France: Church in the main square, Saint-Robert

Church in the main square, Saint-Robert


We staggered up through an archway and arrived in a lather on the main square, a big, rather desolate space occupied by a few cars and flanked by a cafê, an êpicerie, some houses, the Mairie and the huge, heavily buttressed church.

The cafê was milling with kids on bikes and for once our interest was elsewhere – we were looking for the hotel, the one thing not present on the square.

We sat on a bench under a line of plane trees until we got our breath back, then set off along the street, seeing nothing except houses until we got near the end.

Walking in France: Entrance to the Hotel St-Robert

Entrance to the Hotel St-Robert

Here there was a restaurant, la Table d’Aline, so we went in and asked for directions. The young woman (presumably Aline) told us it was further down and first on the right.

This information only increased our puzzlement. We wandered on and came to a big intersection, where a passing driver took pity on us and stopped to help. This time we were directed down the main road (the D5), which ran below the square.

The hotel was 50 metres away, said the helpful woman. Off we went and had walked about three times that far with increasing qualms, when we suddenly arrived.

It was the last building in the village and looked just like all the other houses, except for a tiny sign saying Hotel Restaurant, and a small menu board.

Walking in France: Unaccustomed elegance

Unaccustomed elegance

It was a great relief. We went down some steps into a flowery courtyard set with tables, beyond which was a dizzying view of the valley. At one side was a pool, and on the other the building. We went inside and rang the bell several times without result, until eventually a whiskery old man appeared and exclaimed “Les marcheurs!”

He led us out into the street and to the house next door, which was also part of the hotel. Our room was a revelation – we had never had such luxury in all our travels. The floor was of dark old boards gleaming with wax, and there was an antique carved sofa, a walnut dresser, mirrors in graceful frames, soft side lighting and a bathroom screened off by white drapes, with snowy bathrobes hanging beside a tray of tea-making facilities.

Walking in France: Lunch with bathrobe

Lunch with bathrobe

The bed was the only plain thing in the room. From the window we could see the whole wide valley and the hills behind, including the little road up which we had so recently toiled.

We discovered that the bath was actually a spa bath, so we had a lot of fun wallowing in it. Having washed off the sweat of the day, we slipped into the white bath robes, spread out one of the towels on the bed and had a lunch of deplorable frugality considering the surroundings.

After a good sleep, we exchanged our bathrobes for normal clothes and went out to explore. It turned out that there was a steep lane going straight up from the hotel to the main square, a much shorter journey than the one we had made to get there.

Walking in France: Pilgrim chimney on the church, St-Robert

Pilgrim chimney on the church, St-Robert

St-Robert justified its listing as a Plus Beau Village by its wonderful church, with its curved apses and grand octagonal steeple, and by the many charming, crooked stone cottages around it.

The original priory was a refuge for pilgrims on the Way of Vézelay (those taking the alternative route from Limoges to Perigueux) and there is still a chimney on the church which sent out a column of smoke to guide pilgrims towards the refuge.

Back in the hotel, we made ourselves a cup of tea and reclined on our pillows to watch some football players running around on TV, then at 7:30 we stepped next door to the terrace and ordered apéritifs.


Walking in France: On the terrace, Hotel St-Robert

On the terrace

Walking in France: At ease with our apéritifs

At ease with our apéritifs


There was no-one else there at first, so we took the comfortable chairs at the end, where there was nothing but a glass wall between us and thin air. Before long other couples arrived and filled the tables, so we joined them.

It was a cool evening but everyone ate outside. We wore our warm tops and I had socks on under my sandals.

Our first course, as usual, was salad – this one was a fresh and plentiful Salade Végétarienne, with hard-boiled eggs, asparagus and other good things.

Walking in France: Our main courses

Our main courses



Having refilled the bread basket, our host brought the main dishes, a confit de canard (duck) for me, and the inevitable steak for Keith, both plates adorned with sautéed potatoes and other vegetables.

The buzz of conversation around us, the ethereal view, the wine, the wisteria overhead, the pots of flowers, all added up to a deeply satisfying end to the day.