Day 1: Le Puy-en-Velay to Bizac

Sunday, 23 June 2013
Distance 14 km
Duration 3 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 477 m, descent 106 m
Map 156 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Topo-guide (Ref 7000) Le chemin de Régordane

Starting our walk at 3 o’clock in the afternoon meant that we were not going to get very far. We had discovered that there were no suitably placed camping grounds ahead, so we had uncharacteristically booked ahead at the hotel of Bizac for that night, a distance of about 14 km.

Walking in France: Looking back to le Puy and its Virgin

Looking back to le Puy and its Virgin

The Régordane (the GR700) departed down the Rue Vibert and we swung along it pleasantly for two or three kilometres to get to the edge of the houses. It was cool and breezy, and would even have been cold if we had not been walking so briskly.

Leaving the streets, we clambered up a track beside a walled graveyard and found ourselves high above the red-roofed town, with its Virgin protectress watching from her volcanic plug.

The track continued to climb, more and more steeply, and we felt our legs protesting on their first day out.

Walking in France: Ominous black clouds ahead

Ominous black clouds ahead

We passed into a shrubby forest and came to a road which we followed briefly before leaving it for another steep ascent. Eventually we emerged onto the open plateau of the old province of Velay.

It was a scene of tranquil abundance at this time of year, with green fields gently sloping around wooded knolls, but it was easy to imagine how bleak it would be in winter. Even today there was an icy little wind and the clouds were massing overhead.

Our small gravel road passed a Moto-Cross circuit where Sunday-afternoon enthusiasts were roaring around, then an area with caravans enclosed by a high wire fence, which turned out to be a refuge for gypsies, or “people of the road” as they are called in France.

Walking in France: Passing the Auberge de Chaponade

Passing the Auberge de Chaponade

Further on we came to a handsome building beside the road, the Auberge de Chaponade, built of the dark, liver-coloured stone typical of the Auvergne.

After this the road turned left but we continued south on a wide dirt track, rising gently for a kilometre or two and then descending into the village of Tarreyres. Here we had to cross the highway, the N88, but we used the underpass for cattle (delightfully named a “boviduc” in French).

Having done this, we deviated from the GR for the first but not the last time on the Régordane.

Walking in France: The short cut to Montagnac

The short cut to Montagnac

To get to Bizac, which was a couple of kilometres off the GR. we took a short-cut on a wheel track that zig-zagged down to a stream, then went along beside it under a canopy of trees. When we emerged on the opposite slope we were heading towards the highway again, at Montagnac, which seemed to consist of large metal warehouses and little else.

Luckily we did not need to take to the highway, as there was a small road leading off through the fields. This took us over the stream again and up to Chassilhac, which was no more than a cluster of houses. According to the Topoguide, our only choice from there was back to the highway, but we saw a likely looking farm track ahead and decided to try it.

It could have wandered off at right angles, or petered out altogether, but it behaved beautifully, delivering us back to the highway at the first houses of Bizac.

Walking in France: Hôtel la Diligence, Bizac

Hôtel la Diligence, Bizac

From there it was an uphill trudge through the village. Apart from a car wrecking yard, there were no shops and we were beginning to wonder whether we had missed the hotel when it loomed into view above us, on the windy ridge at the top of the village.

It looked extremely new, although it was actually ten years old. That was because there was not a blade of vegetation between its neat yellow walls and the highway, only an empty expanse of bitumen marked with parking bays. It evidently relied on long-distance truck drivers for most of its custom.

We entered through a glass airlock, testament to the ferocious exposure of the site, and our host bustled up to greet us.

Walking in France: Our two dinner trays

Our two dinner trays

We knew that the restaurant was closed at the weekend but he had offered to organise meal trays for us, and after we had settled in to our room, showered and washed our clothes, our dinners arrived.

We sat at the little desk with our trays of good things, grateful to be out of the cold evening breeze.

Walking in France: And they were very gratefully received

And they were very gratefully received


Our room faced away from the road, onto another wide truck-parking area, also empty. Presumably on weekdays there were plenty of customers. Beyond the bitumen, the smooth fields rolled away to the horizon.