Day 7: Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise to Saint-Étienne

Monday, 27 June 2011
Distance 32 km
Duration 6 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 563 m, descent 622 m
Map 149 of the TOP 100 lime-green series Topoguide (ref. P691) Les Monts du Beaujolais et du Lyonnais… à pied

Preparing for an early departure from the Saint-Symphorien gîte

Fresh from our day of repose, we got up just after six and were out of the gîte at 6:30. The key had to be handed in at the “laboratoire” next to the pâtisserie in the square, but it was shut tight, contrary to the promises we had been given.

Monsieur Berger must have forgotten that the following day was Monday, his day off. We knocked loudly but in vain, and eventually left the key on the doorstep.

Down at the Place de la République, we picked up the marks of the GRP and followed them through descending streets for a while, then down a grassy wheel-track to join the highway briefly, just long enough to cross the river Coise.

Walking in France: Descending to the river Coise
Descending to the river Coise

On the opposite bank we took to the fields again and climbed gently until we saw the houses of the village of Coise on the ridge above us.

Walking in France: Climbing out of Coise, with St-Symphorien and its great church in the middle distance, and Pomeys beyond
Climbing out of Coise, with St-Symphorien and its great church in the middle distance, and Pomeys beyond

At the sports field we turned sharp right and came to the main road. Coise was a line of pretty cottages, a squat church and little else.

At this point we deviated from the GRP, as we had seen a better route on the map – a tiny road going straight up the slope instead of around it. It was about as wide as a footpath, but tarred, and completely free of traffic, so we had a pleasant climb, with the view expanding around us at every step.

We could look back, not only on Coise, but on Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise with its great church, and even Pomeys.

Walking in France: Approaching Marcenod and disappointment
Approaching Marcenod and disappointment

At the top, we joined another road that contoured around to the right and soon brought us out onto the highway (the D71). We were obliged to follow this for three or four kilometres but it was very quiet and kept a good steady gradient, which we appreciated.

Patches of forest gave way to open fields as we came near the village of Marcenod. What appeared to be a short cut on the map turned out to be an alarmingly steep side road servicing a few houses on the valley floor, so we stayed on the main road and cruised into Marcenod, where we had hopes of a café.

There was a café, and even a shop, but it was Monday. Everything was closed, which was not surprising in France, but we had nourished a shy hope ever since our visit to Meaux-la-Montagne the week before, where the day of rest was Wednesday (we visited on Wednesday).

We sat outside the bar feeling disgruntled, swigging water and thinking resentfully of the coffee and pastries that we would have been been enjoying any other day of the week, but we soon recovered and marched onwards. We had seen a very tiny road on the map, marked with dotted lines, going straight to the next village, Saint-Christo-en-Jarez, which was three times the size of Marcenod and presumably three times as likely to have a bar open.

Walking in France: The church in Saint-Christo-en-Jarez
The church in Saint-Christo-en-Jarez

The walk there took us down into a broad cleared valley and up the flank of the ridge, shaded by patches of forest on one side and open to farmland on the other. As we toiled up towards the crest we met a straggling line of schoolchildren coming down, heading for one of the farms, with several teachers cajoling them along. They must have been city children, as they seemed to be interested in ordinary things like cows and tractors.

At the top we found ourselves immediately in the outskirts of the village and we hurried down towards the church, where we found a substantial square lined with shops, including a bar, but it was as if a poison gas had crept past, eliminating all forms of life. Once again it was only to be expected on a Monday, but we were still dashed.

I was starting to feel my familiar dragging fatigue, so we sat down on the steps of the church for a while, looking on the map for the least painful way to get to Saint-Étienne. At least it was downhill for the most part, and there was a good-looking minor road, the D23, that followed the river Onzon down to la Talaudière, within a few kilometres of our destination.

After we had guessed our way out of the village on various plunging roads devoid of signposts, we came to the D23 and I reached for the map, but I did not have it. I must have left it on the church steps when we left. It was a bit unfortunate, because the Topoguide only took us part of the way, but we could remember the general direction after that. The real hardship followed the next day, as we were to discover.

Walking in France: Beast of burden carrying both packs
Beast of burden carrying both packs

The river road was deserted and had an easy downward slope, through countryside as green and orderly as a garden. We swung along for half an hour or so and then I called out to Keith that we had to stop. “Why?” he asked, quite mystified. “Because I’m tired!” I wailed, almost crying with exhaustion. We sat on the shady verge for a while and when we set off again, Keith insisted on carrying my pack as well as his – the ultimate act of kindness, short of carrying me too.

It was even nobler than that, because Keith had also been suffering from the ‘flu for the entire trip, and on top of that he had badly sunburnt legs today, which had forced him to wear long, hot, constrictive pants.

It seemed a long way to the junction with the D3 (where I took my pack again) and even longer through the houses until we arrived at the centre of la Talaudière. What a joy it was to see a bustling square of shops, all open, and a bar just across the way.

Walking in France: Bliss - a glass of cold water before coffee and croissants
Bliss – a glass of cold water before coffee and croissants

It was 12:25 so Keith dashed off to the boulangerie before it closed, while I went into the bar and sank blissfully into a chair. The barwoman took one look at me and hurried over with a jug of cold water. We had croissants with our coffee – the first of the day – and gradually recovered ourselves.

It was too hot to sit outside, and when we left, we did not last long before we started suffering again. The remainder of the way was through the blighted  industrial outskirts of Saint-Étienne, a morass of roads and factories intersected by roads, baking in the sun.

By the time we had crossed this wasteland, gone under the autoroute and started to climb towards le Soleil, whose handsome church stood on the skyline, I had faded so comprehensively that I sank onto the footpath, clutching an iron railing, and stayed there for several minutes. Keith stood patiently, although it was no place for repose.

Walking in France: Never judge a book, or hotel, by its cover - the delightful le National
Never judge a book, or hotel, by its cover – the delightful le National

At long last we got to the main railway line and as soon as were were past it, we were in the city and our spirits rose. There were fine buildings, bars, cafés and hotels clustered around the station, and as we already knew that there was no camping ground, we did a quick survey of the hotels and chose le National for €55.

At first we had not even noticed it, because the brasserie below was being refurbished and looked completely derelict, but upstairs the rooms were sparklingly new.

Ours looked out over the tree-lined street and had the tiniest bathroom imaginable, in which we had delicious showers before collapsing onto the bed for the afternoon. We completely forgot to have lunch.

Walking in France: Apéritifs opposite the railway station
Apéritifs opposite the railway station

We were different people when we came out at 7:30, dressed in our best, and sauntered over to a nearby brasserie for apéritifs.

People were streaming past from the station, laden with suitcases and bags, while we sat at our ease.

Walking in France: A lovely end to a long, hot day
A lovely end to a long, hot day

It was a warm evening after the scorching day, and we ate our dinner out of doors under the trees.

I had a dish of duck and Keith had lamb. With bread and wine, it was very filling, and we were glad that we only had to walk a few steps to our hotel.

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