From the earliest times, the Régordane was one of the principal trade routes in France, carrying goods, animals and people between the Mediterranean coast and the lands to the north, via the Massif Central. Mule-carts and flocks of domestic animals made the slow, arduous journey up and down the road, which took the line of least resistance through the mountains, making use of a convenient geological fault.
Julius Caesar found it useful for marching his army up to its final showdown with the Gauls. After the Roman conquest, the surface was improved with solid paving.
When Christianity took hold in the mediaeval period, the Régordane became a popular pilgrimage route. The relics of the reclusive St Gilles were venerated and the town became the fourth most important pilgrim destination in Christendom, after Rome, Compostela and Jerusalem.
At that time, the present town of St-Gilles was a seaport, although now it is several kilometres from the shore, so the road traditionally ended there.
In recent centuries this age-old highway has fallen out of use, but traces can still be seen and the present itinerary, from le Puy to St-Gilles, incorporates as many of these as possible. The modern walker gets a strong feeling for the thousands of years of effort and enterprise that earlier generations put into this route.
A good accommodation guide for the Régordane is is the strangely named “Miam-miam Dodo” (French baby talk for Eat-Sleep), which lists all the eating and sleeping possibilities along the way.
Getting to le Puy-en-Velay
At 8 o’clock in the morning on midwinter’s day, dressed in our light summer walking clothes, we stepped out of our Canberra front door and caught the local bus into town. then a bigger bus to Sydney airport.
Thirty-three sleepless hours later, we marched into the camping ground of Paris. (It was actually worse than this – the time from leaving home to arriving at the Paris camping ground was a punishing forty-five hours.)
After an excellent evening meal in the camping ground and a good sleep, we took the 10 am train to le Puy, arriving at about 2:30 pm.
As we had been to le Puy several times before, we had no trouble finding the start of the Régordane amongst all the GRs that leave from this town (the Way of Le Puy, the Robert Louis Stevenson walk and the Gorges of the Loire walk among others).
There were red-and-white GR markers everywhere, so it was important to find the right ones.
From the station we made our way to the central Place du Breuil and stopped for coffee at a lively terrace bar on the corner of the Rue Vibert.
It was the first of what we hoped would be many such delights over the next five weeks.
This first section of the Régordane (the GR700) has much in common with the Robert Louis Stevenson walk (the GR70), which we had done in 2004.
However, we had not stuck closely to Robert Louis’ itinerary, cutting off a few corners, and we discovered that the newly developed Régordane walk took much the same short cut that we had.
Therefore we decided, for the sake of variety, to make our own way from Costaros to Pradelles, using paths and minor roads. This turned out very well.
From Pradelles to la Bastide-Puylaurent the two GRs were the same, so there was some repetition with our 2004 walk, although not as much as we expected – the route had changed a bit.
These first three days were undertaken in shockingly cold weather, even though it was the middle of summer. Probably this is not uncommon in the Cévennes.
Day 1: Le Puy-en-Velay to Bizac
Day 2: Bizac to Langogne