Day 22: Montfaucon-en-Velay to Tence

Walking in France: Breakfast at the Hotel de la Gare, Montfaucon-en-Velay
Breakfast at the Hotel de la Gare

Friday, 15 July 2016
Distance 13 km
Duration 3 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 176 m, descent 256 m
Map 156 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Topoguide (ref. 650) Sentier vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle : Genève – Le Puy

Waking up after a blissful sleep, we turned on the TV, just because we could, and were horrified by the news of the attack in Nice, in which some madman drove a huge lorry into a Bastille Day crowd and killed scores of people. It was a depressing start to the day.

On the other hand, and on a pettier level, the weather had improved overnight and the road outside was dry.

We saw our lanky fellow walker hurrying off up the street as if he had a long way to go, whereas we had only a short walk to Tence, so we could afford to stay for breakfast at the hotel, always a special pleasure.

He had presumably had a crust or some gruel in his room before leaving, as we used to do on hot days when we needed to leave early.

Walking in France: Leaving Montfaucon-en-Velay on the GR65
Leaving Montfaucon-en-Velay on the GR65

Watery sunshine slanted through the windows of the dining room onto our croissants, bread, coffee and hot milk.

I suggested to the neatly aproned owner (our waitress) that she should put up a sign on the main street directing people to her hotel, so they would not need to go around three and a half sides of a square, as we did, to find it. She laughed ironically and said that she was not allowed to – everything was regulated by the Mairie.

It was an absurdly short distance back to the main road, after which we were back on the marked GR, and we followed it up and out of the village.

Just past a fork in the road, there were big earthworks that looked like the restoration of the abandoned railway line, presumably for a tourist train.

Walking in France: Cold hands
Cold hands

We left the bitumen soon afterwards and rambled along a grassy wheel track in the cold wind, admiring several large vegetable plots as we passed by.

They were well-maintained and very pretty, but the tomatoes were still green in mid-July, no doubt retarded by the chilly spring.

When we came to a little road, the GR sign pointed across it and down the hill, but our map did not agree with this, and nor did we, so we turned left along the road, past some houses, until we came to the D105, which we crossed almost immediately.

Walking in France: Off the GR again
Off the GR again

A short diagonal walk through a field brought us to a smaller road, but we abandoned even that after a few hundred metres, when we once again found ourselves amongst the muddy excavations of the railway line restoration.

The old tracks were going in a promising direction, so we picked our way past the machinery to the old station building, beyond which we came to a little road that went along beside the railway line, then crossed the tracks and mounted a low hill. Here we rejoined the new, official GR that we had spurned earlier.

Walking in France: Back on the GR
Back on the GR

We descended and crossed the tracks again, then climbed up to join a tree-lined lane.

Having gone over a small stream, we rose again through a patch of forest and came out onto the shocking incongruity of a busy highway (the D500).

Fortunately we were only on it for a few metres before turning away into the fields again.

Walking in France: Peering through the fence of the château of la Brosse
Peering through the fence of the château of la Brosse

For the last time we crossed the weedy tracks of the old railway, and soon after that we came to a wooded hill dominated by the château of la Brosse, with some cottages around its base.

We peered through the forbidding gates of the château but saw no-one. Even the geese that were wandering about outside treated us with disdain.

Guided by the GR signs, we descended on a stony white road which reached the river Lignon and continued beside it very pleasantly.

We soon came to a tall, impressive guest house or gîte beside the road, set in a formal garden.

This turned out to be a former paper mill (la Papeterie), one of two established on this river in the seventeenth century.

Walking in France: Near la Papeterie
Near la Papeterie

According to a sign, it flourished for two centuries and was then converted to the manufacture of silk and velours, but was finally sold in 1933.

Its later history was dark. In 1939 it was used as a refuge for Spanish republicans fleeing Franco, but the following year the Vichy regime requisitioned it to intern German Jews, who were subsequently deported to the death camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

A couple of kilometres further on, the town of Tence appeared and we crossed a footbridge onto the highway and went up a big curving street, past a graveyard and the church, to a great wide tree-lined square which looked like the centre of town but was actually only one part of it, as we found out later.

Walking in France: Tence

There were cafés in plenty on this strip and we celebrated our arrival with coffee inside one of them – it was not warm enough for the terrace.

As we left we saw another walker, more resistant to the cold than we were, sitting over a coffee in the square.

We recognised the mysterious man who had dined with the German couple at St-Julien-Molin-Molette, and who was probably the one we had overtaken earlier on the track. This time we actually had a conversation with him, and his English was excellent.

Walking in France: Installed in the spacious Tence camping ground
Installed in the spacious Tence camping ground

He said he was using his annual leave to walk the Way of Geneva, leaving his family to have a less strenuous holiday at the seaside.

Like us, he had found himself with more time than he needed to get to le Puy (where his wife was collecting him on Monday), so he was going as slowly as he could. Nevertheless he still had six or seven kilometres to go today as he was booked in at the gîte of St-Jeures.

We also had a bit more distance to cover, because the camping ground was well out of town, but before we set off, we booked a table at the only restaurant that seemed to be offering evening meals – l’Épicéa – and then looked around for a cash machine (un distributeur de billets). In doing this we found a whole new lively area of shops and bars.

Descending through a maze of streets, we crossed the Lignon on a handsome arched stone bridge and continued past some sports fields to where a side road turned off along the riverbank.

Walking in France: Lunch in the games room
Lunch in the games room

After half a kilometre we came to the camping ground, occupying a promontory encircled by a loop of the river. It looked good as we entered.

Behind the reception building with its flower beds, was a grassy expanse planted with pines and sprinkled with caravans and tents, and there was even a snack bar (closed at the moment). The only drawback was the icy wind.

A woman appeared and took our modest €10.90. She said that they could provide dinner (hamburgers and chips) and also breakfast, so we said breakfast would be lovely. We did not feel like walking back to town in the morning, as it was more than a kilometre in the wrong direction.

The shower block had just been cleaned and was pleasantly warm, but reeked of chlorine.

Walking in France: Chilly apéritifs
Chilly apéritifs

After our ablutions we went into a sort of games room in the reception building and ate a bit of bread and sausage left over from St-Sauveur, then retired to the tent, got into our sleeping bags fully clothed, and tried to keep warm.

In the evening we walked back over the big bridge and had our ritual rosé at a bar near the Mairie, where Bastille Day decorations still fluttered prettily over the crossroads.

The interior of the bar was dark and stuffy so we sat outside, and even though we were out of the wind and had our warm jackets on, we shivered with cold. It was the height of summer, but we were at an altitude of over 800 metres.

Walking in France: Our first course; a feuilletté of vegetables a bowl of salade océane
Our first course; a feuilletté of vegetables, and a salade océane

At l’Épicéa it was a different story. The room was warm and we were given the best table, at a window looking out over steeply rising fields.

We imagined them caked with snow in winter, and how cosy this room would be. Our affable host confirmed that it had been a bad winter and spring, with a lot of snow.

The other guests were having a special gourmet menu, but he said that we could have the much cheaper lunch menu if we liked, as we were walkers (he had seen us when we booked the table in the morning). So we did.

For the first course I had a bowl of salade océane and Keith had a feuilletté of vegetables, accompanied by lettuce, tsatziki and an artistic smear of sauce.

Walking in France: Veal basquaise for mains, dining at l’Épicéa, Tence
Veal basquaise for mains

We both had veal basquaise as the main dish, the Basquaise element being the capsicums, tomatoes and chillies in the ragout.

Meanwhile our host asked us about our pedestrian travels and was astonished to learn that we had just passed the total of 10,000 km of walking in France.

Walking in France: A 10,000 km chocolate mousse for dessert!
A 10,000 km chocolate mousse for dessert!

When Keith’s dessert arrived (a chocolate mousse), the border of the dish was inscribed with the message “10 000 kilometres” in chocolate.

Monsieur gave a little speech to the other diners and there was a good-natured round of applause.

As we left, we shook hands with this lovely warm-hearted man and promised to recommend his establishment on our website.

Previous day: St-Sauveur-en-Rue to Montfaucon-en-Velay

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