Day 8: Montrevel-en-Bresse to Pont-de-Vaux

Walking in France: Early departure from Montrevel-en-Bresse camping ground
Early departure from Montrevel camping ground

Thursday, 22 June 2017
Distance 27 km
Duration 6 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 136 m, descent 158 m
Map 142 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Anxiety propelled us out of bed before 6 am. The thought of trudging 27 km with only a scrap of muesli for breakfast, and possibly no refreshments along the way, had a galvanising effect.

With the predicted torrid temperatures, water was our main worry. We only had two litre bottles and one half-litre, nowhere near enough if the bar at St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze was closed, in which case we would have to go to the village graveyard to fill up (graveyards always have a water tap, presumably for mourners’ flowers).

Walking in France: Tree-lined path
Tree-lined path

We set off at 6:10 am and hurried up to the town of Montrevel, which was surprisingly populous and thriving, at least along the highway (the D975). There were bars already open and we were tempted, but did not dare to lose time, so we kept going.

Turning off near the hospital, we were immediately in the countryside, and very pretty it was, with its undulating carpet of green pastures and golden wheat.

Rounding a slight rise, we came to a still-working fifteenth-century farm, of which we could see nothing because of the screen of trees, but we liked the idea of it.

Walking in France: Poulets de Bresse
Poulets de Bresse

Soon after that we left the bitumen and took a wide grassy lane lined with oak trees, to connect with another small road.

At a farm along the way a family of chickens fossicked happily in the morning sunshine, little knowing that they would be for sale upside-down in a market before long,

They were the famous blue-legged fowl of the former province of Bresse, described as “the queen of poultry and the poultry of kings” by the great chef Brillat-Savarin.

They, like champagne, are protected by an “appelation controllée” label.

Walking in France: Ain wheatfields
The wheatfields of Ain
Walking in France: Approaching St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze
Approaching St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze

An hour later we were still cruising along quite easily, but as we got near to St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze we began to worry about whether the bar would be open, or even whether it still existed.

The last pull up through the wheatfields to the village did not inspire confidence, as the place looked tiny, hardly more than a church and a few cottages.

There was nothing to see on the main street, which was deeply dispiriting, but then Keith dredged up a memory of a map showing the bar in a side street, and so it turned out to be, to our great joy. It was a rather long building comprising a pizzeria, a bar and a boulangerie side by side, and there was a wide terrace at the front, full of tables.

Walking in France: Our oasis in St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze
Our oasis in St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze

It was early enough for the boulangerie to still have a full array of good things, and we bought two croissants and two apple chaussons to take back to our table. Even before the coffee arrived, we ordered a litre of cold water and swallowed the lot in a few gulps.

Our waitress was a pretty young woman with large, pale, wrinkled burn scars on her face and arms, not disfiguring, but hinting at some tragedy in her past.

Walking in France: A glorious second breakfast
A glorious second breakfast

Another litre of water disappeared before we stood up to go, and we also got our three bottles refilled.

We left at 9:30 am, well satisfied with our progress so far, but the air was heating up by the minute and the second half of the walk was harder.

Walking in France: Almost there; the church of Saint-Bénigne near Pont-de-Vaux
Almost there; the church of Saint-Bénigne near Pont-de-Vaux

The landscape was just as benign, the paths and tracks were just as well cared for, but we were wilting by the time we got to the top of the rise above Pont-de-Vaux and joined the highway at a roundabout.

It was only a kilometre from there to the centre of town, and all downhill, but it seemed to go on for ever.

We plodded along the footpath beside the traffic, sweating profusely, and at long last came to a pleasant double avenue of trees, lined with shops and cafes.

Walking in France: Blessed cold water
Blessed cold water

Our most pressing need was water, as we had once again drunk all our supplies, so we sat down at a bar on the main square, with people having lunch all around us, and had another round of coffee with the water.

The statue in the middle of the square was of Barthélemy Cathérine Joubert, born here in 1769, who ran away from home to join the army and became one of Napoleon’s brightest stars. He was killed at the age of 30 at the battle of Novi, in Italy.

All we had to do now was to find the camping ground. We knew it was on a lake behind the houses, and found it easily, but we did not know where the entrance was, and walked an extra half-kilometre trying to find it.

Eventually we called out to a man inside the fence, who did not understand us, as we were speaking French. But it turned out that he was Dutch, so we reverted to English and he explained how to find the front gate, at the opposite extreme of the camping ground.

The manager was just closing up for lunch, but he took our €16 and advised us where the shadiest spots were. However even these spots were not exaggeratedly shady, and we found ourselves shifting about constantly as the afternoon progressed, dodging the cruel shafts of sun that bore down from a merciless white sky.

Walking in France: At ease in the main square of Pont-de-Vaux
At ease in the main square of Pont-de-Vaux

At 7:30 pm we walked slowly back to town, going the long way via the boat harbour to make sure of our route for the morning.

We had a glass of rosé at the outdoor bar on the other side of the main square, as this side was now in shade, while our previous bar was roasting in the late sun.

Feeling suitably mellow, we strolled on to the tree-lined boulevard, intending to go to the restaurant at the Logis hotel, le Raisin.

But before we got there we noticed another restaurant across the road, au Cochon Rouge, offering a three-course menu for €14 and a shaded terrace at the back.

Walking in France: To start our €14 dinners at the au Cochon Rouge, celeriac salads, Pont-de-Vaux
To start, celeriac salads

There were also people dining at the tables to the front. We went through to the back terrace and sat down under an awning, but soon decided that it was cooler inside. Most of the other diners had come to the same conclusion.

Our new table was directly under a fan and our hostess turned on the light above us with a sort of skyhook. Now entirely comfortable, we set to work on the menu.

To begin, we had a salad of celeriac with herbs, light and fresh, and we did not hang back from the basket of bread that arrived with it.

Walking in France: Followed by moussakas
Followed by moussaka

After that we had great slabs of moussaka which banished any lingering pangs of hunger.

Walking in France: And icecream, or a plateau of cheese, to finish
And icecream, or a plateau of cheese, to finish

For the final course Keith had a couple of scoops of icecream in a glass dish with cream, and I had my choice from the plateau of cheese which madame left on our table. It looked beautiful but I only took a little, and even that I put away for another time.

Meanwhile we had been conversing with our waitress and her final remark to us was that she was sorry to have to say it, but we were completely insane to be walking in this weather. The diners at a nearby table laughed and agreed.

Previous day: St-Étienne-du-Bois to Montrevel-en-Bresse

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