Day 2: Saint-Paulien to Siaugues-Saint-Romain

Walking in France: Breakfast

Thursday, 21 June 2018
Distance 26 km
Duration 6 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 513 m, descent 437 m

We woke early, wafted into consciousness by the genteel, melodious fluting and chirruping of the dawn chorus, so different from the ear-splitting squawk of most Australian birds, much as we love them.

Breakfast started surprisingly early, at 6 am, but when we presented ourselves at 6:30, we were the first arrivals.

A coffee machine had been wheeled into the dining room and I filled my cup three times (Keith only twice).

Walking in France: Leaving St-Paulien
Leaving St-Paulien

There were plenty of croissants and lengths of bread, which we plastered with butter and jam for a very satisfying breakfast. The days were long gone when we were willing to march off in the morning with only a scrap of muesli to sustain us.

Early sunlight warmed our backs as we set off along a small road (the D131), which rose and fell gently, through fields that were shocking in their greenness to our Australian eyes, and crossed a couple of streams before arriving at the village of Lissac.

This was a straggling but picturesque place, with houses of dark stone placed haphazardly on what would have been an expanse of dust or mud before it was covered in bitumen.

Walking in France: A lovely rustic French scene
A rustic cowherd

Just beyond Lissac we came to a railway line, where an ancient cowherd in boots and braces, pushing a bike, was escorting his herd of two cows over the level crossing.

They turned off soon afterwards, but we kept going and at the next village (Connac), I sat on a low stone wall and converted my long trousers into shorts.

A bit further on we fell into conversation with a man tending his garden, and when he learned that we were Australians he told us proudly that there was a compatriot of ours living in the nearby village of Vernassal.

We were not sure whether to be pleased or repelled at this news – we like to think that we are walking through traditional France, not some cosmopolitan holiday park.

Walking in France: Entering the forest near Vernassal
Entering the forest near Vernassal

The countryside was getting more and more hilly. After a railway underpass, the road circled around the edge of Vernassal, lost its bitumen, and entered a forest of pines.

According to our map, there was a clear track that would take us directly through the pines into Fix-St-Geneys, but on the ground it looked very different.

Walking in France: After much trouble, finally leaving the forest
After much trouble, finding a way out

A tangle of tracks splayed out in all directions and we were soon lost. Every way that we tried seemed to end in a fallen tree or a sudden drop.

At last we found a wider track, but it curved around in the wrong direction and started to plunge down. Before we could decide to go back, we heard a motor grinding and saw flashing lights, which proved to be a machine mowing the verge of a bitumen road, a complete surprise to us.

Once out on the road, we asked the driver to direct us to Fix and he pointed back up the hill, adding that it was at least two kilometres away.

This was annoying, as we should have been there by now, but we consoled ourselves with the prospect of coffee and pastries when we arrived. The first thing we saw as we entered the village was the boulangerie, with a sign on the closed door saying they were away on their annual holidays for the next two weeks.

Walking in France: Leaving Fix-St-Geneys, unwatered and unfed, on the GR40
Leaving Fix-St-Geneys, unwatered and unfed, on the GR40

However the bar across the street was open and we hurried across, only to be met at the door by the landlady, who told us that she could not serve us because the water supply to the village had been unexpectedly cut!

Disconsolately we ate some dried fruit and swigged a little water (we had very little left), then trudged off.

Beside the road was a rough wheel track, the GR40, which merged into the road itself after a couple of kilometres.

Walking in France: A stony track
A stony track

This road was not at all unpleasant, as it was small and lined with wildflowers, and went along a fine airy ridge before coming to a crossroads.

At that point we followed the GR on a fast-falling stony track and passed through the hamlet of Chantuzier, tucked up against a wooded hill.

Walking in France: Chantuzier

A few more ups and downs on gravel roads and grassy paths brought us to a stream with a footbridge, and having crossed that with dry feet, we soon joined the main road into Siaugues, our destination for the day.

Walking in France: Creek crossing near Siaugues
Crossing a stream near Siaugues

As we walked into the main street, the temperature on the pharmacy sign was 31°C. The village was quite attractive, with a few shops, a park, a bar and a flash-looking restaurant behind high gates. We found the camping ground not far from the centre.

It was immaculate and the buildings looked new and elegant. The only problem was that everything was locked and it was utterly deserted. Also the grass was a few inches under water after weeks of rain. We decided to retire to the bar and consider our options.

The bar, although it looked humble enough, turned out to also be a hotel, and a restaurant as well. Sipping our coffee at an outdoor table, we asked our waitress about the camping ground, and she said that we could go to the Mairie and get a key.

But by that time we fancied staying at the hotel rather than in sodden solitude at the camping, so we found ourselves for the second day in a row installed in a nice little country hotel.

Walking in France: Starting dinner with a delicious home-made terrine
Starting dinner with a delicious home-made terrine

Later in the afternoon we strolled down to the flash restaurant, with its secluded shady courtyard, and asked about dining there tonight – no, they only served dinner on Saturdays.

But our hostess at the hotel said she could provide a meal, if we were willing to have the menu du jour from lunchtime. That suited us very well.

Before dinner we had an apéritif at the bar, where a few locals were watching a World Cup match, and our hostess’s small son was dashing about in pursuit of a balloon, much to the displeasure of an older woman, presumably his grandmother.

Then we were shown into the dining room, where we ate alone. We had the feeling that we were the only people staying there that night.

Walking in France: Mains, a dark, unattractive combination of boeuf bourguignon with le Puy lentils
The main course, not as delicious

We began with a delicate and delicious home-made terrine, with salad and fresh bread.

The main course, by contrast, was a rather threatening dark mass – boeuf bourguignon with le Puy lentils – that had probably been flavoursome at lunch time. We helped it down with a carafe of red wine.

Dessert was apricot tart, but I asked for coffee instead, as is my habit.

Walking in France: And Keith's dessert, a very nice apricot tart
Keith’s dessert – a very nice apricot tart

The little boy and his older sister were brought in by their father to say goodnight to us, which was a charming gesture, and a typically French one.

Previous day: Le Puy-en-Velay to St-Paulien

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