Monday, 25 June 2018
Distance 22 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 74 m, descent 133 m
As the bar at the camping ground did not open until 11 am – too late for us – we packed up early and set off in search of breakfast in town.
Somehow in recent years we had given up having muesli for breakfast, even though we still carried it for emergencies.
The little road up to Brioude was bathed in fresh morning sunshine and the fields quickly gave way to streets, which were narrow and hemmed in by tall, plain, pale buildings, looking rather austere.
When we arrived at the centre, an avenue of plane trees magically transformed the scene to one of elegance, and there were shops and people all around.
We found the café that Jo used to frequent as a schoolgirl – le Saint Laurent (or le Saint Lau’, as she called it). Unfortunately it was closed on Mondays, so we could not visit it on her behalf.
Instead we wandered down past the formidable basilica of St-Julien, and went in to have a brief look.
This great pile began in the fourth century as a simple sanctuary, venerating the relics of St Julien, a Roman soldier who was beheaded for his Christian faith.
It then became a monastery and a centre of pilgrimage, later being rebuilt over several centuries as the present ornate, chapel-encrusted edifice, with its dark speckled stone typical of the Auvergne.
By this time it was almost an hour since we had left the camping ground, and breakfast was becoming more important than architectural history. Luckily we found a boulangerie and then a bar, which was just opening its doors at 7:30.
Croissants, although so light and flaky, are remarkably filling, and pains aux raisins even more so.
I kept one of my croissants for later and we set off like well-fed pack animals, crossing the Allier after a couple of kilometres on the D588.
We had the choice of walking on the road or wading through the adjoining tall unmown grass, which looked as if it could do with a visit from a herd of pack animals.
We then turned off the highway in the downstream direction, through expansive fields of corn and wheat.
Some workmen with an excavator were digging a huge pit beside the track, for no discernible reason, although one of them smilingly assured us that they were searching for gold.
Pressing on, we skirted a wood and passed a couple of tiny, picturesque villages (Allevier and Lindes), then climbed a spur and arrived at the slightly larger village of Azérat, also charming in a rather haphazard way.
It was at the top of a rise overlooking the river, and was centred on an impressive square-towered church, built from the same local stone as its much bigger brother at Brioude.
Opposite the church was a little shop with the sign “Alimentation-Bar-Restaurant”, but we were too early for it, as it did not open until 11 am.
While we were peering glumly at the sign, a woman appeared in the courtyard and invited us to come in – she was only too happy to serve a couple of wandering walkers out of hours, and we shared the croissant from Brioude with our coffee.
This unexpected pleasure kept us swinging along nicely. Using a series of grassy paths, wheel tracks and short stretches of road, we descended to river level and eventually crossed the Allier on a large bridge near the village of Chappes.
By then we felt that we were nearly there, but it took another hour of increasingly tedious plodding to arrive, even though we could see our destination long before that.
We turned off to the camping ground before we got to the village itself.
As usual, the camping was on the river bank, and was populated by many large, mushroom-like padded igloos, only a few of which were occupied, although there were several campervans around.
The helpful young responsable took our €10.40 and pointed out a better way to get back to town in the evening, via a riverside path.
The showers were magnificent, as good as any hotel, and after our ablutions we ate the few scraps of salmon and bread that we had saved from dinner last night, then stretched out in the shade for the afternoon.
At about 7 pm we took the path along the river, which went behind some old houses with big, beautiful gardens, before arriving at the shops.
It was not the liveliest place on a Monday evening, or possibly any evening.
We found out that Brassac-les-Mines had formerly been a centre of coal mining, but that the mine had closed in 1978 after five centuries of production, leaving little to take its place.
After a bit of searching we found a bar in a pleasant pedestrian street and had the customary glasses of rosé.
The only restaurant that seemed to be functioning was a pizzeria around the corner, so we went there.
It was primarily a take-away shop, so we were served our pizzas in cardboard boxes and our wine in plastic cups, but there was a friendly atmosphere among the diners at the tables, and the place was certainly doing a good trade in
We chose the fancifully named “Neptune” and “Uranus” pizzas, more commonly known as neopolitan and mushroom.
As the only wine available was rosé in bottles, we took what was left over back to the camping ground and decanted it into a small water bottle for tomorrow.