Day 17: Saint-Julien-Chapteuil to le Puy-en-Velay

Walking in France: Trying to get warm
Trying to get warm

Sunday, 17 July 2016
Distance 18 km
Duration 4 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 201 m, descent 398 m
Map 156 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Topoguide (ref. 650) Sentier vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle : Genève – Le Puy

We were now quite accustomed to freezing at night, and it was no surprise when we did so again.

It was so cold in the morning that we were not inclined to hurry off, especially as this final day of our walk on the Way of Geneva was going to be short. We took our time packing up, and arrived in the main street at about 8 am.

Walking in France: Warm breakfast
Warm breakfast

The boulangerie and the bar were in full swing, and with a bag of four still-warm pastries from the former, we sat down outside the latter, where we would have been in the sun except for the fortress-like bulk of the church above the street opposite. As it was we continued to shiver.

Walking in France: Why not have a second coffee at the brasserie?
Unplanned second coffee at the brasserie

There was a passing parade of locals walking past, dropping in for coffee or to shake hands with someone, even stopping their car in the middle of the road for a shouted chat with one of the drinkers.

Suitably fortified, we started off down the street, and saw that the big brasserie at the bottom was opening its doors.

Its terrace was flooded in warm sunshine, so we unanimously decided it was time for a second round of coffee. This was a real pleasure – the sun thawed us out enough to finally take off our jackets.

We left town along the D15, turning off after a kilometre onto a wheel track through grassy fields, then over a footbridge and onto a small bitumen road at Eynac. This village consisted of a few houses at the base of a gigantic steep-sided granite boulder, no doubt the remains of yet another volcanic plug.

Walking in France: Approaching Eynac
Approaching Eynac

The road plunged down and crossed a bridge, at which point we noticed that we were being followed by two walkers with poles.

We waited for them to catch up and began the usual conversation about where we had started and where we were going.

Walking in France: With our new Canadian friends
With our new Canadian friends

After a few sentences in French, the man looked narrowly at Keith and, changing to English, said “I recognise you – aren’t you the people with the website?”

It turned out that they were Canadians from Ontario, doing the Way of Geneva under the protection of a tour company, with hotels and meals booked for every night and their luggage transported by taxi. They were both teachers and we, as teachers also, found that we had plenty to talk about as we strolled along together.

Navigation was easy, as we were on the marked GR. At the perched village of Marnhac we turned suddenly downhill, crossed a wide bowl of pastureland and arrived at a highway (the D150), which we had no choice but to follow into the town of St-Germain-Laprade.

The day had warmed up and the sun now beat down mercilessly as we laboured along.

Walking in France: Looking down on le Puy, and its two puys
Looking down on le Puy, and its two puys

The village was neat and modern, apart from a château and a few old buildings. We marched up the hill and out of the houses, past one hedged graveyard, then another one. The dead seemed more numerous than the living here.

Just beyond that, the GR branched off up a forested rise, and as we emerged from the trees on the downward slope, we caught our first glimpse of the town of le Puy, with its two rocky spires, one crowned with a medieval chapel and the other with a King Kong sized, red-painted iron Madonna.

Half an hour later, we reached the Loire at a moss-covered bridge which was in ruins, but fortunately there was a new bridge next to it, which we crossed.

After that we trudged two or three kilometres through the unedifying industrial outskirts of le Puy before coming to the railway line near the station, where we took an overpass and descended into the fashionable heart of the town.

Walking in France: Crossing the Loire to enter le Puy
Crossing the Loire to enter le Puy

Our Canadian friends were staying at a grand hotel (the Regina) nearby, so we parted company after arranging to come to their hotel that evening to have dinner with them. We set off to the camping ground, remembered from several earlier visits. It looked just the same, with its great sweeping trees and its sparse lawns, thinned by overuse.

The only difference from previous visits was that the heating in the ablutions block was out of order and only cold showers were possible. However we walked down to the small shower block at the far end and discovered lovely hot ones, with the added advantage of a roomy disabled cubicle.

The afternoon was hot and we spent it lying low, moving our mats as the shade moved. Walter the mad Austrian was there, getting ready for the next leg of his journey to Compostela.

Walking in France: Walkers' and bike riders' section of the le Puy camping ground
Walkers’ and bike riders’ section of the le Puy camping ground

There were a few other sporty looking people with small tents near us. One couple were doing the whole length of the Loire by bike – “La Loire à Vélo” as it is called. They had started from Nantes and were getting close to their destination of Mont Gerbier-de-Jonc, where the river begins as three little springs.

As evening approached it was still as hot as an oven, but we had a dinner engagement, so we walked back to the centre along a shady path beside the river Borne.

We found the Hotel Regina after a bit of a search, having walked right past it at first because its restaurant was called le Mont Anis and the hotel sign was higher up, only visible from a distance.

Walking in France: The impressive cheese board
The impressive cheese board

In the hushed lobby, we waited for a moment until Bill and Karen came downstairs. Karen was elegant in a black cocktail dress, earrings, high heels and makeup. My white shirt, long pants and sandals did not bear comparison, but we both saw the funny side of it.

We ate in splendid isolation in the dining room, perhaps because it was only 7:30 pm. They had a pre-booked gourmet meal, while we chose a formula from the menu.

There was an amuse-bouche of gaspacho, then two other elaborate courses, culminating in one of the most magnificent cheese boards that we had ever seen.

Meanwhile Karen, who was a vegetarian, made do with a small salad followed by an even smaller pile of steamed vegetables – hardly the heights of gourmet cuisine. She had asked for an omelette, but the hard-faced waitress returned from the kitchen with the blunt reply – “Non!”.

Walking in France: Close to the camping ground; the Chapelle et Rocher Saint-Michel
Close to the camping ground; the Chapelle et Rocher Saint-Michel

We drank two bottles of red wine and talked and laughed a lot, until it began to get dark.

When we went to pay at the desk, we discovered that Bill had somehow paid for us already, a handsome gesture indeed. He said it was because of the benefit they had got from our website.

The streets were darkening fast as we hurried home, and at the entrance of the camping ground we found that the big gate had been pulled across and locked. After our troubles at Charavines we had a moment of panic, but there was a side gate for pedestrians that was not locked, so all was well.

During the night Keith had to rush over to the sanitaires and vomit violently, but by morning he was back to normal. These things happen from time to time when we are walking, possibly because of changes in the water.

Leaving le Puy-en-Velay

Le Puy has a railway station. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France.

If you want to continue along the Way of St James (the GR65), the traditional starting point is the front of the cathedral.

Two other excellent walks that start in le Puy are the Robert Louis Stevenson Trail (GR700) and The Régordane (GR70) (also known as The Way of St Gilles).

Previous day: Tence to St-Julien-Chapteuil

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