Oct 5, Day 0: Arrival in Le Puy-en-Velay

René on the train.
The trip involved two trains to get to Le Puy-en-Velay from Lyon.   We ate a picnic lunch on the train: couscous salad, cheese, baguette and yogurt.  René and I were anxious but excited about beginning the walk.  We wondered if we were ready, if we had trained enough, if we had the correct equipment.   I was quite concerned about the few articles of warm clothing I had in my backpack.  

Le Puy-en-Velay
We arrived in Le Puy and immediately checked into the Ibis Budget right across the street from the train station.  The room was extremely basic and utilitarian with a tiny window, but it was very clean and well located.  
Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy
We had been to Le Puy-en-Velay in 2010, and so we knew our way around the city.  Our first visit was the reason for our return, but this time as a starting point for our pilgrimage walk from Le Puy-en-Velay to Conques to Rocamadour to Cordes-sur-Ciel.  As we stood in the cathedral in 2010 and wondered why there were so many people with backpacks and what were they doing, we made a promise to one day return and do the walk ourselves.

Statue of Saint Jacques
In the afternoon, we walked to the tourist office and up to the Cathédral Notre-Dame du Puy.  We visited the statue of St Jacques.  We knew we would be back very early next morning to attend the 7h00 mass and pilgrim benediction.  We wandered slowly back to the hotel, checking out restaurants, and places for our picnic lunch supplies along the way.

Post-supper walk back to hotel, deserted streets.
We chose L'Ecu d'Or, for supper because it was Monday night, and I had seen it suggested on John and Robin`s website A Good Walk Unspoiled.  The portions were huge and the service excellent.  We had lentille remoullade (with famous Le Puy lentils) with duck, beef with potatoes and a shared fondant au chocolate with ice cream.

Oct 6, Day 1: Le Puy-en-Velay to St Privat d'Allier (24.9km)

Our first selfie.
We awoke very early to get ready for the mass at 7h00.  We retraced our steps from yesterday through the quiet predawn city all the way to the cathedral.  A beautiful view from the top of the steps.  Yesterday, the steps were open straight up into the cathedral, but today the main doors were closed and we had to go around to the right.  Inside there were only two other people.  It was very quiet inside, beautifully quiet.  

Pilgrim benediction

The rest of the people began to arrive, and we tried to guess who would begin the pilgrimage with us today.  A Catholic mass was followed by a benediction of the pilgrims.  We stood in a big circle around the statue of Saint Jacques and called out where we were from.  Most people were from various places in France.

The 'starting line' for Camino Le Puy
A prayer was said.  René and I each took a prayer to carry, a copy of the benediction and a little Saint Jacques medallion on a ring.  We got our credential stamped and dated and we stood at the top of the stairs i.e. the 'starting line' and walked down.

Even though we had attended the early mass, we were far from being ready to go.  We had lunch to buy, a trip to the bank, and last minute packing.  We found baguette, croissant, yogurt, cheese, cookies for our picnic lunch, went to the bank, and then back to the room to pack up.  The sky was dark and it looked like a thunderstorm was approaching, and sure enough, as we exited the hotel, the rain began.  We stood under an awning, and then ducked into a bar for coffee and sat our the rain.  With a last minute purchase of moisturising cream for my face, we began the walk out of town.  

Pink plastic bag protecting our baguette from the rain.
The walk out of Le Puy-en-Velay, as we knew, and as we had seen on the maps of elevation, was straight uphill.  This would begin the pattern of the walks to get out of and into towns.  Towns are generally located in valleys, so the trail steeply descends into town, and then the next morning steeply ascends out of town.

As we walked and shed layers, we realized that the training we had done was worthwhile.  We also realized that we had left at 10h00.


The walk was a lovely walk through farmers fields, forested paths, tractor roads.  It didn't rain once the rest of the day.

We had a snack of yogurt at the small village of St Christophe where we saw a large group of hikers who would be with us til the end of the week.  We ate a late lunch just before Montbonnet, on a bench outside of a small chapel - baguette, sausage, cheese, tomatoes.  Many people passed us as we were eating.
A mid-afternoon treat
We walked up into Montbonnet and stopped at the bar for a hot chocolate, and cookies.  We then caught up to a couple of sisters whom we had sat beside at the morning mass.  They had big packs and we wondered how far they were going.  They asked about Canada. 

The welcome sign
The rest of the walk was up and then quite a descent into St Privat d'Allier.

René is happy, Susan is tired.
We arrived in the small town of St Privat d'Allier tired and ready for a rest.  

The mess from two backpacks!
Checked into La Cabourne, a basic but very clean and well run gite. Boots into the boot closet (with a fan!), then we showered, and I did the day`s wash.   

Dinner was included and at 19h00 the table was set for 6.  We had supper with the sisters we met that afternoon, and another retired couple who were not hiking.  She had spent her school holidays in St Privat with her grandparents, they were back for a visit, and surprised how much the town had changed.  Conversation: Canada, language, areas of France, food, hiking.  Supper was lentil soup with bread, sausage, potatoes and yogurt sauce with garlic, cheese course and chocolate cake for dessert.  We were hungry and glad for a warm delicious meal.

Profile of the day's walk

Oct 7, Day 2: St Privat to Saugues (20.1 km)

René`s smiling face.
We awoke ready to go.  We figured out how to get everything we had taken out of the two backpacks back into the two backpacks.  We had a quick breakfast with the guests from the previous evening, and took our shoes out of the shoe closet.  The town seemed empty as we left in the morning, and we thought we were the last to leave.
Susan`s morning face.
Overnight I had reflected on the pace of the first day`s walk.  We had left late in the morning, and because we had 24 km, I had focused on walking and reaching the destination and not enjoying the day.  I had not appreciated the surroundings and taken in the views as much as I should have been doing.  I set out today with the intention of slowing down, pausing to look around and appreciating that were were finally here doing the walk we had planned for so long.  
Green valley
We walked uphill out of St Privat d`Allier and quickly took off the light pants we had over our shorts.  The valley was beautiful.  René had promised some downhill this morning, but all it seemed like it was all downhill.  The weather was overcast all day, but no precipitation.  We walked through valleys, farmers fields, forested areas and green meadows.    
Tiny chapel
The morning we also visited a tiny chapel on a hill.

Eiffel`s Bridge
There was more downhill, and this time it was knee crunching downhill.  At the steepest part, a group of men with hiking sticks passed, quickly reaching and overtaking us.  We walked all the way down the valley to a salmon river with class 3 kayaking.  Eiffel had built the bridge spanning the river.  The group of men were lunching by the river.  We had a snack of some mixed nuts, not wanting to lunch until we had gone more than halfway.

Lunch picnic spot
As to be expected, after a steep walk into a valley with a river, then comes pretty serious uphill to get out of the valley.  René and I took it all quickly, because we have better climbing muscles than we have downhill knees.  We got to a plateau overlooking the valley and found a spot for a lunch of sausage, cheese and some cookies.  Our picnic spot was exposed to the wind, and soon we had packed up and walked on so as not to get too cold. 
A stretching cuddle
There were many animals during the day, friendly farm dogs, chickens and roosters, cats, cows, sheep and horses.  At a rest spot, I had a visit from the village cat while I was stretching.  

René on the road which descends into Saugues
As we would come to experience over the rest of the trip, the last few kilometers are usually the most difficult and seem like the longest of the day.  This seemed to be true whether it was a 12 km day or a 31 km day.  So on this day, the last 5 km seemed very long.  Finally, we walked down a long steep paved road into Saugues.  We found La Margeride, which is basic gite style accommodation where we had a double room with a bathroom.  We thought we might use the communal kitchen to cook supper, but we decided to find a restaurant.  

Accueil Pelerin chez Jeanine
We walked into town to see what our options were for supper.  As we approached the church at the center of town, an old lady stopped us, asked if we were pilgrims and told us to follow her.  She ushered us into a room just off the church square.  She began to explain to us that she`s the accueil pelerin, and she welcomes all of the pilgrims who come to town.  She showed us all of the photographs, postcards and newspaper clippings which she had collected over the years.  She pointed out the maps indicating the location of all of the people who had visited.  She asked us to mark on the globe where we were from, and even though Montreal was already covered in black marker dots, we added another.  She stamped our credential, and showed us her picture in recent guide books.  She gave us a card with her name and address and we shook her hand.  We didn't take a picture with her, but once outside, René took the picture of her little blue fronted room on the square.  It was a joy to be welcomed and fussed over by Jeanine Trémouillere this wonderful lady who took so much pride in her work.
Susan is cold.
We found the only restaurant open and had €14 set meal: salade compagnarde (lettuce, dressing, little cubes of cheese, sliced ham and a fried egg over the whole thing), then a pork chop and scalloped potatoes, then a cheese plate, and a blueberry tart.  Delicious.

It was cold as we walked to and from the restaurant.  I had on all of my warm clothes (warm leggings under pants, fleece and windbreaker), and I still felt cold.  I was still worried about the lack of extra layers, particularly as the days were getting shorter, we would be climbing in altitude into the Aubrac plateau, and we would be getting later into October.

Oct 8, Day 3: Saugues to Domaine du Sauvage (21.2 km)

René and Susan.
Day three and we were beginning to get into a morning routine: wake up early, stuff everything we had spread out into the packs, brush teeth, and get dressed.  We set off from La Margeride to find breakfast and lunch.  We found a small bakery for coffee and a croissant, a small grocery for yogurt and apples, and a boulangerie for a pain complete.

Typical view
We walked out of town and then walked uphill.  We passed some people and behind us we saw the large group of French hikers from day 1.  We caught up with the sisters.  This was their last day of hiking.  They were sad to be leaving, but they had decided that they definitely would be back to continue walking.  They had made arrangements with a baggage service to be picked up and driven to the train station.  They were walking with great determination to be able to make it to just past Sauvage for mid-afternoon.

Overcast all day.
The walk was through forests and farmers fields and through little villages.  It was overcast and quite chilly during the day.  We were down to shorts and a t-shirt for most of the day, taking the fleece on and off.  It was a tough day even though it was short.

We had our mid-morning snack of nuts and raisins, and lunch was bread, yogurt and an apple.  The lunch spot was a cute picnic area with three tables, some benches and a WC!  The WC had toilet paper, a toilet seat, a sink and it was clean!  I was so grateful.  We ate lunch accompanied by a farm dog who had followed us.  He looked at us as if he wanted to be fed, and it seemed like he had been fed by pilgrims at this spot before.  We were worried that the dog would continue to follow us, but as we walked up the hill out of town, the dog stopped at some invisible border, and turned and walked back.

Sign for Auberge du Sauvage en Gevaudan at the edge of the property
The walk into Domaine du Sauvage was very tough uphill climb.  We then we came to a clearing and saw a long winding path which seemed to lead to a group of buildings.  We saw the sisters on the path and finally caught up to them as we got to the buildings and they were leaving.  They had precious time to be able to make it to their pickup and couldn't stop and talk.

One of the buildings
We had a private double room with toilet and shower across the hall.  It was very clean, but very spare.  We spent the late afternoon showering, washing clothes, and napping.

Dinner was back in the main hall.  The large group of French hikers were present for supper.  We sat with a group of 9 men who were testing hiking boots.  They were walking 1000 kms.  Supper was family style: vegetable soup, potatoes and beef, cheese and an apple tart, all homemade all with local products.  At the end of the meal the server, who was an farmer, gave the history of the property and the farm.  The local farmers had formed a cooperative, renovated the farm buildings as lodging for hikers and formed an outlet for their local products.  The meat, milk, cheese, butter, jams and honey were used in the meals served and were for purchase at the little store.  Their story of combining agriculture with tourism was one which we would hear again.

We walked outside back to our room.  It was dark and humid and cold.


Oct 9, Day 4: Domaine du Sauvage to Aumont-Aubrac (30.8 km)

Back in the large dining hall for breakfast
We woke up extra early because we knew we had 28 km to do and we knew, at this point in the trip, that 28 kms usually meant 2 to 4 km more.  We ate breakfast back in the main area at 7 am.  The large group of hikers were already eating bread and butter, local plain yogurt with homemade blueberry conserves, juice and coffee.

René in the fog
The morning weather was foggy and there was a damp chill in the air.  We left just past 8h00, a bit of a record for us as we usually took a lot longer to get ready.  I was dressed for the chill and the fog with shorts and light pants over the shorts, my merino wool t-shirt, fleece and windbreaker.  I was cold, but looking forward to the walk as I knew that the brisk exercise would soon keep me warm.

The fogged in trail.

The cow send-off.
We walked out of the Domaine du Sauvage valley and through the forest.  The fog took a while to lift and the mist settled on our hair and our packs.
Not the WC, but the church
We came to a mid-morning pit-stop with a small church and a dry WC.  The large group of hikers were there also making a stop.  There was a line-up for the toilet, but it was worth it as there was toilet paper!

A beautiful day
We walked along with them for a some time.  One man told us of his travels with his wife to Santiago.  The skies were clearing, and we were down to shorts as the day warmed up.

Fall colours.

Blue sky!
The day was through farms, forests, plateaus, roads, gravel trails, sandy trails, forest paths, uphill, downhill, flat, and through towns.

We stopped St Alban de Limagnole at the small grocery to buy lunch supplies, tinned mackerel and carrot salad.  We had our mid-morning snack of nuts and decided to apply sunscreen as the sun was coming out.  The electronic billboard in town said it was 15 degrees Celsius.  We were down to t-shirts.  

On the way through the forest, we caught up with a couple from Belgium, Beaudoin and Vicki.  They told us they were walking because their daughter convinced them.  She had walked in September and had wonderful memories to share.  They were walking to Conques.

Picnic lunch spot
We had lunch of canned mackerel, leftover bread, and an apple at a picnic table on the property of a gite.

The walk in the afternoon was particularly difficult for me, not René.  Everything seemed to hurt, back, toes, hips, Achilles tendon.  I was in good spirits, but I just wanted to stop walking.  I was thankful though for many things: for the sun, a good lunch, no blisters, a place to stay in the evening, no major pain, and my wonderful husband.
Aubrac-Rando sign.

Home for the night
Eventually we walked into town, and found the hiking store called Aubrac-Rando, where we had an apartment booked for the night.  We went back to the small grocery to buy supper supplies.  We were quite comfortable in the cute two room apartment.  The kitchen was fully equipped and so we made pasta with vegetables for supper, and had enough leftover for lunch (yay, Ziplocs).  We had a bottle of wine with the pasta and hot chocolate with two treats from the neighbouring boulangerie for dessert.

Oct 10, Day 5: Aumont-Aubrac to Nasbinals (26.2 km)

Breakfast at Aubrac-Rando
Not only did we spend a comfortable evening in the apartment at Aubrac-Rando, but breakfast was included!  The owner of the apartment, and the hiking store downstairs, brought us breakfast at 7h30 as promised with baguette, 2 croissants, jam, honey, butter, juice and coffee.  He described the pilgrims who stop in at the hiking store to buy new shoes.  Since Aumont-Aubrac is located 5 to 6 days walk from Le Puy, it is the point at which people realize that the shoes they had purchased initially are too small or not appropriate.  His store does very good business.

A foggy start to the day
Morning was foggy and cool and the mist soon settled on our hair and packs again.  We spent the morning walking up into the Aubrac plateau, through forests and along farms.  We met up with Beaudoin and Vicki again, met friends from Paris, Claire and Juliet, and another couple, Fabien and Anne.  These people, as well as the group of men testing the hiking boots would be our infrequent travelling companions as we made our way to Conques.

Our own shadow picture!
The scenery was again stunning and the day tuned out to be sunny and cloud free.
Susan in shorts and t-shirt on October 10.
At lunch we had the leftover pasta from the previous evening, cheese, and an apple.  The afternoon was again particularly relentless, because of the long asphalted road we walked along in the sun.  We were thankful to be walking in October and not during the summer heat.  The road was tough on the hips, feet, Achilles tendon, knees and back.  The afternoon seemed long.  During the long afternoon I was trying to decide whether I was supposed to have meditative or spiritual thoughts, to overcome the physical discomforts.

Aubrac plateau
Aubrac plateau
The Aubrac plateau was beautiful in an austere way with expansive plains, rocks, cows, gravel trails, barbed wire fences, with a big blue sky.  We often were thankful about the perfect weather.  We knew that the plateau would not be as appreciated had it been cold, windy, rainy or even snowy.

A wonderful place to rest.
The town of Nasbinals finally came into view and we checked into a very nice room at the Lo d'ici.  I was glad to be stationary, even for just a moment, to lie down on the bed and not move.
Supper with aligot.
We went out to supper at the main restaurant which was packed since it was Saturday night.  We ordered aligot, a crepe with salad and charcuterie.  Aligot is a local specialty, made with cheese, garlic, and potatoes.  It is the type of dish to either love or hate; we really enjoyed it.  We struck up a conversation with a French couple sitting beside us, who had spent some time eyeing the aligot and all of the charcuterie.  They were on a spa weekend, and had each had a salad, while we were happily eating as many calories as we could.  They were very talkative, and we heard many French cliches about the government, fat Americans, the cold in Canada, and the apathy towards work in France.