The Way of St. James

Highlights

  • Walking Through the Auvergne & Languedoc
  • Ancient Pilgrim’s Route
  • Classic Landscapes of Rural France
  • Historic Le Puy and Conques

Tour description provided by World Expeditions

This was one of our original hotel treks and has been a consistently popular tour over the past twenty years for those who love rural France and wish to visit some of its more unusual, less visited landscapes. The route covers a large swathe of the uplands of the Massif Central taking a path that the early Pilgrims walked on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain - one of the great journeys of history. Obviously this is just a 200km section of that 1700 km route. It goes up and down valley through some of the marvelous remote bucolic countryside of the Massif Central, including the plateau of the Aubrac, with its amazing drystone walls that resemble parts of the Yorkshire Dales, then there is the valley of the Lot and the green hills of the Aveyron. In spring the fields are festooned with a tapestry of flowers including Alpine varieties. This is a walk in deepest France, for those who really want a bit of peace and quiet away from it all, a flavour of the past with a dose of religious history and the echoes of The Hundred Year War. The accommodation in some cases is fairly simple - one and two star hotels, reflecting the nature of the country we are traveling through, but if two words aptly describe this route it would be rustic and charming. There is also the sense of achievement that comes with completing a Grande Randonnee, in this case the GR65.

What's included

  • 11 breakfasts, 11 dinners
  • 11 nights accommodation in small country hotels on a twin share basis with ensuite facilities when available
  • Luggage transfer
  • Information pack including route notes & maps
  • Emergency hotline

Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive Le Puy
Hopefully you will have enough time to look around some of the sites, or this could be saved for tomorrow morning if you manage your time well. Le Puy Cathedral is a beauty and has a history of pilgrimage dating back to the 9th century. There is also the pretty St. Michel d’Aiguilhe sitting on its volcanic plug, with its beautiful chapel, and at its foot the little Romanesque Chapelle St. Claire which was originally part of a pilgrim’s hospital. Le Puy is famous for its lace and green lentils which can be purchased in the town. Accommodation: Le Puy - 2 star. This elegant and well equipped hotel is centrally situated a short walk from the train station. All rooms have en suite facilities, telephone and T.V.
Day 2 Le Puy to St Privat d’Allier (23.5 kms)
We climb out of Le Puy onto a plateau and overlook a winding ravine type valley. We pass through black basalt villages like La Roche, then cross a watershed to reach St Privat, perched above the Allier gorge with its much modified castle dating from the Hundred Years War. Accommodation: St Privat d’Allier - 1 star a medium-sized Logis de France listed hotel (30 rooms) in this quiet village of 200 inhabitants. Rooms are a bit basic, but there is a Lovely old restaurant with green lentils the local speciality.
Day 3 St Privat d’Allier to Saugues (19 kms)
Much of the day is spent crossing the valley of the River Allier; we start with a level walk to Rochegude, where the Saint Jacques chapel dominates the Allier pass, providing beautiful views. We descend to the river at Monistrol (Romanesque church) and climb steeply up the other side past some striking geological formations. Easy tracks across an agrarian and forest plateau at about 1000 metres take us to Saugues, meeting-point for all pilgrims coming from the Auvergne. This town features in the history of the Hundred Years war and in the 1700s as a marshalling point for hunters of the giant man eating wolves that terrorized the region for a few years. Accommodation: Saugues - 2 star Logis de France small hotel (17 rooms) with a restful atmosphere and a shaded terrace. TV and phone in rooms. When we visited this had an excellent restaurant and a most friendly service.
Day 4 Saugues to les Faux (27.5 kms)
We stick closely to the route the pilgrims took as we start off through the tiny hamlet of Pinet where many of the pilgrims stayed. We gradually climb up the valley and follow the Villange River upstream to Clauze with its ancient tower impossibly still clinging to a boulder - the remains of a 12th century castle. Our walk is long but not steep through wooded landscapes, moors of broom pine woods and meadows enclosed by granite posts. We head off into forests and around a huge estate called Le Sauvage with its massive solid stone barns, ramps and court yard. Interesting damed ponds kept water supplied to the place. On the way on we pass the pilgrim’s chapel at St. Roch, before detouring off the GR route to a pleasant rural stay at Les Faux. Accommodation: Les Faux - Another small village hotel with 13 rooms about 1km off the route. The rooms normally have either a bath or shower and W.C. A couple of rooms however have shared facilities. Set in the quiet picturesque hilly area over the River Limagnole, it is nice to sit with a beer in the garden overlooking a pond.
Day 5 Les Faux to Aumont (21 kms)
We eventually arrive in the village of St Alban with its Romanesque church dating back to the 11th century and interesting chateau which has been partially restored. We climb upwards for a couple of hours, into rolling bucolic landscapes, enjoying the views of St Alban and the lush Limagnole Valley. Eventually we emerge on to the Margeride plateau at around 900 metres, before descending down to Aumont a pleasant market town with a beautiful church. A fine little town - one of those delightful undiscovered parts of France. Accommodation: Aumont - 2 star small modern hotel in the centre of the town. The rooms have either a bath or shower and W.C. as well as T.V. and telephone. Nice restaurant!
Day 6 Aumont to Nasbinals (26 kms)
Our walk starts off through the small town with its 16th and 17th century houses, until we join a forest path. We pass through the villages of La Chaze and Lasbros and we start to cross the vast and remote plateau of Aubrac. This is a desolate region of wild flowers, dry stone walls, largely treeless and empty of people. Part of the route here follows Agrippa’s old Roman road. Our route takes us through tiny hamlets and farmsteads crossing streams over ancient granite bridges, past huge granite boulders and piles until we arrive at Nasbinals , a transhumance village with a beautiful church. May time is fantastic for the flowers in the fields including large stands of narcissus and orchids in damper niches. Accommodation: Nasbinals - 2 star a hotel in the centre of the village, close to the church. You may be moved to a hotel 500 metres away, but will eat at the central hotel in communal style with other walkers.
Day 7 Nasbinals to St Chely d’Aubrac (17 kms)
An exhilarating day, much of it on open hillsides and grassy drove roads, passing gorgeous beech forests and reaching 1368 metres – the highest point of the tour. We pass through the great transhumance centre of Aubrac (church of 1220 and Tour des Anglais). There is a new interpretation centre here and a fantastic inn, an ideal place to take refuge if it is cold, where huge slices of fruit flan are served for a few Euros! After Aubrac you drop steeply past the ruins of Knights Templar Belvezet castle to pretty St Chely in its secluded valley. Accommodation: St Chely d’Aubrac - 2 star. A small hotel with comfortable rooms in the centre of a small village, run by a young couple. The restaurant offers regional specialities.
Day 8 St Chely d’Aubrac to St Come d'Olt (16kms)
We contour along beech-clad slops onto an open ridge, and then descend through chestnut woods to the ‘Cancels’ stream crossing a few little bridges to ascend suddenly steeply to the hamlet of La Roziere. There is a bit more undulation until finally you descend to St Come d'Olt, with its mediaeval gateways and twisted church spire. This is a pretty little walled village, very much a part of the original Way of St. James, and has a great patisserie. (Possibly you will have to walk a further 6 kilometers onto Espalion if we cannot get you in here). Accommodation: St Come d’Olt - Refurbished convent with ensuite rooms (shower/wc) located at 200m from the village or guesthouse (Chambre d’hote) a 19th century Aveyronnaise house located in the entrance of Saint-Come d’Olt. If we cannot get you in here, you will need to walk on a few kms to Espalion where you will stay in a pleasant ‘fin de siecle’ town hotel with a great restaurant.
Day 9 St Come d'Olt to Estaing (17 kms)
Leave St. Come d'Olt with good views across the Lot back to the village. Really it feels as if you are leaving the Massif Central region and into more productive farmlands from now on. The route then splits with a higher or lower route to the important market town of Espalion, perhaps too early for lunch, but there are plenty of places for coffee and time to admire the old arched bridge dating from the 13th century, the regal houses and the 16th century turreted chateau overlooking the River Lot. Continuing on we pass the exquisite little chapel at the picturesque hamlet called Bessuejouls, which has a concealed upper chapel in the belfry. There follows quite a muddy section climbing through oak woods to a ridge with extensive views over the Lot valley, and then pass between vines and tobacco-fields to reach Estaing. Estaing has preserved vividly the memory of the passage of pilgrims to Compostela. The famous festival of St Fleuret is held yearly on the first Sunday in July, during which hundreds of costumed people follow a procession to commemorate Saint Jacques and other pilgrims. An imposing castle dominates the town, and is gradually being restored for the public. Accommodation: Estaing - 2 star standard. This Logis de France hotel is situated on the bank of the River Lot in front of the castle. It has 40 comfortable rooms with all modern conveniences. The dinner in the fine traditional restaurant is perhaps the best of the tour. Estaing is one of the most beautiful villages of France.
Day 10 Estaing to Golinhac (16 kms)
After a short stint along the banks of the Lot, we climb up to the Campeux plateau. We continue along the left bank of the Lot until Rouquette and then through beautiful villages to the tiny hilltop village of Golinhac, with some commanding views over the countryside. Accommodation: Golinhac - Basic hotel with a restaurant in the small village of Golinhac and located on the GR (grande randonnee path).
Day 11 Golinhac to Conques (21.5km)
Our last day is a hilly rollercoaster into famous Conques. Out of Golinhac we continue through Campagnac and still smaller hamlets until we reach the very tranquil village called Espeyrac. It is an idyllic spot for a morning coffee. Or have one a little later at Senergues with its picturesque castle. There is a bit of climbing and undulating, before following a quiet road maintaining our height for a few kms until the final stony descent into Conques. This, one of the finest hill-towns in France, clusters round the magnificent Romanesque abbey of St Foy, patron saint of prisoners: her shrine became an object of pilgrimage in its own right. The village does get its fair share of tourists, but for good reason, it is other worldly, unspoilt and absolutely chocolate box! At St. Foy they sometimes do free evening organ recitals. Other attractions include the treasury where some very fine mediaeval treasures are housed. There is also the Romanesque bridge down in the valley which is worth the detour to cross. Accommodation: Conques - The hotel we normally use is a 2 stars, 11 bedroom hotel. The building has medieval origins and so rooms may have low beams etc. It is situated in the center of the village and some of the rooms have views across to the belfry of St.Foy. There is an excellent restaurant in which to celebrate your completion of the tour. If this particular accommodation is booked up, you will be in a guest house located in the lower part of village by the beautiful Romanesque bridge.
Day 12 End of tour
Depart Conques after breakfast. Limited early morning bus service to Rodez railway station, otherwise or on weekends, you will need to pre order a taxi.