We walked from Le Puy en Velay to Figeac in May 2004. Averaged about 16 km per
day walking about 6 hours per day for 16 walking days. Had one layover day in
Conques. Most people walk a little farther and faster. We started walking about
May 1st - about 3 weeks early for the best weather. We had sunshine, rain
and snow - used rain pants and umbrellas for about 13 of our 16 walking days. We
still enjoyed the whole trip.
Country was beautiful, fields of wild daffodils, other wildflowers, a lot of
cow pasture and very few towns compared to the Camino de Santiago in Spain. The country was
similar to Galicia in being hilly, green and wet. My pack weight was about 8
kilos including at least 1 kilo of books, my wife's was about 7 kilos. We used Golite Breezes that we used in Spain. Both of us initially got sore backs due to
no waist belt on pack, but backs got better. Next time I took my Gossamer
Gear Mariposa - about the same weight, but has a waist belt. My boots were perfect
- we were in water, mud, snow almost the entire trip, and my feet stayed dry - I
have Lowa Renegade GTX boots, but never appreciated the value of the gortex
before. (Now I use trail runners that drain quickly, and am equally happy
with them). Susan had lightweight Salomon boots, and her feet did get wet.
Taping the foot and toes prevented blisters.
Finding places that sold food, either bars or stores, was more difficult, so you had to plan lunch food for about 3 days at a time. We stayed in gites, chambre d'hotels and hotels. Costs were expensive compared to Spain. A gite might be 10€ per person or if supper and breakfast included (half pension) 23€. Frequently there would be no other place for food. If a Chambre d'hotel add another 10€ to the per person cost. A hotel if available would be about 45€ for the 2 person room, and maybe 60€ for two for dinner and breakfast, depending on what you order. Due to fewer towns, internet access was difficult ATMs were about 3 to 4 days apart.
We knew almost no French to start - had phrase book, dictionary, a couple of texts. Didn't expect anyone to speak English, and most of the French didn't, but between other travelers and our books, got by without problems and have progressed from no French to terrible pidgin French with sign language. We would get the host of wherever we were staying to call ahead and make reservations for the next night. For Fri and Sat nights, we reserved two or three days in advance. Golinhac had just one facility and was booked 4 days in advance, so we went off the trail a roundabout 2 km to Le Battadou. Montredon we booked 4 days in advance as it was the only facility. No other facilities in Montredon though guidebook said bar and grocery. Several places had bar listed in guide, but closed when we went thru. Saint Privat d'Allier - internet in bookstore on the path thru town. La Roche - Mme Jalbert good food and lodging. Ferme des Gentianes very nice room and food. Aubrac - restaurant on main square on the side as you enter the square has wonderful berry tart - displayed on left as you enter restaurant. Saint Chely d'Aubrac St. Andre Gite very nice - 2 bed room with sink, shower, good food. Estaing has world class restaurant Aux Armes d'Estaing on the main drag facing the river - 25 to 30€ per person plus wine, but worth it. Estaing also had internet in bar by bridge.
- two must haves - miam-miam-dodo current edition - in French but useable with no
French. This is the essential guide for accommodations - has a crude map of trail and towns, current accommodations with phone
numbers. We ordered it from the Confraternity of St. James in England, but you
can buy the current edition in Le Puy en Velay and in some of the towns along the way.
2nd must have is FFRP Topo-Guide.. Highly recommended is Alison Raju's Le Puy to
the Pyrenees below.
The appropriate FFRP Topo-Guide is in French but useable anyway - the 1/50,000 topographic maps show GR 65 and some accommodation info. Le Puy to Figeac is guide #651. 652 from there to Moissac and 653 will get you to the border of Spain. You can get the topo guides directly from the FFRP office in Paris at 14 rue Riquet, 19e. Also at Au Vieux Campeur map and bookstore, a large camping store in Paris on the corner of Rue de Latran and Rue Jean-de-Beauvais (metro Place Maubert). In addition you can get them at bookstores in Le Puy or at the cathedral in Le Puy where you can also get your pilgrim credential. We got our credential at the Friends of the Camino office behind the cathedral
More detailed topo maps are not needed but can be found at the IGN office in Paris. IGN store Espace IGN 107 Rue de la Boetie - metro George V. The normal relevant IGNs are 50(5), 58, 57(4), 63(3), 69. However, you don't need any maps beyond what is in the FFRP Topo-Guides above. There was only one point where a more detailed topo guide would have helped - between Nasbinals and Aubrac there is a pass where we had 6 inches of snow and waymarks were obscured. It took 3 or 4 people scouting around to find that when the trail came to a stone wall at right angles, the proper path was up and to the right, not down to the left thru the trees. After finding the trail again, we realized that the 12 foot high poles crossing the field were guides to the trail for cross country skiers to follow, but the poles had no waymarks on them.
English speakers Take both of these two, or just the larger one: Confraternity of St. James Le Puy to the Pyrenees 2004 - small 40 page guide in English.
By same author but more specific trail directions and more history of the trail: Alison Raju's The Way of St. James: Le Puy to the Pyrenees - 186 pages.
Useful info on accomodations, maps, etc.: http://www.ot-lepuyenvelay.fr/
France has a government supported site - www.Géoportail.fr - that has online interactive views of street maps, topo maps, and photo image maps. The image maps are not Google Earth, but a similar product. To get right to the GR 65, enter http://www.geoportail.fr/visu2D.do?ter=metropole and in the search box at the top left center (Aller À) enter Le Puy. Multiple town choices come back. Select the Le Puy En Velay department 43 choice. On the resulting map, there is a directory on the left (Catalogue). Click the Cartes folder open and check the Cartes IGN box. Click the photographies folder open if it is not open, and check the photgraphies box. Set the right vertical slider to just above Rue, set the left Carte IGN slider to about 50%, and the Photographies slider to about 50%. Then take the hand, and start dragging the map up and right, and you will be able to follow the GR 65 south west. Experiment with all the sliders for levels of detail.
Don't use as your only guide as I may have typos, and varied the route some. When you click on this, go to the bottom and click on edit to get a google spreadsheet view you can save as an xls file. http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pPFto0EzOaDuNLMWoLgLXag
Good website for accommodations - http://www.transbagages.com/ in French but select itineraries and rest is self explanatory. This has the address of the accommodations. That is helpful in the few large towns. Feb 2011 note from Tim on GoCamino "Les Quatre Chemins in **La Chaze-de-Peyre (Department Lozère) **has been completely destroyed by fire. The Gite survived but because of the fire damage to the restaurant/bar area it is not yet known whether the refuge will be open for business this year. For those trying to find this on a map it is about 15 km (10 miles) SE of Aumont Aubrac"
To get to Le Puy from Paris, take the train from Gare de
Lyon. www.sncf.com national train site allows
you to choose English (bottom of page). Their home page is very confusing now.
Go to http://www.voyages-sncf.com for
a more readable page. Don't click on the English translation at the bottom - it
sends you to the high speed train page. Put in Paris and Le Puy, and it will route you all the
way to Le Puy thru a train connection in St. Etienne or a slower connection thru
Brioude (transferring to a bus) buses are part of the train system, and they say
busses will wait if train is late. You can pay for your ticket with a credit
card and pick it up in Paris on the sncf site above, but to get it in Paris, you must
have the exact credit card used to order it, and it must have a 4 digit pin
number. P.S. if ordering online, don't forget that European date style is day
month year. There is an sncf boutique in Paris in the Marias district if you
don't want to pick up your ticket in the Gare de Lyon. You can pick up the
ticket several days ahead of departure, but in the station on departure date,
you must stick your ticket in an orange or red date stamp machine and date is
stamped on back. Otherwise a big fine. If you use www.raileurope.com
you can have your ticket delivered in the U.S.
To return by train to Paris from the Conques - Figeac area, there is a train that goes from Rodez to St. Christophe to Decazeville to Figeac to Paris, so catch it at the appropriate location. From Conques, taxi to St. Christophe is best choice. There are senior discounts, and sometimes weekend discounts if you purchase it online. We ordered and paid for our return tickets via the internet in Decazeville, walked on to Figeac and picked them up there. In Figeac the train station is about 5 blocks from the main part of town. In Decazeville, it is about 3 km away.
At Aire-sur L'Adour there is an SNCF station where you catch a bus to a gare DAX train connection to Paris. SNCF station wasn't open when we were there - you just stand in front of it. We had gotten our tickets at the SNCF station in Condom. If you want to leave the trail at Condom, there are several busses a day to Agen where you can catch a train.
For getting to Aire sur L'Adour we flew into Bordeaux and took a train which transferred to a bus for the final segment into Aire. There are several trains a day - check schedule at the regional train site: http://www.ter-sncf.com/english/index.asp?RegId=11 This schedule is a little tricky in that it lists several columns of apparent choices, but just choose one with an arrival time in Aire.
If you need transportation between towns on the Le Puy route, Transbagage is a baggage service that services from Le Puy to St. Jean 04-66-65-27-75. They normally carry baggage for hikers, but will also carry people. Call between 6 and 10 pm the night before. You will have to be ready on their schedule like a bus line http://www.transbagages.com/ . They will charge about 15 euros for one person and a bag. You could also check with Factage which has a similar operation http://www.chemindecompostelle.com/ .
Incidentally, for getting around in Paris by train, metro, there is an excellent site:
If you are flying in from outside the European Union to Charles De Gaulle in Paris then connecting to another French location, you check your bags all the way through to your final destination. You go through immigration in CDG and back through security, but your checked bag doesn't go through customs until your final destination. This is a thread on the topic.
For those of you with only minimal French, there is
an excellent free set of videos on speaking common French
expressions. Knowing French is not mandatory for walking in France,
but it greatly improves the experience.
http://www.ehow.com/video_4403416_common-french-expressions-asking-questions.html is one of 34 in the series.
If you have more time the PBS series French in Action is now viewable for free
However, is is best used along with the accompanying 2nd edition textbook: French in Action.
the accompanying 2nd edition workbook: French in Action Workbook
and the audio for each lesson:
The 01-01 stands for chapter and exercise, so you must change for each exercise. I just paste the url into my windows media player open url window. Also for better control of audio playback, download the free audio editor Audacity and just paste the url into the Audacity open window where it says filename.
Trip from 10 Sep to 27 Sep - perfect weather, lots of beautiful farmland - golden fields of sunflowers, corn, sorghum, vineyards, cows. Gold from the sunflowers was from the stalks, heads were black, ready to be harvested for oil. Lots of edge of road walking - maybe 70% of the time?, whereas Le Puy to Figeac was mostly trail walking and not so much farmland. About 200 miles (333 km). At the beginning lots of little herds of walkers doing a week or so and having their bags carried from destination to destination by a baggage service. After Mossaic, some of the walkers were going to St. Jean, but most were on their way to Santiago. Some from Holland, some others from Geneva, some French-Canadians. Generally we were able to talk in English with the other walkers, which is quite a contrast from last year where we pretty much traveled in isolation outside of the necessities of food and lodging. (Our French is terrible, if we waited till proficient, we might never go anywhere). Terrain is up and down but nothing as severe as the drop into Conques. Undulating is the word Alison Raju uses in her guide. Very few places had internet. Places to stay on the trail about every 20 km. If you walk off the trail a couple of km, other choices. Miam Miam Dodo is the accommodation guide. Incidentally, I looked at the Spanish version for the St. Jean to Santiago segment, and it looked good in my brief glance. It had the new gite between St. Jean and Roncesvalles. We had the GR65 topo-guides but didn't use them much as the trail is well marked with the white over red bar markers.
Don't use without another guide as I may have typos, or varied the route a little. When you click on this, go to the bottom and click on edit to get a google spreadsheet view you can save as an xls file. http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pPFto0EzOaDvo77CYGzttFA
Michel Besson from the CaminoSantiago forum says that in France
public fountains are frequently marked as undrinkable or untested, but
cemeteries are a reliable source. Their faucets are hooked to the municipal
water system that everyone uses.
The Paris office of the French confraternity: www.compostelle.asso.fr , open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoon between 14h30 and 18h30 at the 8, Rue Cannettes 75006 Paris (subway:Saint-Germain, Saint-Sulpice or Mabillon; bus 63, 86, 39, 95, 70 and 87). Looking at their website with my poor French, I think they offer a pilgrim credential plus other info for 15 euros for non members.
We had been expecting large corporate farms and flat landscape,
but it really was quite beautiful, with moderate hills just as in the earlier
section. The one problem we had is that even this late in the year there
were a number of assisted groups walking the GR65, and booking accommodations up
to 4 nights ahead. We couldn't do this, since we were not yet confident of the
distance we could go each day. We always found a place, with one exception, but
usually not our first choice. The exception was in the Lictos, Aroue, Ferme
Bohoteguia area we could find nothing, so someone from Feme Bohoteguia
volunteered to drive us into St. Palais where we had a reservation.
At St. Jean, we wanted to book the next day at Orisson gite, but it was full, so we stayed an extra night in St. Jean just so we could get a place at Orisson. A good decision. St. Jean is a beautiful place to spend a day, and we were rested for the next day's walk up to Orisson - some 700+ meters elevation gain. The trip over the Pyrenees was spectacular - fluffy clouds, no rain, sheep, grand vistas. After experiencing this, I recommend starting from St. Jean rather than Roncesvalles for the walk to Santiago. Phone a couple of days in advance to reserve at Orisson gite 06-81-49-79-56
Don't use as your only guide, as I may have typos, varied the route slightly, etc. When you click on this, go to the bottom and click on edit to get a google spreadsheet view you can save as an xls file. http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pPFto0EzOaDsVfmpX6_yyCQ
If you want to start from Geneva, the mandatory guidebook is Chemin de Saint Jacques de Geneve au Puy-en-Velay, published by the Association Rhone Alpes des Amis Saint Jacques. You can get it from the Confraternity of St. James. The maps you need are IGN 1:1000,000 #s 45, 50 and 51
Just first impressions for the moment. We used
Camino Portuguese guide, along with his updates found on
www.caminoguides.com . This
was a good guide, but it takes a day or two to get familiar with route markings
how any guide fits with a particular route. We took the 602 bus to the outskirts
of Porto. We walked 3 miles past our first night's destination, Vilar de
Pinheiro, by following signs to Vilar, thinking it was an abbreviation, so had
to walk back. The first couple of days have quite a bit of dangerous road
walking, narrow, blind curves, etc. The entire route is about 75% road walking,
though most roads are quiet. No problem finding a place to eat lunch on any day.
The normal stage from Barcelos is to Ponte de Lima 33.6 km. That was too far for us, so we called ahead and made a reservation at Quintaes, a couple of km off the route. No food there, so we called a taxi to take us to a restaurant a couple of km back. He took us on a costly trip all the way back to Barcelos, so if you use a taxi, be clear on destination and distance.
Stayed at alburgues in Rates and Redondela. Both nice, uncrowded. Rates alburge backyard is also a community common area. When we were there a big party with band went on till late at night. A lot of things to see. We must have taken 600 photos. Not much time for contemplation - too busy dodging cars, checking for waymarks, etc. Spanish section has more trail walking, but a big highway construction job blocks the normal route into Santiago, so you have to detour around for about 3 km and miss the initial view of the cathedral. You can see our spreadsheet showing the mileage points for each day on Google Docs:
There is a little icon on top right that will display the page in English. If you have any kind of free Google id, and are signed on, you can download the spreadsheet as an Excel file or equivalent.
We also carried the colored maps http://alberguerates.com.sapo.pt/01PT/P05CC_PT.htm and found them helpful a few times.
Johnny Walker has produced a number of pilgrim guides for the Confraternity of St. James Online Guides series. He is working on one for the coastal route, and has put his notes in a blog post:
Emma Gatewood first hiked the entire 2160 mile Appalachian Trail at the age of 67. She last hiked it at the age of 76.