Le Puy, France
Well, this was it. The planning and research was over. There were 800kms to walk from Le Puy to the Pyrenees and then another 700km to Santiago de Compostela. However our journey would be considerably shorter at 210km across the Auvergne region in Southern France. We would be following the GR65, one of France’s longest Grande Randonnees or long distance paths. It is known to pilgrims as Chemin de St. Jacques.
We left our luggage in the lobby at 8.00am after breakfast and departed the hotel with our daypacks, compass and map. Following the traditional route along Rue St. Jacques out of town we soon found ourselves in the countryside with a wonderful view of the peaks of the region.
The climb out of Le Puy was not unpleasant and we quickly warmed up. Recent perambulations around Paris and yesterday’s climbs to visit Le Puy’s famous landmarks had prepared us for today’s ascents. The well marked track with its red and white striped way markings led onto a large plateau and brought me to a village dedicated to St. Christopher. This was Saint-Christophe-sur-Dolaison where we received the second stamp of our journey.
The day was warm and it was a relief to enter the cool interior of a chapel dedicated to St. Roch, the patron saint of pilgrims. Up on a small rise was the hamlet of Montbonnet with its welcoming auberge and bar. Two tall glasses of lemonade in the shade of an umbrella was refreshing.
From here the trail proceeded through lightly forested land and down tree-lined lanes. We met Gunnar, one of the pilgrims with whom we had shared a seat on the local train to Le Puy. Gunnar had begun his pilgrimage from Berlin in Germany and had walked most of the way here (apart from the train ride from St. Etienne to Le Puy).
He had taken leave from his studies and part-time work to make the journey to Santiago de Compostela. Walking most days, he stayed at camping grounds or inexpensive pilgrim’s quarters (gite d’etapes) at night. We parted as he took a long break and began rolling a cigarette.
Past an old farmhouse alongside a rippling stream and out onto a sealed road was the village of St. Privat d’Allier.
There was only one hotel which provided accommodation there. When we arrived, the surly man at reception could not find our room key and said that someone had already taken it. After some patient discussion the key was eventually found and we dragged our luggage upstairs to our room. The hotel was booked out due to a wedding and as a result the restaurant was full that night.