A brief rest on the trail from Lyon to Le Puy-en-Velay, France 2009
A brief rest on the trail from Lyon to Le Puy-en-Velay, France 2009.

Longwalk 2009 ~ Lyon to le Puy-en-Velay

Warming up for the oldest walk in western Europe.

I set off in late April, easing into the rhythm of the trail, and reached Le Puy in eight days. During that first week, I saw virtually no other walkers, aside from a few French day hikers on the weekend. I walked through one long day of rain, and only strayed from the path a few times. (That’s why it’s called a shakedown). Quite a bit of the trail follows an ancient Roman road, parts of which are still paved in stone.

Several guidebooks describe the eastern approaches to le Puy-en-Velay. I chose the excellent, though sometimes hard to find Chamina guide #207. It presents two routes – the one from Lyon (le chemin de Lyon au Puy-en-Velay in 9 stages (étapes)), which meets the other from Cluny, (le chemin de Cluny au Puy-en-Velay in 14 stages) coming down from the north.

>>>TIP for US walkers: If you can’t find this guide book domestically, it’s often available from Amazon-UK, or Amazon-France. Both have the same excellent service we’re used to in the US, and the familiar layout and “shopping cart”. In fact, when you Sign-In or Check Out of either site, you use your same Amazon-US account name and password, and it will have all of your address information, etc., ready to go!

Day 1

  • Wednesday, 29 April
    Lyon to Soucieu-en-Jarrest
    18 km

I departed early from Lyon. There was plenty I would have like to have seen in that impressive city, and it was hard not to ride the funicular up for a panoramic view of the valley, but I was too anxious to be on my way. No point in putting off the walker’s dilemma – you can stay, or keep moving. I needed to move.

Two weeks before my departure, I had been in a bus accident that had thrown me violently sideways, twisting my back. It left me sprawled out on the floor for several days in considerable pain, which had not fully subsided, and certainly threatened to slow me down. Even with my ultralightweight pack, I was concerned that long hours of movement would further irritate it. So, off I went…

It was a splendid, shimmering day to begin a new walk, and before long I had climbed above and beyond the city, into the softer countryside, and along the old Roman aqueduct. Still, as first days often are, I found the relatively short distance challenging. By the time I reached Soucieu-en-Jarrest, my lower spine was throbbing.

  • Chambres d’hôtes Carpe Diem – 5, rue Montée-du-Perron. Recommended by Longwalking.

Day 2

  • Thursday, 30 April
    Soucieu-en-Jarrest to Saint-Martin-en-Haut
    18 km

The next stage (etape) in the guide ends at Saint-Symphorien-sur-Coise, but by midday my back again knotted up, and I side-stepped the trail into Saint-Martin-en-Haut. A terrific salade composé for lunch, and then I found a nearby guesthouse for the evening.

  • Chambres d’hôtes Le Pont du Chier. Basic, but clean and quiet. Shared bath.

Day 3

  • Friday, 1 May
    Saint-Martin-en-Haut to Saint-Galmier
    24 km
  • Hôtel le Forez** – 6, rue Didier-Guetton

Day 4

  • Saturday, 2 May
    Saint-Galmier to Saint-Romain-le-Puy
    18 km
  • Chambres d’hôtes+++ Sous le Pic

Day 5

  • Sunday, 3 May
    Saint-Romain-le-Puy to Montarcher
    22 km
  • Auberge Le Clos Perché

Day 6

  • Monday, 4 May
    Montarcher to Jouanzec (Usson-en-Forez)
    18 km

Aude and Damien SAUREL, he young couple who run Auberge Le Clos Perché were extremely friendly and Damien wanted me to know the various trail options on how to continue to Le Puy. He made photocopies from one of his guidebooks, and drew me a schematic of my choices, including some suggestions on where to eat and stay. I decided to veer away from the Chamina guide, which loosely follows the GR-3, and turned onto the ancient Roman “Voie Bollene” at the tiny village of Egrande. From that point to Le Puy, I was off on a cross-country ramble, with little more than a few notes in my pocket.

  • The Voie Bollene passes through –
    La Monge
    Le Puy-en-Velay

After an hour of walking in circles and retracing my steps, I found the elusive waymark and had no further problem, walking through on-again-off-again rain. I reached Usson-en-Forez early enough that I called ahead and found a room in a small rural guesthouse close to Pontempeyrat.

  • Chambres d’hôtes Myrtille. Small, intimate, comfortable. Recommended by Longwalking.

Day 7

  • Sunday, 5 May
    Jouanzec to Bellevue-la-Montagne
    25 km

A beautiful sunny day of cool weather after yesterday’s rains. In the afternoon, as I was following the path through a farm field, a warm wet muzzle pushed my striding hand, and a beautiful yellow dog raced on ahead of me. He lead me the rest of the day, at least 10 kilometers, to the hotel in Bellevue. I reported the vagrant to the owners, and my concern that he was a stray, and they called the authorities to locate his owner.

  • Hôtel des Voyageurs. Nice enough, pleasant people who helped me get my French game on, and played a rockin’ Johnny Hallyday mix during dinner.

Day 8

  • Monday, 6 May
    Bellevue-la-Montagne to Le Puy-en-Velay
    28 km

Another fine day through varied country, leading to lunch in the fortress town of Polignac, before the last big hill into Le Puy-en-Velay.

Day 9 through Day 11

  • Tuesday, 7 May through Thursday, 9 May
    Le Puy-en-Velay

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