Walking the French Way of St James
Allie has her first Camino experience on a self guided walking tour from Le Puy to Aumont in France
In the spring of 2019, UTracks’ expert Reservations Consultant Allie Peden added to her vast repertoire of hikes and outdoor experiences with a journey along the French Way of St James. Read on to hear about her firsthand knowledge of walking from Le Puy to Aumont in France.
Ever since I first learned the story of St James and heard that pilgrims have walked the Way of St James for centuries, I too wanted to walk along this route to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
While it is a dream to walk the full French Way of St James
and the full Camino Frances
one day, I chose to start my Camino pilgrimage by walking the first stage from Le Puy to Aumont
. My thinking being that 5 days would be the perfect introduction to both self guided walking and walking as a pilgrim. Breaking the Camino into sections is also a great option for those who are short on time.
The walking itself is not challenging, but some days can be long. The beauty of self guided walking means that I, along with my group of friends, could walk at our own pace. We could take breaks as we pleased, and every day involved a nice leisurely picnic.
Bushwalking in Australia is a favourite pastime of mine so preparing for this walk allowed me to do more of something I enjoy. In the months leading up to the walk I would try to get in as many day walks as possible, choosing longer day walks as my trip to France grew closer. I also keep active during the week with a variety of gym classes and found it was satisfying to be in training mode with an upcoming walking holiday to look forward to!
After a few relaxing days in Lyon, France’s gastronomic capital, I was very ready to leave the big (but beautiful) city and get walking.
Arriving in Le Puy-en-Velay, where the tour begins, was one of the biggest surprises for me. It’s such an enjoyable town with lots to see such as the St-Michel d’Aiguilhe chapel perched on volcanic rock and dating from the 10th century. Nearby, an 1860 statue of the Virgin Mary looks over the town from another volcanic outcrop. Walking up to these monuments was a good warm up for the legs!
My friends and I had planned to be in Le Puy-en-Velay for Saturday so that we could experience the market, which has taken place since the 15th century. Some of the local cheeses aren't sold anywhere else in France and it’s a great opportunity to stock up on fresh produce for lunches on the upcoming walk. We left the markets with fruits, vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, olives and nuts - everything we needed for the first couple of days. With our luggage being transferred we were able to squirrel away the extra snacks and not worry about the weight of carrying our purchases.
The next day my friends and I rose early to attend the pilgrim’s mass. This is celebrated every day at the cathedral of Le Puy-en-Velay at 7am. I found this a truly special experience: seeing all the pilgrim walkers donned in their raincoats (on this wet day) with their walking poles, together listening to the enchanting French hymns.
The first day was very damp. I was happy I had good quality rain gear and waterproof boots. With good company, pretty scenery and an impromptu picnic lunch in a church, the first day’s walk was very memorable. Each day of walking provided such a variety of scenery: from green hilly ridges, to valleys with streams, quaint bridges, fields with flowers, old villages with beautiful stone houses. It was so beautiful we didn’t even notice that we’d been walking all day.
We were walking in May, and while spring can bring rain (as it did our first day), it also means fresh green grass, spring flowers in the fields and moderate temperature – all very nice for walking. My favourite day was walking to Saugues through the village of Rochegude, famous for its St Jacques Chapel, and then down into the gorge of Allier to cross the Eiffel bridge of Monistrol d'Allier village. After crossing the bridge there is a quaint bed and breakfast that also sells delicious coffee and cake. One of the best things about walking holidays is all the guilt free eating I can do!
My favourite accommodation was Hotel L’Oustal de Parent (day 4) in St Albain. If you’re considering adding an extra day to the itinerary, this farmhouse makes an idyllic pit stop after 26 km of walking. The beautiful stone building has a lovely on-site restaurant where meals are made from fresh local produce. The bar, complete with an ancestral fireplace inside, is great for a game of cards on cooler evenings and my friends and I enjoyed the outdoor picnic table surrounded by the well manicured gardens. My favourite dish of the walk was served here too - we tried aligoté which is a regional specialty consisting simply of mashed potatoes, seasoned with garlic and with melted cheese mixed through, served with saucisse!
My advice for fellow walking enthusiasts considering a walk on the French Way of Saint James
is simple - just do it! It’s an amazing experience and while I was there with friends, I also saw how great it would be as a solo journey. It was wonderful meeting other pilgrim walkers en route. I enjoyed chatting along the trail, learning where people were from, where they were walking to and seeing many of the same friendly faces each day.
My other piece of advice – if you have the opportunity to walk longer, do it! I would have loved to extend my time and walk further to Conques
and I know that I will be back on the Camino trail soon!
to see the Le Puy to Aumont walk that Allie completed.
to see all of the stages of the French Way of St James Camino.
Or click here
to see all of UTracks' affordable self guided or small group Camino tours.
Has Allie's journey inspired you to walk the French Way of St James? Let us know in the comments.
Don't forget to share this article with the friend's you'd walk a pilgrimage with!