In 2015 I had the opportunity to walk the Camino de Santiago (or “The Way), from St. Jean Pied-de-Port at the base of the Pyrenees in France to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. If you’re not familiar with the Camino, it consists of several pilgrim routes, from almost every corner of Europe, that converge upon the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela. The bones of St. James (Santiago) are interred in the cathedral and have been attracting pilgrims for over a thousand years.
If you are thinking about walking the Camino, you can find several posts in this blog on the topic by entering Camino in the search box. The posts will show you what’s along the Camino, what it’s like to be a pilgrim on the Camino, and how to prepare for a Camino.
Two weeks ago I finished walking a 400-mile plus portion of the Camino in France (Chemin de Compostelle in French) from Le Puy-en-Veley to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. I hope to give you an idea what you can find along the way from Le Puy to Conques in this post. The next post will be from Conques to St. Jean. The final post on this topic will be a comparison of the route in France to Spanish route.
The Camino route goes through this plaza in Le Puy.
Le Puy, the starting point of this Camino, is located in a picturesque volcanic valley in the Massif Central of France. The actual Camino route begins inside Le Puy’s Romanesque Cathedral of Notre-Dame and descends from a 135-step stairway that begins right in the middle of the seating area of the church and leads to the streets of Le Puy.
The stairway exits the church and continues outside down to the street.
Here’s looking back at the Cathedral from the street. The decorations are for a Renaissance Fair that was going on at the time.
If you like to climb stairs, Le Puy has several step-streets that you can explore. You can even climb 267 steps to reach the chapel of St. Michel at the top of a volcanic pinnacle.
The 267 steps wind their way from the bottom all the way into the chapel.
The Camino route continues through the streets of Le Puy. Fortunately, there are several markers along the way to keep you on the right path.
It’s 1522 KM to Santiago (Saint Jacques in French). St. Jean is about halfway. The shell is the symbol of the pilgrim route.
When you reach the outskirts of Le Puy, you’ll run into this statue of a pilgrim.
The Camino follows the long distance hiking route (Grande Randonnee) GR 65, all the way to St. Jean. The GR 65 has been cobbled together from footpaths, easements, agricultural access routes, rural roads, and regular roads. The GR 65 from Le Puy to Conques is a very popular route for walking holidays as there is an infrastructure in place to make a walking holiday possible and the scenery is spectacular for the entire distance. If you are considering a walking holiday in France, a section of the GR 65 anywhere between Le Puy and Conques should be at the top of your list.
You’ll see plenty of crosses along the entire route. This one is just outside of Le Puy.
This part of the route is winding between buildings of a very small village.
Here’s an example of where the GR 65 is on a footpath. You’ll be following the red and white markers (on the right-hand side of the picture) of the GR 65 all the way to the end.
Here’s an example of the GR 65 on an agricultural access road.
You’ll even find plenty of ancient shepherd huts made of stone in the Massif Central.
You’ll also find plenty of churches and chapels along the way. Many of them are no longer active. Because the Massif Central is volcanic, almost all of the structures are made out of granite or schist. When the underlying rock changes later in the walk, the materials used for structures will also change.
You’ll make several descents into (and ascents out of) small villages (this one is Monistrol-d’Allier) and river (this one is the L’Allier) valleys.
You’ll pass many very attractive homes and farms. Many of the old farmsteads have been renovated for use as a retirement or vacation homes.
You’ll have scenic and peaceful vistas the entire way.
You’ll see these carved figures as you enter the small town of Saugues. The 2017 Tour de France went through Saugues and several other towns touched by the GR 65 on the Massif Central.
You’ll see plenty of cows on the Massif Central especially when you enter the area known as the Aubrac.
The Aubrac is known for its wide open vistas and stone walls. The walls have been ongoing project for centuries and are made out of volcanic rocks cleared from the fields.
In some places in the Aubrac you’ll actually walk through the cows. The GR 65 continues straight ahead through the small gate in front.
And in every village you walk through, you’ll find a monument to La Grande Guerre (The Great War or World War I). The monuments list those “Morts pour la France” (Dead for France). When you consider the size of these towns, it must have been truly awful. It’s still very sad to see these monuments 100 years later.
And high above almost every town you’ll find a statue of Notre-Dame. This one is above Espalion.
One thing for certain is that you’ll take plenty of pictures along this route as there is so much to see:
This twisted church steeple is in St-Come d’Olt.
The French countryside is absolutely stunning!
Estaing is almost like a “fairy tale” town.
As if to save the best for last, you’ll conclude this section of the GR 65 in the amazing town of Conques. You’ll be convinced that you have stepped back to the Middle Ages!
You enter the town on the this small stairway. Again, if like to climb stairs, you’ll love exploring Conques!
And when you reach the bottom of the stairs, you’ll make a right-hand turn and find yourself transported back to 800 years ago.
Conques is also home to the abbey church of Saint-Foy (Saint Faith in English; Santa Fe in Spanish)
The stone carving of the “Final Judgement” above the entrance of the church is very interesting. I’ll have more to say about the carving in a future blog post.
And when you leave Conques, you’ll have a long climb up and will have the chance to ring the bell in the small chapel of Saint-Foy overlooking the town of Conques.
I hope to have the next blog post on the rest of the journey to St. Jean out very soon. Thank you!