(Published February 2016, last updated April 2023)
So far the walk along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques du-Puy has passed through many delightful villages. Most have been quite small and wandering around without getting lost has not been a problem. By comparison, Espalion is a large, busy town, with several grocery stores, pharmacies, banks and restaurants to choose from, but oozing with medieval charm.
My suggested itinerary will bring you to Espalion after a short morning walk from Saint-Côme-d’Olt, allowing plenty of time to visit the museums and wander through the charming back streets.
The approach towards Espalion from Saint-Côme-d’Olt climbs a couple of challenging hills although, if you have a TopoGuide or other good map, you can take a much easier route following the road along the river. You will however, miss this glorious view of the town, nestled into the valley alongside the river and watched over by the ruins of the fortified château Calmont d’Olt.
The GR 65 path and the variante non balisée from Saint-Côme-d’Olt meet on the edge of town at l’église de Perse.
This beautiful church was built during the eleventh and twelfth centuries and holds the relics of a local saint, Hilarian, who was decapitated by the Sarrazins in the eighth century. Église de Perse was the parish church for 400 years until the construction of the much grander church of Saint-Jean-Baptiste in the sixteenth century.
The first time I arrived in Espalion, I had followed the hilly route from Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac and was too tired to climb the slight hill to the chapel—an oversight I soon regretted, and rectified on my last visit. Inside, you’ll find beautifully decorated ceilings and walls of deep red stone.
As you reach town, a glance along the river will provide you first views of the old bridge—le Pont Vieux.
Records show that the bridge existed in 1060 and for many years boasted three towers and a drawbridge. At one time it housed around twenty shops and was a busy marketplace. It is now closed to traffic but in May, it still carries herds of cattle to summer pastures during Transhumance.
On the far bank, between the two bridges, you’ll see the old tanneries where hides were washed in the river.
A short distance further along, the GR 65 path reaches the Tourist Office. Call in and ask for the map which highlights fifteen historical monuments or sights to discover as you walk around town.
On the main street you’ll pass the relatively modern parish church, built in the nineteenth century and featuring two, forty-five metre towers crowned with statues of Mary and Joseph.
In 1978, the older church, dedicated to Saint-Jean-Baptiste, became home to le Musée des Arts et Traditions Populaires and now displays artefacts from nineteenth-century daily life. The church also houses le Musée du Scaphandre (Diving Museum) in honour of Auguste Denayrouze and Benoît Rouquayrol – inventors of the first modern diving equipment – who were born near here and carried out their first experiments in the River Lot.
Tucked away at 29 Rue du Plô is the beautiful Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs. Built in 1700 with stones taken from the dismantled towers of Pont-Vieux, the interior is richly decorated in a baroque style.
The chapel opens at 2:30 on most afternoons and a team of volunteers offers guided visits (en français) explaining the history of the chapel and the role of the pénitents for a small fee.
A few more kilometres up a fairly steep hill will lead you to Château Fort de Calmont d’Olt—the remains of a fortified castle.
The château offers an interesting insight into siege warfare during the Middle Ages. Guided tours and demonstrations show how soldiers attacked oncoming armies by catapulting boulders down the hill and tell the gruesome story of soldiers hurling decaying animal carcasses into enemy camps to inflict injuries and spread disease.
I’ll admit that as I walked along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques, a visit to the fortified château required a climb of one hill too many, but I had called in on a previous visit. If you’d like to see it, take a taxi up the hill and perhaps on to Bessuéjouls to continue your walk afterwards.
And a reminder that somewhere on your holiday, the sight you’ve been longing to see will be undergoing renovation and covered in scaffolding!
Which long-distance walk in France visits Espalion?
Where is Espalion, France? Find it on Google maps
Espalion is located 156 kilometres (97.5 miles) along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques—a ten day walk from the starting point of Le Puy-en-Velay.
Click through to find my suggested itinerary for all five stages of the walk
If you prefer to set your own agenda, I share the steps I take take to plan my itinerary on any long-distance walk (using the Chemin de Stevenson as a case study)
The Compostel’Bus service runs every morning, connecting Espalion with villages along the path between Le Puy-en-Velay and Conques and making the return journey each afternoon. Other stops include Montbonnet, Saint-Privat-d’Allier, Monistrol-d’Allier, Saugues, Villeret-d’Apchier, La Roche, Les Faux, Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole, Aumont-Aubrac, Nasbinals, Aubrac, Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac, Saint-Côme-d’Olt, Estaing, Golinhac, Espeyrac and Sénergues.
Tourist Office in Espalion
You’ll find the Tourist Office at Place du Plô, on your right soon after reaching the town. Opening hours are listed on the Tourist Office website.
If you didn’t collect a map of Espalion from the mairie in Saint-Côme-d’Olt, download one here (Recto 2). The map highlights fifteen historical monuments or sights to discover as you walk around town. Details of each site are detailed (in French and English) in this accompanying brochure.
Accommodation in Espalion
You’ll find a range of options for lodging in Espalion, including:
Hôtel de France
Camping Roc de l’Arche
Where to eat in Espalion
There are many cafés and restaurants, as you’d expect in a town the size of Espalion. On most nights, you’ll have no trouble finding a good dinner, whether your preference is for pizza, something cheap and cheerful, or something more refined.
As luck would have it, we arrived on a Sunday—a day the French often reserve for quality time with the family. After some searching, we found the sidewalk bistrot at La Tour serving dinner and enjoyed a delicious meal.
If your stay occurs on a Thursday night, you’ll be able to stock up on fresh fruit and trail mix at the fresh food market, held every Friday morning.
Purchase the 2023 editions of the Chemin de Saint-Jacques (PDF) guidebooks
Purchase five guidebooks covering Le Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port