With rolling green hills, wind-swept plateaus and ancient stone chapels, this ninety-kilometre (fifty-six-mile) section of the GR 65 Chemin de Saint-Jacques (also known as the Way of Saint James) from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Aumont-Aubrac delivers everything you could imagine a long-distance walk through quintessential French countryside will bring.
And, although there are some challenging hills to climb and a gorge to cross in the first two days, the path takes a mostly gentle route along quiet country roads and well maintained gravel paths, passing through tiny hamlets and villages consisting of little more than a handful of houses and farm buildings. The upside of this wonderful sense of peace and tranquillity is that the ‘real world’ seems a million miles away. The downside is there is often a long way between pharmacies and ATMs—but nothing a little preparation won’t fix.
Take a day before you start walking to explore Le-Puy-en-Velay. There are many charming corners to discover here, from the twelfth century Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy, with its adjoining cloister, to a tiny chapel which has stood high on top of Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe since 961 AD. Saturday morning is market day in the heart of this historic town, and is the perfect opportunity to gather some trail mix—locally-grown dried or fresh fruits, nuts, olives and perhaps some homemade sausage.
Le-Puy-en-Velay has been catering to travellers along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques since the tenth century, when Bishop Gothescale returned from the first recorded pilgrimage. Today, walkers are well looked after by Les Amis de Saint-Jacques (Friends of Saint-Jacques) who host a gathering each afternoon in the Camino Café. Here, you’ll meet other walkers preparing to set out, share a glass of Verveine (the local aperitif) and have all your last-minute questions answered.
When you reach Aumont-Aubrac, reward yourself with dinner at the Michelin-starred restaurant, Cyril Attrazic, which takes the fine food you’ve grown accustomed to in France to a whole new level.
If you are not an experienced long-distance walker, this is the perfect walk to cut your teeth on. Many first-time walkers are concerned about becoming lost or injured far from town, but there will be lots of other walkers about to keep you company—or come to your aid if you find yourself stranded along the way. This section is also well-supported with a daily bus service, just in case you need a break from walking.
Of course, this is just the beginning of a path that continues another 1,400 kilometres (900 miles) through France and across Spain to Santiago. So when you fall in love with the exhilaration and sense of achievement that long-distance walking brings (as I know you will), prepare to devote a bit more vacation time to this glorious pursuit!
Follow my suggested itinerary along the Chemin de Saint-Jacques du-Puy from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Aumont-Aubrac from the comfort of your armchair 🙂