The Le Puy route is amazing! (Part One)

Discussion in 'Le Puy en Velay to Santiago de Compostela' started by naiad, Apr 19, 2012.

  1. naiad

    naiad New Member

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    The Le Puy route is amazing! (Part Two)

    [This is the contination of "The Le Puy route is amazing!]

    This walk is fabulous. You'll pass from VERY hilly and gorgeous countryside, through dark forests with cuckoos calling, across a huge rolling prairie. You'll walk ancient trails, sheep paths (complete with sheep and what they leave behind!), through pastures filled with cattle, chicken yards, people's gardens. You'll also walk country roads and even a fairly good-sized highway for a short while. You'll walk paths that double as streambeds. (Waterproof shoes are a plus, but sometimes you'll be in sucking mud that will almost pull 'em right off.)

    You'll pass castles and gorgeous farmland, lands reserved for hunting, thousand-year old abbeys and tiny roadside chapels. Dolmans and ancient round stone "huts" used by shepherds, too. And the bridges!

    You'll move from the region of slate rooftops to red tile ones. In one stretch, you'll need to carry more water than you think you'll need because there won't be anywhere to get more for about 20 miles. (Really. And you'll be outrageously happy when you finally reach that old-fashioned hand pump, too!)

    Remember that many stores, bakeries, and restaurants will be closed on Mondays so plan ahead and carry something to eat just in case you end up in a small village. Some gites serve dinner, more don't.

    We stayed in municipal gites that were modern and gorgeous, in privately-owned ones that were lovely homes (and in one that was a total dump; called Chapelle de Something but we call it Chapelle de Hell; there was nowhere else). We stayed in the home of a sweet elderly lady one night. Her family came for supper and they were delighted to get to ask us all about the US.

    In one of the round walled cities, the gite was in a former prison. Fascinating, but we felt like were were in a dungeon and didn't sleep a wink! That was also a town with nothing open on Monday. We pooled our meager resources with a few other travelers and ended up with a bread, sausage, wine and chocolate supper -- not bad.

    Don't walk too fast. Stay a day if you're somewhere amazing. Marvel at the elderly French people out there walking the Chemin, and model their technique: taking a leisurely stroll, stopping often to take in all the treats for all the senses and to have a lovely picnic lunch.

    Conques (among other medieval towns) is great. Looks about like it did a thousand years ago. Go to the special organ concert in the abbey church in the evening. If that same monk is playing, you'll get a VERY cool surprise at the end.

    A set of walking sticks is a wonderful thing to have, especially on the MANY downhill slopes. In Saugues (I think) the municipal gite has a chart on the wall that shows the elevations you'll pass through on the route -- it looks like an EKG gone wild! You'll walk all those ups and downs. In a couple places, the path is rocky and steep and you'll use your hands, too.

    Of course, there are alternate routes if that's too much for you or if you're on a bike, horse, or in a wheelchair.

    Carry LESS than you think you need. After the very first day, I gave away an extra pair of pants, a shirt, some tiny binoculars, and even the book I was reading. Of course, you don't have to carry all your stuff every day. We had a small daypack, and several days when we knew the path would be a lot of uphill, we used the luggage service to take our backpacks ahead and just carried water, lunch, guidebook and rain ponchos with us.

    Our silk Dreamsacks came in very handy at times, as did our small microfiber travel towels. You'll need some kind of soap to do your laundry in the sink at night.

    Smartwool socks are great, and this sounds odd, but it's best if you do NOT wash them every night. We changed our socks at lunchtime and safety-pinned the ones we'd been wearing to our packs to dry out; same thing in the morning when the ones washed the night before weren't quite dry.

    A fleece jacket (polar fleece or similar) is great because it's very warm (you'll need at night or when you start out early), it weighs next to nothing, and it makes a great pillow. My walking partner often wore those pants that zip off to shorts. It can be quite chilly in the morning but it will be HOT in the afternoons.

    Take some cheap flipflops for showers. I took those, my walking shoes, and a pair of comfortable sandals to put on after the day's walking was done. A couple of times I actually wore the sandals to walk in (Ecco Yucatan; love 'em).

    It goes without saying that you need really good walking shoes. And at the first drugstore you come across, go in and buy a LOT of these fantastic little blister "plasters" called Compeed. They are amazing! Get different shapes and sizes; get a LOT. You WILL get blisters and these things just sort of become one with your skin, take away the burn and pain, and help them heal up fast. I even bought more after the walk to bring home. They're better than anything you can get here in the States, way better.

    (This is kind of weird, but if you're a person with a second toe longer than your big toe, buy shoes that are a size larger than normal but your regular width and that lace up nice and comfortably tight. You will be walking downhill a lot and you don't want those toes banging up against the front of your shoes. This makes a HUGE difference. Give yourself a week or more to get used to walking in those bigger shoes before you start your trek. You'll feel like you have giant clown feet at first, but when you don't end up with bruised toes and don't lose your toenails, you'll be very glad!)

    The people you'll meet -- travelers and locals both -- wonderful!

    We met one young mother from Geneva, walking with her delightful son (8) and daughter (5) and pushing a big aluminum cart she'd built that carried all their clothing & gear (including cooking stuff) and even had a little place where one of the kids could crawl in and nap a while. They'd just walked out of their house in Geneva and kept going!

    We walked for a week with two women from Germany, best friends, who joined us in singing every song we could think of that had anything at all to do with walking -- and they knew all the American and British rock stuff, Motown, and more from the '60s forward. They were loads of fun.

    And in our last place, the amazing round, walled, hilltop town of Lauzerte, there was a woman just leaving our gite who is my hero: 83 years old and traveling the whole route on a bicycle!

    (That place was great for us, too, because we were getting closer to the border with Spain and the family who owned the gite spoke Spanish, as we do, so we could chat more easily. They cooked us a wonderful supper and even did our laundry for us.)

    Anyway, this is just a TINY bit of an amazing experience. Go! Do it! You'll have TONS of fun, meet some great people, laugh a lot, get frustrated at times, get rained on, feel wonder and amazement, rely on the kindness of strangers, have sore feet, and feel a great sense of accomplishment.

    I'm going back to finish up in France and cross Spain, most likely next spring. Oh, boy! Maybe I'll see you out there.
     
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  2. naiad

    naiad New Member

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    A friend and I walked from Le Puy to Lauzerte in June 2007. Here are a few tips:

    This book -- The Way of St James Vol 1 (France): Le Puy to the Pyrenees (Cicerone Guides) by Alison Raju -- is EXCELLENT for a walking guide. Has lots of info about the trail itself and things to enjoy along the way. It also lists gites and other places to stay.

    But we picked up a copy of MMDD fairly soon and it has MUCH more useful info for finding gites, little hotels, families who have a spare room, etc.

    The Raju guide will lead you to the pilgrim center in Le Puy. Go there the evening before you plan to start walking and sign up to receive your Pilgrim Passport and a scallop shell to tie onto your pack. The people are quite lovely. We ended up spending that night at the home of a very nice lady, just outside of town. Beautiful place and a wonderful supper. She brought us back to town the next morning -- along with a Belgian couple who also stayed there -- in time for the Blessing of the Pilgrims.

    I'm not Catholic but that was really nice. It's in the beautiful church at the top of the biggest hill. The priest has all the pilgrims come down front for a blessing, asks everyone where they're from (that part was fun), and then gives everyone a little medal to wear. Still got mine!

    Yes, there are groups traveling together who book up a lot of the rooms, but we never had a problem finding a place for the night. In a couple of places where the gites were full, the owners/managers found us somewhere else.

    Don't forget to get your Pilgrim Passport stamped at each place you stop or even pass through, either at your gite or sometimes the tourist office, a church or somewhere else. Someone will know where.

    If you can manage a bit of basic traveler's French, it'll be a big help. My friend and I didn't know any, really, and it was a bit of a hassle at times. Yes, you will meet many other walkers/pilgrims who speak English, but out in the countryside there will also be many times where you won't find anyone who does. (I wish we learned more languages in primary school in the US!)

    In our almost three-week trip (we took it slowly and I got sick for four days in Figeac), we never met a single other person from the US. Now, of course, with the movie and Shirley MacLaine's book, more Americans have heard of the Camino, so that may have changed.

    One fascinating (to me) note: In the US we frequently hear that the French don't like us and will be unfriendly. That was far from our experience. In fact, TWICE my friend and I were treated to actual standing ovations just for being from the US. Once was at the end of our first day of hiking. We came down a long muddy hill to a crossroads and there were two elderly women sitting in lawn chairs; they were mother and daughter.

    The daughter asked us where we were from, and when we said, "The United States," she clapped her hands and very enthusiastically told her mother. They then both got up from their chairs, applauded, and came to pat us on the back -- big smiles all the while. Just lovely.

    The other time was at a big communal dinner in a gite. One woman we'd met there -- in her 70s, from Paris, and walking for two weeks on her own -- could speak a bit of English and she announced to the couple dozen people at dinner that we were Americans. Immediately they all stood up and applauded. And afterwards they insisted we take the leftovers with us! (Duck confit -- yum!)


    (Continued in "The Le Puy route is amazing! (Part Two)" >>>​
     
  3. harlylena

    harlylena New Member

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    This was amazing! I'm just starting to contemplate the pilgrimage and it's stories like this that make me smile and intensify the urge. Thanks for sharing.
     
  4. grayland

    grayland Member

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    I just finished the Le Puy route from Le Puy to past Estella in Spain. I took 29 days to complete the Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port portion then walked on a bit into Span again crossing the Napoleon route in a snow storm.
    I have previously walked the Camino Francis from St. Jean to Santiago twice.
    Unfortunately, I don't share the enthusiasm of others about the Le Puy route. In my opinion (only), it is simply a long endurance hike and has little or no Camino feeling. Most people you meet are walking for 5 days to 2 weeks and are doing the GR 65) which is the official designation of the route in France. You hear very little conversation about Santiago or the Camino (Chamin in France) aspect of the walk.
    I draw this opinion based on a comparison of the Camino Frances and the Le Puy route.
    My opinion only.
     
  5. naiad

    naiad New Member

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    Well, taking it slowly and stopping to enjoy the amazing sights and fascinating people makes a huge difference. And, as always, what you see depends on your personal "filters." We heard PLENTY of conversation about the chemin/camino aspect of the walk and met many people -- headed in both directions, actually -- who were doing the entire trip to Santiago. So, if you go during late spring/early summer, relax into the experience, and expect to have a wonderful time, I expect you will.
     
  6. grayland

    grayland Member

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    I just returned last week so my observations reflect my experiences in April May 2012. Perhaps there has been a bit of change since 2007.
    I do tend to take it slowly and enjoy the surroundings. Been on too many Caminos to race through it.
    Again, just my opinions and observations...comparing the Camino Francis to Le Puy.
     
  7. jamok11

    jamok11 Guest

    A good friend and I plan to begin our Camino in late March or Early April in 2013, and are looking to travel along a route that is a bit longer than just the Camino Frances, but not quite as long as the entire le Puy route. We decided that Lectoure France was a great point along the le Puy route to start distance-wise. I was wondering if anyone could give me approximations as to how long the walk is from there to St. Jean, as well as any tips on where to stay in Lectoure or farther down the road. Thanks for any comments!
     
  8. grayland

    grayland Member

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    It is about 11 days to SJPdP from Lectoure as I remember. I stayed at La Halte Pelerine (Gite-Chambre d'hotes). Frankly, I don't remember it so can't say much about it. Email: vp.merlette@gmail.com I do recall that it had a dorm with 10 beds and also a couple of rooms. Double room was 45 euro and the dorm was 15 euro.
    Be sure to get the latest copy of Miam Miam Dodo before you go. It is very valuable for accomondation on the Le Puy route. It is in French but very easy to understand...I speak no French.
     
  9. Megg

    Megg Guest

    please forgive my ignorance....but waht is the MMDD guide you mentioned?
    Megg
     
  10. Leslie

    Leslie Administrator

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