søndag den 11. november 2018

Den lille franske Camino fra Le Puy

Den mest populære strækning på de mange jakobsveje, Chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle, er uden tvivl de ca dages gang fra Le Puy en Velay til det store kloster i middelalderbyen Conques.
"Den lille franske Camino" har jeg her på www.jakobsvejen.dk kaldt den del af middelalderruten Via Podiensis, der går fra Le Puy en Velay til Conques, det tager ca 10 dage - flere fortsætter dog syd på, nogle til Saint Jean Pied de Port og over 3.000 pilgrimme om året tager hele turen til Santiago de Compostella. Men Den lille franske Camino til Conques over Massif Central er en naturmæssig stor oplevelse, samtidig med at der er masser af pilgrimsliv, samt flere muligheder for messe eller andre kirkelige tilbud undervejs.
Jeg har lige fundet en nylig pilgrimsdagbog her fra oktober i år på den engelsksprogede hjemmeside: https://www.caminodesantiago.me , hvor en pilgrim, der kalder sig longwei har skrevet om sin tur, som hun gennemførte på 10 dage plus transport i begge ender. Jeg vil herunder efter et par bemærkninger gengive de - efter min mening - vigtigste afsnit af beretningen.
Jeg har redigeret lidt i - amerikanske (tror jeg ) - 27-årige "longwei"s dagbog, idet der er nogle informationer, som ikke er så relevante for EU-borgere. Derudover har jeg et par bemærkninger Her:
Der er reglen - og ikke undtagelse, at pilgrimme spiser sammen om aftenen. På de fleste herberger er der en samlet pris (halvpension) for en seng, aftensmad og morgenmad. Longwei skriver, at hun klarede sig ganske udmærket uden at kunne fransk, hvilket kun er godt. Jeg tror dog - og det er kun min fornemmelse - at mange danske pilgrimme, uden nogen form for kendskab til fransk, kan føle sig en anelse ensomme på ruten. Men det interessante ved dagbogen er bl.a., at longwei mødte rigtig mange engelsktalende undervejs. Jeg har gået af samme etaper af Via Podiensis 2 gange i 2010 og 2014, og her var hovedsproget begge gange uden tvivl fransk, og to østrigere og en hollænder, som jeg mødte på mine ture følte sig sprogligt isoleret. En observation mere, som longwei ikke nævner. Franskmænd er - for en dansker - ualmindelig høflige. De prøver at indrage alle pilgrimme i fællesskabet, og det hjælper meget, hvis man lever op til franske høflighedsnormer. Altså hilser pænt Bonjour før man stiller et spørgsmål, beder om hjælp eller andet. Det er dog - i lidt større grad - blevet mere almindeligt for pilgrimme at sige du til hinanden end det var tidligere, men alle ikke-pilgrimme er man Des med end til andet er aftalt. Vi danskere kan ofte med vores noget frembrusende og direkte facon godt virke uhøflige på frankmænd - og for den sags skyld andre sydeuropæere.
Undertegnede har en foreløbig ide om - nok en gang - at gå over Massif Central i forsommeren 2019. Planlægningen er overhovedet ikke begyndt, men i baghovedet ligger en ide om at gå fra Le Puy til Lourdes, og jeg er begyndt lidt på min research. Hvis jeg støder på noget, som andre kan have glæde af at vide, vil jeg lave lidt små historier her på siden.
Men her en redigeret udgave af "longwei"s dagbog fra oktober i år (med et foto af middelalderbyen Conques taget fra bjergturen op og ud af byen videre mod Saint Jean Pied de Port i 2014 af undertegnede):

This was my itinerary:
11th to 22nd October
Day 0 - Travel to Le Puy from Lyon
Day 1 - Le Puy to Saint-Privat-d’Allier
Day 2 - Saint-Privat-d’Allier to Saugues
Day 3 - Saugues to Le Sauvage
Day 4 - Le Sauvage to Aumont-Aubrac (Skipped)
Day 5 - Aumont-Aubrac to Nasbinals (Skipped)
Day 6 - Nasbinals to Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac
Day 7 - Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac to Saint-Come-d’Olt
Day 8 - Saint-Come-d’Olt to Estaing
Day 9 - Estaing to Le Soulié
Day 10 - Le Soulié to Conques
Day 11 - Return to Lyon from Conques

Overall I had a great time on the walk and not too much difficulty.
Observations and tips:
- As everyone reports, the scenery is stunning beyond expectation. I found the first two days especially beautiful, though perhaps that is the effect of novelty.
- Le Puy-en-Velay is an absolutely magical town, try to spend at least half a day there, two nights would be relaxed and charmed.
- Don’t miss the evening pilgrim’s mass when you arrive in Conques
- If you’re approaching Le Puy-en-Velay from Lyon by train and have an interest in modernist architecture, Firminy is right between them on the way and is home to the Site Le Corbusier, including the church of Saint-Pierre, which is a must-see.
- Unfortunately I did not get to experience the desolation of the Aubrac as I missed the longer walking days on the plateau. People I met later along the way mentioned it as a highlight
- I’m 27 and not particularly fit but had no trouble walking from Le Puy to Saint-Privat-d’Allier and then to Saugues the next day. I didn’t find the route as a whole too challenging physically, though there were a fair few hills. My stages in the second half of the walk were all rather short. My weight is about 65kg and I think my pack fully loaded with water and food would have been around 7-8kg, so I was a bit over the 10% target but it was fine.
- Walking poles are an essential on this route - they take a lot of pressure off the knees and feet. The poles I took from home turned out to be broken but I was able to buy new ones the morning of my walk in the centre of Le Puy. Unfortunately the vast majority of people I ran into had no idea how to use their poles! To get the most out of them I recommend searching YouTube for some how-tos.
- I would recommend boots over shoes as well as the paths are fairly rocky.
- Google maps saved me from getting lost at least a couple of times, I could have quite easily gotten off track for an hour or more if I hadn’t been able to check the path. See if you can find a GPS solution for yourself that works offline if you are worried about this. Warning: the red and white markers mark for all GR paths, not just the GR65!
- Demographically speaking, a third of the pilgrims/walkers I met were French, a third Belgian and a third Canadian (not French Canadian). I was fortunate that I had English speaking company for good portions of the walk, mainly the Canadians and some of the Belgians. I’m 27 and I only met a single pilgrim younger than me, a 19 year old Parisian girl, everyone else was in their 30s to 80s I believe! All lovely, friendly and kind people.
- You can do this walk without speaking French, but it really helps to have a bit under your belt. I basically can’t understand anything a French speaker says to me in French but I can get my point across to them in very broken French. If the person you are talking to only speaks a tiny bit of English, then you can meet each other in the middle with mutually rudimentary and broken speech. This was a lot of fun! Other people have said around 80% of the people they met were French speakers, that seems roughly correct to me, but some of them, especially the younger ones, will also speak English reasonably well, or at least enough to help you out.
- I was lucky to have wonderful weather, no truly rainy days, and daily max temperatures between 12 and 25 C (colder on the Aubrac, warmer in the Lot valley). Early-mid October is a beautiful time to walk, with the autumn leaves.
- It’s better to book ahead the night before, or at least morning of, to avoid the stress of finding a gîte upon arrival. In the peak season places could be booked out, but as it was mid-October for me it was more common that the gîtes had already closed for the year. I approached three gîtes in Saint-Come-d’Olt that were all closed before ending up in a chambre-d’hotes, which was lovely accommodation but slightly pricier. The lovely Gîte Saint André in Saint-Chély closed for the year the night after I stayed there too!
- Following from the previous point, I personally wouldn’t try this walk any later than I did as most accommodation, services etc will be closed and the route will be very quiet, and the weather turns swiftly in late October.
Prettiest towns:
Le Puy-en-Velay
Saint-Privât-d’Allier
Saint-Come-d’Olt
Estaing
Conques
Recommended gîtes and accommodation:
Saint-André in Saint-Chély- the best!! Extremely cosy lounge, delicious dinner on a long table and the loveliest hosts.
Le Sauvage - Book this one as early as possible, it was booked out even this late in the season and some people had to walk to the next village
Bisquine du Jean in Saint-Come - this is the cute nautical themed chambre-d’hotes I stayed at, the host doesn’t speak English but will try and share his love of blues guitar with you regardless of any language barrier. No dinner available, but the most luxurious breakfast spread I had on the chemin, with a selection of homemade jams, local chestnut honey, a few pastries and a fantastic baguette.
Le Soulié - Relaxed donativo hillside retreat with a communal Christian hippie vibe. A good place to stay if it’s not too quiet or if you are with a group, especially if the weather is nice enough that you can enjoy the terrace.