Trek Notes - France

The Way of St. James

The Way of St. James

We have been running this trip for many years now - it was one of our original hotel treks. It covers a large swathe of the uplands of the Massif Central. The route takes a path that the early Pilgrims walked on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain - one of the great journeys of history. Obviously this is just a section of that route. It goes up and down valley through some of the marvellous remote countryside of the Massif Central, including the plateau of the Aubrac, the valley of the Lot and the green hills of the Aveyron. This is a walk in deepest France, for those who really want a bit of peace and quiet away from it all, a flavour of the past with a dose of religious history. The accommodation in some cases is fairly simple - one and two star hotels, reflecting the nature of the country we are travelling through, but if two words aptly describe this route it would be rustic and charming.

Travel Information

Season: May to October, uncrowded and usually not too hot in the summer.

First Hotel: Hotel Bristol, Le Puy, on the afternoon/early evening of Day 1.

Arrival: The best train to aim for has been the TGV from Lyon Part Dieu at around 14:15, which will get you to St Etienne at 15:05, where you change for Le Puy departing at 16:00 arriving at 17:16. Please check times before travelling.

End of Tour: In Conques on day 12. Travel to Rodez by bus (no service on Saturday or Sundays) and then daily direct non-TGV train For Example:dep. 11.50, arr. Paris Austerlitz 18.50.Or on any weekday and Saturday, taxi to St. Christophe, and direct non-TGV train to Paris Austerlitz dep. 07.03, arr. Paris 13.35.

Level of Difficulty

Fitness: A moderate to strenuous graded trek that anyone with a reasonable degree of walking experience and current reasonable state of fitness should cope with. The relatively high grade reflects the length of some of the day stages and the nature of the terrain.

Day stages: Approximately 15 to 26 km per day with average altitude gains of 550m. This is about 5 to 8 hours of walking.

Waymarking: The route is well marked with red and white GR waymarks and 'Chemin de St Jacques' scallop shell signs.

Accommodation & Meals

Evening meal, bed and breakfast are included throughout the tour. Two star hotels offer en suite facilities.One star hotels do not always have en suite facilities. Luggage is transferred between hotels every day.


Day 1: Arrive Le Puy.

Day 2: Le Puy to St Privat d’Allier 22 kms. We climb out of Le Puy onto a plateau and overlook a winding valley. We pass through black basalt villages like La Roche, then cross a watershed to reach St Privat, perched above the Allier gorge.

Day 3: St Privat d’Allier to Saugues 18 kms.Much of the day is spent crossing the valley; we start with a level walk to Rochegude, where the Saint Jacques chapel dominates the Allier pass, providing beautiful views. We descend to the river at Monistrol (Romanesque church) and climb the other side past some striking geological formations. Easy tracks at about 1000 metres take us to Sauges, meeting-point for all pilgrims coming from the Auvergne.

Day 4: Saugues to les Faux. 25 kms. We stick closely to the route the pilgrims took as we start off through the tiny hamlet of Pinet where many of the pilgrims stayed.We gradually climb up the valley and follow the Villange River upstream to Clauze with its ancient tower - the remains of a 12th century castle.Our walk is long but not steep through wooded landscapes, moors of broom pine woods and meadows enclosed by granites posts.

Day 5: Les Faux to Aumont. 19 kms. We eventually arrive in the village of St Alban with its Romanesque church dating back to the 11th century. We climb upwards for a couple of hours, enjoying the views of St Alban and the lush Limagnole Valley. Eventually we emerge on to the Margeride plateau at around 900 metres, before descending down to Aumont. This is a desolate region of wild flowers, treeless, empty of people.Part of the route here follows the old Roman road of Agrippa. Aumont is a fine little town - one of those delightful undiscovered parts of France.

Day 6: Aumont to Nasbinals. 26 kms. Our walk starts off through the small town with its 16th and 17th century houses, until we join a forest path.We pass through the villages of La Chaze and Lasbros and we start to cross the vast and remote plateau of Aubrac. Our route takes us through tiny hamlets and farmsteads crossings streams over ancient granite bridges until we arrive at Nasbinals.

Day 7: Nasbinals to St Chely d’Aubrac. 20 kms. An exhilarating day, much of it on open hillsides and grassy drove roads, reaching 1350 metres. We pass through the great transhumance centre of Aubrac (church of 1220 and Tour des Anglais), drop steeply past the ruins of Belvezet castle to pretty St Chely in its secluded valley.

Day 8: St Chely d’Aubrac to St Come d'Olt. 16kms. We contour along beech-clad slops onto an open ridge, and then descend through chestnut woods to St Come d'Olt, with its mediaeval gateways and twisted church spire.

Day 9: St Come d'Olt to Estaing 17 kms. We pass the exquisite little chapel at Bessuejouls, climb through oak woods to a ridge with extensive views over the Lot valley, and pass between vines and tobacco-fields to reach Estaing. Estaing has preserved vividly the memory of the passage of pilgrims to Compostela. The famous festival of St Fleuret is held yearly on the first Sunday in July, during which hundreds of costumed people follow a proces­sion to commemorate Saint Jacques and other pilgrims. An impos­ing castle dominates the town.

Day 10: Estaing to Espeyrac. 23 kms. After a short stint along the banks of the Lot, we climb up to the plateau of Campeux. We continue along the left bank of the Lot until Rouquette and then through beautiful villages such as Golinhac, Campagnac and still smaller hamlets until we reach Espeyrac.

Day 11: Espeyrac to Conques 13 kms. A short distance today, taking us through Senergues (picturesque castle) and maintaining our height until the final dramatic decent into Conques. This, one of the finest hill-towns in France, clusters round the magnificent Romanesque abbey of St Foy, patron saint of prisoners: her shrine became an object of pilgrimage in its own right.

Day 12: Return home.













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