After months of preparation, it was hard to believe that the day of departure for this incredible journey was upon me. Walking for six weeks in rural France along an ancient pilgrimage route was a dream come true.
The first leg of my journey started with a Greyhound bus ride from Montpelier, Vermont to Montreal, Quebec, Canada where I would hook up with a traveling companion (my sister-in-law) who was flying in from Vancouver, Canada.
We spent a night and a partial day in Montreal waiting for our overnight flight to Paris. It was fun to explore part of the old city, enjoy a fantastic lunch at Chez Suzette and get used to hearing French spoken all around us! Now that I’ve spent 6 weeks immersed in the French language, I see more visits to my northern neighbor, Quebec, in my future as a good way to practice my new language skills.
From Montreal, we boarded an Air Canada flight to Paris. Due to the political upheaval in France and the protests and strikes plaguing Paris, we opted to cancel our plans to spend 4 days in Paris. Instead, we reserved train tickets from the Charles de Gaulle Airport train station directly to Le Puy-en-Velay – where we would ultimately commence our walk. As it turned out, the train we were to board was cancelled due to the strike but, luckily, we were able to catch another train departing that same day with available space. Whew! We were on our way!
It is not a straight forward train ride from Paris to Le Puy. We had to change trains in Lyon and then switch to a bus in the town of St. Etienne. At one point, we disembarked the train at the wrong stop (blaming it on the language barrier!) and almost made a costly mistake. We realized our error just in time to hop back through the train doors before they closed! After more than 24 hours of travel via air, train and bus, we arrived in Le Puy-en-Velay early evening on March 24. During the train ride, we arranged accommodations for our first night in Le Puy at the Chambre-d’hôtes La Prévôté – one of many options within the village.
Housed in a stone building converted from an ancient convent, the lodging proved very nice and we quickly got a lesson in protocol that would be repeated numerous times over the course of 6 weeks. Because of the number of pilgrims and walkers who pass through this region, certain procedures have been adopted to minimize the onset of the dreaded “bed bugs” issue commonly found in shared housing along the Camino routes. All backpacks and shoes were left in a communal area of the accommodation. We were issued plastic tubs to put items in that we would need and we carried only that tub to our bedroom. Everything else was to remain with the backpacks. While inconvenient at times (there was always that one item left in the pack that I needed!), I was happy to comply if it meant avoiding those pesky little critters!
Our first night accommodation ended up being directly behind the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy. Sebastian was an excellent host and a typical French continental breakfast is included with the cost of the room. Our stay here represented what I would categorize as typical lodging for us along the Le Puy Camino with the exception being we usually paid extra for an evening meal to be included – referred to as a demi-pension.
There was an ancient stone spiral staircase that led to the accommodations – very cool! I felt like I had stepped back in time! The rooms were simply furnished but clean, bright and inviting. Below is the common room where breakfast was served and our bedroom – where we happily collapsed that night after so many hours of travel. The first photograph on this post was actually the rooftop view out our bedroom window!
Le Puy-en-Velay is the capital of the Haute-Loire department in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes région of south-central France. The town has its origins in medieval times and was a major diocese of the Catholic church. Le Puy has been considered a major starting point for the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella since before the 10th century. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy was constructed between the 5th and 15th centuries and is located on the highest point in the town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with many other historic sites along the Camino route.
It is the jumping off point for the Le Puy Camino. Each morning, a pilgrim mass is conducted in the church followed by a special blessing. Pilgrims then descend a hidden staircase from inside the church down to the cathedral steps to start the walk towards Santiago de Compostella – a distance of over 1500 kilometers. We would be executing this rite of passage in a few days and I could not wait to begin the journey!
In the meantime, we had several days in Le Puy to sightsee, do a final shake-down and pick up any additional items we might need for the walk. Next up – our fun-filled days in Le Puy-en-Velay…..
Oh my gosh, a second time around – with a diary! I am so delighted!
I just got back from a Scandinavian Capitals tour with kids & adults from our school district and it was really wonderful. BUT I can honestly say that I enjoy your travels, photos, and commentary just as much as my own!
Thank you! Maria
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This is great Lynn. What fun!
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Lynn, I envy your commitment to “Podiensis” which is a great way to stay fit.
I traced your travels on Google: 264 hours of hiking. Very impressive as is your well written text which is enhanced by your photos. The architecture in those older towns is so different and distinctive.
May your pilgrimage be free of blisters (and bed bugs) and blessed by your acquisition of new friends.