After our first night’s sleep in Le Puy, we had some decisions to make first thing Saturday morning. We only had a one night stay in the current lodging and needed to make a plan. Since we arrived in Le Puy earlier than expected, we needed to alter some previous reservations. My sister-in-law had secured lodging in another chambre d-hôtes but we needed to alter the dates since we had bypassed Paris. Luckily, we were able to change our arrival date at Chambre d-hôtes La Maison du Loup and – a bonus – they would allow us to drop our packs there until check-in time later in the day so we would not have to walk around all day with loaded backpacks. After breakfast at Chambre d-hôtes La Prévôté, we got ready for the move.
The Chambre d-hôtes La Maison du Loup is located in a 16th century building within the historic district of Le Puy and a short walk to all amenities.
Along with arranging accommodations for our stay in Le Puy, we also had some logistical items to cross off our list. We both had some additional supplies that we needed for the walk, and I needed to find an ATM so that I could start the walk with some euros in my possession. I determined the best way to access cash along the chemin was to set up a debit card account and use ATM machines that are prevalent in the larger towns. I was nervous about doing this as I’ve never used a debit card before! It was a tad unnerving the first time I inserted the card. I had visions of the 24-hour ATM machine eating my card but all fears were laid to rest and I found it incredibly easy to manage my money this way throughout the whole trip. Planning Tip: Most of the gîtes and chambre d-hôtes along the chemin only accept cash (or an ANCV Cheques-vacances – which is a paper checkbook for use in the European Union). I found it only necessary to carry a few days worth of cash to pay for accommodations and lunch food. It was important to be aware when and where the next ATM machine was located.
After attending mass at the Cathedral Notre-Dame, we headed off in the direction of the historic shopping district to get our bearings and shop. Since I was limiting my luggage to carry-on items only, I could not bring my hiking poles on the plane from Montreal to Paris. I found a cheap pair of poles in a tourist shop that would serve me well for the walk. I also wanted to get a small Swiss Army pocket knife with scissors to carry along with me for lunch and first aid needs. It took awhile to find but eventually I located a shop that had just what I wanted.
We ended up eating lunch on Saturday at the same restaurant where we had eaten dinner the previous night. Our dinner had been a true multi-course culinary delight so we felt sure lunch would be just as awesome! Comme A la Maison is a French restaurant that I highly recommend if you find yourself in Le Puy-en-Velay.
After spending time wandering the cobblestone streets of the historic district, it was time to head back up the hill to our accommodation so we could check-in and get settled.
Ascending yet another stone spiral staircase to our room at La Maison du Loup, we noticed a small staircase leading up another small flight of stairs to a common room in the “tower” that afforded a terrific view of the town. If you look closely, just below the tower window is a “wolf” (or le loup, in French) protruding from the stone. Our host told the us that it seems likely one of the original owners of the building was a wolf hunter by profession. Common prior to the 19th century, wolf hunters belonged to a special corps called the “louveterie.” They protected livestock and people from wolves and by the 20th century wolves were completely eradicated from France. There is evidence that wolves are making a come-back now due to their protected status in modern times.
After settling in to our room, we went back into the historic shopping district in search of dinner. We landed at Aux Beaux Thés du Monde, a small crêperie that proved to be excellent food at an incredibly reasonable price. Planning Tip: We quickly learned that “tipping” in restaurants is not common or expected. I actually loved this concept! It kept things much simpler. We also realized that waiters do not bring a check to the table. When you are done with your meal and ready to leave, you simply go to the register counter and pay for your meal.
The next day (Sunday), I spent a leisurely morning figuring out how to arrange accommodations each night for when we start walking. I wanted to have a least the first few days of accommodations reserved. Everyone approaches this differently. Some pilgrims choose not to reserve in advance so they have the flexibility to walk further if they feel okay or stop earlier if they are struggling. Others reserve their entire walk in advance. Then, there are those like us who were choosing to reserve just a few days in advance. I was using a spreadsheet that I secured from a website maintained by an American school teacher who has done may Camino trips. It quickly became clear that we would not be able to start our walk until March 31st for two reasons.
It was early in the season – really still the shoulder season – and many gîtes and chambre d-hôtes were not open yet. Some were set to open on April 1st and others, not until April 15th. The second reason that delayed our departure day was the availability of luggage transport. My sister-in-law wanted to have one small duffle bag that would be transported each day from one accommodation to the next by a luggage transportation company so that she could lighten the backpack she would be carrying every day. Many people carry everything they need in their backpack. Most recommendations are to carry no more than 10% of your body weight. That is ideal for walking extensively over many weeks.
Since most people are using gîtes and chambre d-hôtes for lodging, there is no need to carry a tent, sleeping bag and multiple days worth of food. I was able to limit my pack to around 15 lbs. – which was close to the weight recommendation. Since my sister-in-law was going to use a luggage transport company, I agreed to share the cost and put a ziplock bag of some of my extra clothes in the duffle. It was nice to utilize this service but not necessary for me. We used a company called La Malle Postale. We showed up at their office in Le Puy make arrangements and found out that they did not start transport until April 1st. I had already made reservations for March 31st but they kindly agreed to start a day early for us. It also became clear that they only transport luggage to accommodations listed in a particular guidebook (that we had not purchased yet). Since one of the accommodations on the spreadsheet was not in that guidebook, I was already altering reservations! Planning Tip: For subsequent walking trips, I would not use a luggage transport company. They were great to deal with – this is not a reflection on them. For those who just cannot walk with a burdensome pack, it is a great service. It makes the pilgrimage more accessible to more people. But, using them limited where we could stay and also limited our flexibility. I think it best – if you are fit and able – to make sure your pack weighs what you can carry and avoid the limitations placed on you by a luggage transport company.
After countless hours of planning, I was ready for a break! It was time to get some exercise and see some sights! Rising up high from the top of a rock outcropping, I had been seeing the Chapel Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe from a distance and was eager to make the steep climb to view it up close and personal. It was built in the 10th century on top of a “volcanic plug.” I was so impressed with the chapel that I visited it twice while in Le Puy. It became my favorite spot in the city. The chapel was built by Bishop Godescalc of Le Puy-en-Velay in celebration of his return from his own pilgrimage on the Way of Saint James. The chapel is named after Archangel Michael.
As I started to climb the 268 steps, there was a sweet, small little chapel near the base that I detoured to first.
Some of the 268 steps leading to the Chapel Saint-Michel with a view of the Statue of Notre-Dame of France off in the distance. The inside of the chapel was simply furnished and so peaceful. The ancient frescoes on the ceiling and walls were spectacular – as were the stained glass windows. I sat on a bench inside the chapel quietly for a long time – taking in the incredible beauty of this place.
I had read that there was a fresco of a hand above the door to the chapel that many believe represents a blessing for pilgrims as they exit the chapel. It actually took me awhile to find it!
Below are some close-ups of the artwork in the chapel. Stunning!
Until next time….final preparations and our jumping off day!!
It’s good that you took the time to visit Le Puy, because once you’re on the Camino, you’re moving on and not visiting as much.
You are absolutely right. At first I was disappointed not to be heading out on the Camino, but then I realized it was actually good to spend some time in Le Puy. Such an interesting place.