A Month’s Walk in France

February 7, 2013 by

After living nine months in Marseille, in June of 2010 we moved out of our apartment carrying only our backpacks with a minimum of clothes and necessary items to start a month of walking. Our plan was to walk in four different regions of France:
– the Gorge du Tarn
– the Bastides Albigeoises in the Tarn
– the Pays Basque, and
– the Loire Valley.

We will take trains between the regions. The only reservations we made in advance was a hotel room in Ales, our first night away.

This is not the first time we have done village-to-village hiking in France. Our previous four outings have been:
– Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle (the pilgrimage trail that ends in Spain) from Nasbinal to Conques
– Le Chemin de St. Jacques de Compostelle from Figeac to Moissac
– Le Beaujolais – a circular hike through many of the grande cru villages beginning and ending in Beaujeu
– Le Lot and le Dordogne departments – from Martel to Rocamadour

This will be a brief description of each leg of our hike. I hope this will encourage you to explore France on foot!

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Sunday, June 20 – Quit Marseille by Train to Ales

February 7, 2013 by

Took the morning train to Nimes and had a café before taking another train to Ales, where we had never been before. Inauspicious beginning: Peggy not feeling well and has a sore throat. Stayed in a nice room at the Le Riche Hotel across from the gare. The hotel has a fancy dining room but didn’t want to dine this night. Peggy rested and I walked the town. For dinner found an agreeable place with an above average salade chaude (hot salad). Ales seemed a little bit prosperous and well situated in a valley next to les Cevennes mountains.

Monday, June 21 – Bus from Ales to Florac, Walked from Florac to Quezac – 9 kms.

February 7, 2013 by

Took small autocar – a van, really – from Ales to Florac and immediately began walking. We’re on our way!

First balisage (path marker)

First balisage (path marker)

We’re on the Sentier des Gorges du Tarn

We’re on the Sentier des Gorges du Tarn

Ispagnac

Ispagnac

Walked through Ispagnac, a village rue that is long and narrow because it is comprised of one street rather than round and fortified. Told there are four such villages remaining and Quezac is one of them as well. There is a historic bridge that leads into Quezac. Stayed at La Maison de Marius, chambre d’hote. Impeccable. At the place enjoyed a long talky dinner with Irish couple who lived in Great Britain and the hostess and her friends, a French couple from Languedoc. Very sympa (nice).

Tuesday, June 22 – Walked from Quezac to Sainte Enimie – 17 kms.

February 7, 2013 by

Walked through Castelbouc on the way, a village only accessible on foot, before arriving at Sainte Enimie. Stayed at a hotel in Sainte Enimie, the Auberge du Moulin. Pizza dinner. Sainte Enimie was quiet at night but sees a good number of tourists during the day.

An idyllic path

An idyllic path

Castelbouc has no room for cars

Castelbouc has no room for cars

A view along the way

A view along the way

Wednesday, June 23 – Walked from Sainte Enimie to La Malene – 14 kms.

February 7, 2013 by

Stopped for awhile at St. Chely du Tarn, a very pleasant village with a very nice looking hotel with a piscine (pool) and many gites (holiday cottages). Stayed two nights in La Malene at a chambre d’hote (bed and breakfast) called La Pigeonnier. The owner has only the one chambre (room) with a private terrace above. Very austere, cosy room in the haut (high) village, but not very haut. Stayed an extra night to allow Peggy to lose her sore throat that has persisted, although she has been able to walk OK. (She’s a trooper!) Dined on saucisse (sausage) and aligot (a rich potato and cheese dish) on a terrace of a restaurant on the gorge (river canyon).

St. Chely du Tarn

St. Chely du Tarn

Arriving at La Malene

Arriving at La Malene

Thursday, June 24 – Layover day in La Malene

February 7, 2013 by

Peggy took a guided boat trip on the Tarn through the most narrow canyons of the Tarn. I hiked the causse (limestone plateau) on the other side of the Tarn up to a spectacular viewpoint called Roc de Hourtouse, 16 kms. Beautiful trail going up through forest to a flat causse and views on top, then a rapid descent and a walk along the river back to La Malene. Peggy now feeling much better. Dined at the fancy auberge in a beautiful courtyard with many English speakers around.

View from the boat

View from the boat

Another view from the boat

Another view from the boat

the Tarn

the Tarn

Friday , June 25 – Walked from La Malene to Les Vignes – 12.5 kms.

February 7, 2013 by

In Les Vignes we stayed at a chambre d’hote called La Maison Tranquille. English couple were hosts: he very funny and she cooked us a delicious dinner as we sat on the terrace overlooking the side of the gorge. Before dinner we had a beer at a sad café and spoke with a Dutch couple. We were finally able to use the internet at night of many days without access.

On the way to Les Vignes

On the way to Les Vignes

A door in Les Vignes

A door in Les Vignes

Saturday , June 26 – Walked from Les Vignes to Le Rozier – 12 kms.

February 7, 2013 by

Le Rozier is the last stop in the gorge. Beautiful section of the walk mostly along old terrace walls. Stayed at Le Pause chambre d’hote that was almost like a hotel with a nice pool and a view of the adjoining village of Peyreleau. Met a nice couple from the region Parisienne. Dined at a café resto with them and then watched the United States lose to Guyana in the World Cup quarter finals. The U.S. did well overall.

French poppies

French poppies

On the way to Le Rozier

On the way to Le Rozier

Wildfowers were everywhere

Wildfowers were everywhere

An abandoned farm

An abandoned farm

Sunday , June 27 – Layover Day in Le Rozier

February 7, 2013 by

Stayed an extra day in Le Rozier because the bus to Millau didn’t run on Sunday. Did a magnificent day hike on the causse in a protected reserve. Saw five vaultours (vultures) soaring at once. Views of the Gorge de la Jonte and abandoned sites. The trail descended quickly then we took a swim in the Jonte River. Met an interesting English couple at petit dej and I left the book I finished for them.

Vultures are protected in France

Vultures are protected in France

View of Peyreleau

View of Peyreleau

Abandoned abbey

Abandoned abbey

Gorge de la Jonte

Gorge de la Jonte

Monday , June 28 – Travel Day Ending in Gaillac

February 7, 2013 by

The owner of Le Pause drove us down the hill to catch the 8 AM bus that took us to Millau (we had the bus to ourselves). Once in Millau, we immediately took the bus to Rodez that connected to the train to Albi.

While on the train we were talking to two French hikers and another person and somehow we decided to get off a stop early at Carmaux une ville triste (a sad or not-so-interesting city), it turned out — to begin walking from there, to Monesties. In Carmaux we went to the tourist office and then lunched at a brasserie then called the only chambre d’hote in Monesties and it was full. Plan C: we jumped on the train again to Gaillac to stay the night and resume walking.

In Gaillac we stayed in a chambre d’hote called Lucile Pinon, a somewhat spooky but very roomy and comfortable 17th century hotel particulier (city mansion). Saw signs for a GR (grande randonnee) trail designation – a trail category – but the tourist office called someone who said that it wasn’t finished (!). Walked Gaillac and saw much travaux (work in progress) and many very old buildings and much potential. It sits on the Tarn River. We learned about Gaillac wine: it has cepages (grape varieties) that I never heard of before! No restaurants open except for two fancy ones so we bought some cheese and picnicked in our room.

Lucile Pinon Chambre d'Hote in Gaillac

Lucile Pinon Chambre d’Hote in Gaillac

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Stairway of the hotel particulier

Stairway of the hotel particulier