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Holiday in France

Ten members from our group joined Croydon Ramblers for what proved to be a wonderful holiday in mid-France.   Les Estables , where we were staying, is about 2 hours drive from Lyon and is situated in the Massif area.   During the winter it is a ski school and snow racquetting resort.  It is small village but surrounded by the most beautiful views and because there was no artificial light the night sky  was amazing.

The Hotel La Decouverte, stood just outside the village on the side of the hill.  It was fairly basic, more like a hotel/hostel, but was very comfortable, the water was piping hot when we returned from walking.   Facilities included  a small swimming pool, table-tennis, boules pitch and a nice sitting area outside to sit with a beer at the end of the day. The food was basic French cooking but plentiful and nourishing.

We had two guides to lead us, both named Alexandre so one we called Alexander, the leader of the Hares, and the other Alex the leader of the Marmots. They both are ski instructors during the winter. The collected us each morning at 0915 and drove us off in minibuses to the start of the walk.  Sometimes we started in a village or else in a lay by.  The Hares walked a bit further than the Marmots but we all met up for lunch.  This was delivered by Phillipe, who set up  tables and served us bread, assorted salads, yoghurt, piece of cake and fruit, then we had coffee.  This was all done with military precision, it was amazing and appreciated by us all, especially as our pre-determined picnic spots were in ideal locations – frequently with wonderful views.     Upon returning to our hotel, Joan Feather now resident in France and Geraldine from Croydon Ramblers had organised cake for us to have with our hotel refreshments.    There was always time for a swim although most enjoyed the setting surrounding the hotel.

Our walks were very varied, we climbed hills from where we could see for miles, right over to the Alps.   The area is full of extinct volcanos some of which we climbed.  However the wild flowers were the most memorable,  they were beautiful, fields of them, and Alex was studying botany so he was able to tell us all about them.  Ken even saws a Spider Orchid  which set him on fire.   We walked the Loire  gorge and saw one of the sources of the Loire, apparently there are several.

On our day off we went to Le Puy, where we started the Route St Jacques last year but this time we had Alexander as a guide and also a guide at the Saint Michael chapel, which stands at least 100 ft up upon a large rock, dating back to 11th century.  The guide told us all about  the frescos round the walls inside the chapel and about the history of the chapel.  Then we walked to the park where once again Phillipe served lunch,  the French passersby were gobsmacked.


All too soon the holiday was over and we returned to Lyon for the plane home.  It was a wonderful holiday and I think Philippe, the guides and the staff were sorry to see us go.   

Route St Jacques

A Ramblers Holiday - Barry Leach

Four members of the group – Janet, Penny, Richard and Barry set out on the Route St Jacques from Le Puy  in the Central Massif to Conques, SW France, led by Ramblers’ leader Joan Feather, a former member of the group, now living in France. Approximately 150 miles and over 20,000 feet of ascent and descent and almost a fortnight later we reached our destination, Conques, a magnificent mediaeval village, centred round a massif Abbey in the confluence of 2 narrow valleys.

Prior to going, we watched a YouTube video, which gave us the impression it would be easy trackway walking, past fields of contented cows, together with the odd crucifix thrown in.   What a surprise we got – on day 2 for instance, the descent into the Allier valley was so steep that 1 member of the group fell, whilst the ascent up the other side of the valley was one of the most challenging climbs we have ever encountered!  However, we started with a local walk and tour of Le Puy, an amazing town centred on two volcanic plugs and a magnificent cathedral, a Unesco World Heritage site – all three visible in the image below.

We climbed up to the Chapel of St. Michael on the plug in the foreground – particularly appropriate as it was founded by the leader of the first pilgrimage on the Route St Jacques, Bishop of Le Puy in 950-1.   We then went right up inside the statue on the 2nd plug, made from the cast iron of some 213 canons from the Crimean War, inaugurated in 1860 in the presence of 120,000 pilgrims!   We had to climb a ladder, right at the top of the statue so that we could see over the golden crown of this vast Notre-Dame of France statue, not an experience for the faint-hearted!

This was a really spectacular walk – the constantly changing panoramas of views were simply magnificent – as soon as one finished, there was another equally stunning valley with sheer drops and absolutely beautiful views.   It was on such a large scale compared to our local walking, much deeper and higher to say the least.  Then there were the wild flowers the brilliant yellow scented broom that dominated much of the earlier scenery.   We were fortunate to have a botanist in the party, so he was able to explain many of the interesting French orchids to us.

We have never experienced such carpets of wild flowers on such a scale before.   Then the variety of terrain was amazing too – duckboards over marshy areas, completely covered forested paths, steep rocky descents and ascents, winding sandy paths, stony tracks, etc.

Some the places we stopped at were simply amazing.

This image shows the old Roman bridge at Espalion with its reflection in the River Lot, with a typical French chateau in the left foreground.  Members of the camera club would have found this a really enchanting environment.  

This image shows a fairy castle at the little riverside village of Estaing, which was another of our stops in the steep sided Lot valley.

Having to move on each day was quite a challenge – it meant that our cases had to be in the hotel reception area at 8:00am most mornings ready for collection.  There was just one instance where we arrived before the luggage but since we were given a drink outside in the lovely French sunshine, it was not a problem.  We were in fact the only ramblers group to have completed the walk without anyone resorting to a taxi for any stage, during the four years that this tour has been running!

Obviously it is difficult to pick out pictures to really do this outstanding walk full justice.  However, we have plans to overcome this problem – watch this space for further details!  All I can say in conclusion, is that this is a walk that everyone should try to do – it gives such a cameo view of another country that is well worth the effort!