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2019 Camino Guides

Le Puy to Conques in October - Trip Report

Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy - Conques (Aug/Sep 2018)
#1
Hi everyone, I posted a thread a couple months ago about having cancelled my walk in August and rescheduling it to October due to a chest infection. I’ve just gotten back home last week, so I wanted to share some observations, tips and experiences from my trip with this forum in case anyone will find them useful :)

This was my itinerary:

11th to 22nd October
Day 0 - Travel to Le Puy from Lyon
Day 1 - Le Puy to Saint-Privat-d’Allier
Day 2 - Saint-Privat-d’Allier to Saugues
Day 3 - Saugues to Le Sauvage
Day 4 - Le Sauvage to Aumont-Aubrac (Skipped)
Day 5 - Aumont-Aubrac to Nasbinals (Skipped)
Day 6 - Nasbinals to Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac
Day 7 - Saint-Chély-d’Aubrac to Saint-Come-d’Olt
Day 8 - Saint-Come-d’Olt to Estaing
Day 9 - Estaing to Le Soulié
Day 10 - Le Soulié to Conques
Day 11 - Return to Lyon from Conques

Overall I had a great time on the walk and not too much difficulty.

I had two points of some stress:

1. I started getting a mild cough a few days into the walk. I planned to walk from Le Puy to Conques in ten days, however I ended up skipping two days of walking as I came down with a mild cough and did not want to risk exacerbating it given my previous illness. I skipped a 29km day of walking from Le Sauvage to Aumont-Aubrac, on a cold (12C), windy and drizzly day, luckily managing to get a ride with the Malle Postale baggage service as it arrived in the morning, despite not having booked. I spent the rest of the morning waiting to see a doctor in Aumont-Aubrac, who recommended that I take a couple days of rest. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe the cost for a consultation was not more than 30 euros. I was able to book a private room at La Ferme du Barry for two nights, and booked a spot on the Malle Postale bus from Aumont-Aubrac to Nasbinals the morning after, from where I resumed walking.

2. Getting back to Lyon from Conques. I had left the bulk of my luggage for my holiday in France with a service in Lyon (Nannybag) and had planned to return there for a week of sightseeing and gastronomic delights. My thought was I could take the Malle Postale bus from Conques back to Le Puy and then a train back to Lyon. However I did not book this in advance, and was unaware that the Malle Postale office was closed on weekends as it was past the peak season! So they were unable to organise this shuttle for me. Luckily another pilgrim had pre-booked a fare with the same company the other way, from Conques to Figeac, and I was able to travel with her to Figeac, where I could catch a train, a bus, and another train back to Lyon. This was a long day of transit after over a week of walking, but bearable. All up the journey to Lyon took about 9 hours, rather than the 6 or so hours it would have taken with my original plan. I suggest you research and book transport out of Conques well in advance, as it is not very well connected to public transit. It is a bit easier to get to Toulouse or Paris (Via Figeac or Rodez) than Lyon I think.

Observations:

- As everyone reports, the scenery is stunning beyond expectation. I found the first two days especially beautiful, though perhaps that is the effect of novelty.

- Le Puy-en-Velay is an absolutely magical town, try to spend at least half a day there, two nights would be relaxed and charmed.

- Don’t miss the evening pilgrim’s mass when you arrive in Conques

- If you’re approaching Le Puy-en-Velay from Lyon by train and have an interest in modernist architecture, Firminy is right between them on the way and is home to the Site Le Corbusier, including the church of Saint-Pierre, which is a must-see.

- Unfortunately I did not get to experience the desolation of the Aubrac as I missed the longer walking days on the plateau. People I met later along the way mentioned it as a highlight

- I’m 27 and not particularly fit but had no trouble walking from Le Puy to Saint-Privat-d’Allier and then to Saugues the next day. I didn’t find the route as a whole too challenging physically, though there were a fair few hills. My stages in the second half of the walk were all rather short. My weight is about 65kg and I think my pack fully loaded with water and food would have been around 7-8kg, so I was a bit over the 10% target but it was fine.

- Walking poles are an essential on this route - they take a lot of pressure off the knees and feet. The poles I took from home turned out to be broken but I was able to buy new ones the morning of my walk in the centre of Le Puy. Unfortunately the vast majority of people I ran into had no idea how to use their poles! To get the most out of them I recommend searching YouTube for some how-tos.

- Injinji liner socks (with the toes) are AMAZING and I cannot recommend them enough. I spent a long time testing sock combinations before my trip. I ended up wearing them underneath a pair of wool socks (also advertised as liner socks but not extremely thin). I had absolutely zero problems with blisters or sweaty feeling feet for the entire walk - in fact I got a few blisters whilst travelling in Paris beforehand as I wasn’t wearing the Injinji liners!! Just pair them with socks that fill out your shoes to a comfortable level, not too tight or too loose.

- I would recommend boots over shoes as well as the paths are fairly rocky.

- I bought an Orange SIM card from a random shop in Paris. This is probably a faster approach than buying one in an Orange store. The shopkeeper couldn’t speak English however, and I didn’t realise at the time that I was required to send off proof of identity by mail to register my SIM! If you do not do this they will cut you off in 15 days or so. I got mine in in time thankfully.

- Demographically speaking, a third of the pilgrims/walkers I met were French, a third Belgian and a third Canadian (not French Canadian). I was fortunate that I had English speaking company for good portions of the walk, mainly the Canadians and some of the Belgians. I’m 27 and I only met a single pilgrim younger than me, a 19 year old Parisian girl, everyone else was in their 30s to 80s I believe! All lovely, friendly and kind people.

- You can do this walk without speaking French, but it really helps to have a bit under your belt. I basically can’t understand anything a French speaker says to me in French but I can get my point across to them in very broken French. If the person you are talking to only speaks a tiny bit of English, then you can meet each other in the middle with mutually rudimentary and broken speech. This was a lot of fun! Other people have said around 80% of the people they met were French speakers, that seems roughly correct to me, but some of them, especially the younger ones, will also speak English reasonably well, or at least enough to help you out.

- I was lucky to have wonderful weather, no truly rainy days, and daily max temperatures between 12 and 25 C (colder on the Aubrac, warmer in the Lot valley). Early-mid October is a beautiful time to walk, with the autumn leaves.

- It’s better to book ahead the night before, or at least morning of, to avoid the stress of finding a gîte upon arrival. In the peak season places could be booked out, but as it was mid-October for me it was more common that the gîtes had already closed for the year. I approached three gîtes in Saint-Come-d’Olt that were all closed before ending up in a chambre-d’hotes, which was lovely accommodation but slightly pricier. The lovely Gîte Saint André in Saint-Chély closed for the year the night after I stayed there too!

- Following from the previous point, I personally wouldn’t try this walk any later than I did as most accommodation, services etc will be closed and the route will be very quiet, and the weather turns swiftly in late October.

Prettiest towns:
Le Puy-en-Velay
Saint-Privât-d’Allier
Saint-Come-d’Olt
Estaing
Conques

Recommended gîtes and accommodation:
Saint-André in Saint-Chély- the best!! Extremely cosy lounge, delicious dinner on a long table and the loveliest hosts.
Le Sauvage - Book this one as early as possible, it was booked out even this late in the season and some people had to walk to the next village
Bisquine du Jean in Saint-Come - this is the cute nautical themed chambre-d’hotes I stayed at, the host doesn’t speak English but will try and share his love of blues guitar with you regardless of any language barrier. No dinner available, but the most luxurious breakfast spread I had on the chemin, with a selection of homemade jams, local chestnut honey, a few pastries and a fantastic baguette.
Le Soulié - Relaxed donativo hillside retreat with a communal Christian hippie vibe. A good place to stay if it’s not too quiet or if you are with a group, especially if the weather is nice enough that you can enjoy the terrace.
 
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