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Our Camino reflections

2020 Camino Guides

Mr_Ross_Duncan

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Via Gebennensis (2018) Portuguese (2017)
We walked the Geneva Camino in July 2018.
To use its correct name, the Via Gebennensis, we left from Geneva and ended in Le Puy-en-Velay a bit over 3 weeks later.
This was our second Camino, having walked the coastal Portuguese route last year.

The following is not so much a diary of the walk but more our collected reflections on the experience.
There's a well-thumbed expression and it goes something like "everybody has their own Camino", so these reflections are ours, from our own Camino, it may not be the same thoughts, feelings and reflections as everyone's, but it is our own.

Our first impressions.
1: It's more beautiful than you think.
2: It's more difficult than you think.
3: It's more expensive than you think

These points stuck with us along the whole distance, repeating themselves and often popping up as conversations points as we made our way towards Le Puy and remain the strongest reflections we have of the Camino.

To go into more details we'll break that down, starting with number 1.

1: It's more beautiful than you think.
This is true, from our perspective at least, overflowing with stunning landscapes, every day bringing on new visual treasures to marvel at.
You'll pass over rolling green hills with small hamlets dotted here and there amongst them, pause a while and admire the distant mountains, some with snowcapped peaks, the thick forest we stumble through are all a thing of beauty.
We have days of drizzling fog and days of bright hot sunshine, all a thing to cherish and to remember.
Hailing from an area of Australia that looks very different to this part of France we found ourselves constantly pausing for breath along the way to admire the big expansive vistas.
But.
And there is always a but.
This may not be the same experience for everyone, if you're a European walker for instance. We met a number of Swiss and German pilgrims who were not that enamored with the views, a few even rolling their eyes and seeming quite dismissive, we assumed it's because the countryside and views from their home is similar, the same, or even more dramatic.
To each their own.
Also, the views, as terrific as they are, will remain similar along the length of the way, what you get on day 1 you'll also get on your last day into Le-Puy.
For us however, we found it very beautiful and one of the highlights of this Camino.
20180507-DSCF0736.jpg

2: It's more difficult than you think.
We had a saying, made up about half way along the Camino. " If you think you're at the top, there's always more to come"

The official Confraternity of Saint James website describes the walk as " Very strenuous, crossing the grain of the land a lot of the time, with constant climbs and descents. A considerable part of the route passes through forest and woodland and much of it lies between 600 and 1000 m above sea level"
From <https://www.csj.org.uk/planning-your-pilgrimage/routes-to-santiago/the-routes-today/geneva-to-le-puy-en-velay/>

And that is no exaggeration, it's probably an understatement if anything.
The sudden steep climbs start early in the walk and will continue all the way, even on the rare day of flat walking there's unexpected steep climbs thrown in just to keep you honest.
I'm thinking now of you Pommier-de-Beaurepaire, I know you're a lovely little town, you come with the idyllic little square and cute cottages so typical of this part of France, but you're located at the top of a long steep scramble of a hill, it seems to go on and on, and this, after the longest flattest walk of the Camino.
However, we should start at the beginning, it is, after all, the very best place to start.
On your walk, depending on your schedule, day 1 or 2 out of Geneva will take you through the little town of Chaumont, this was, in hindsight, our least favorite section of the walk, there's a long, long downhill section, the path here strewn with round tumbled rock, it's slippery and difficult work, we heard a number of stories further down the track from other walkers and gite owners of numerous walks being ruined here with pilgrims twisting ankles and knees, struggling on for a few more days before having to abandon the Camino with busted ankles or knees, be warned and careful.
This downhill section is immediately followed by a steep climb up into Chaumont where you will find not a lot, a pretty little church and a pretty poor communal gite d'etape, these the only things going for the place.
We spent the whole rest of our Camino ruing the missed opportunity of not passing by Chaumont and staying a short distance further on in a restored chateau, we regularly met walkers along the way who asked if we'd staying in the chateau just after Chaumont, "no, don’t tell us again" we'd laugh.
But only half-heartedly.

The official Confraternity of Saint James website again,
"Unlike the other pilgrim roads through France which have followed more or less fixed itineraries for several hundreds of years, the Via Gebennensis is a “designer route,” set up in the mid 1990s.
It is therefore not a historic route but a bridging service between two points, a means of walking from Geneva to Le Puy-en-Velay "
This played on our minds somewhat after the Chaumont experience, we wondered why we were being funnelled into a small town with no facilities and no historic precedent, if we were to walk the route again we would probably skip Chaumont and head towards the much larger and better serviced town of Frangy.
There are other sections along the way where we questioned why the path was leading us this way, again, if there's no historic, tourism, cultural or religious precedent to head towards a dot on the map we wouldn’t feel too anxious deviating off the marked path and making our own way towards a bigger or better serviced town.
There are a number of "official" deviations you can choose to take along the way, some spots you can choose to stick with the Camino, or you can choose to take the GR65 which follows along closely all the way.
One deviation in particular springs to mind and you may want to think about, leaving Yenne there apparently is a choice of taking the high route, up and over Col du Mont-Tournier, which we did, or you can take the low-way, which skirts around the mountain and re-joins the Camino down the road a bit.
I say apparently because we didn't know this until several days later when we were chatting with other pilgrims in a gite, us describing our experience of the climb up and over Col du Mont-Tournier, they all looking bewildered and wondering why we didn’t take the low-way, it seems there is a sign post in Yenne pointing out the options, high road, low road, we missed it somehow.
This became a bit of a common theme along our Camino, we couldn’t find anybody who had walked the route up and over Col du Mont-Tournier or who had stayed in Chaumont instead of the, now famous (infamous) chateau outside Chaumont.
Having said all that, the walk up and over Mont-Tournier was terrific and we were delighted to have tackled it and enjoyed the climb, lunch at the summit a particularly memorable day.
There are many steep and rocky parts to this Camino, nothing that a bit of caution and some good poles can't overcome, but it's worth noting if this is going to be your first Camino, take care and take it easy.

In keeping with the "it's more difficult than you think" theme.
This is not really under the difficult umbrella, it's more an inconvenience really, but there's nowhere to sit and rest.
Now that's probably a bit of an exaggeration, but long, long stretches of the way have no stopping options, you'd imagine that we'd just sit on the ground for a rest, and sometimes we did, but still, many times we'd say "break time" and still be walking an hour later looking for a log, a fence, a stone, anything to sit on, particularly when it's a damp day and the ground is wet.
There's a blog on the interweb where the writer spends some time discussing the same odd issue and overcomes it eventually with a sheet of bubble wrap he collected from somewhere and used that to sit on, an excellent idea.

Let's keep on with the "it's more difficult than you think" theme.
Food and water.
There are days when there is no food or water options.
We had a number of times where our timing had us passing through villages on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday and in some cases Mondays when the entire village looked abandoned.
Shuttered and deserted.
We resorted to always having some dried crackers and tinned fish and a couple of apples, it weighs more in the bags but it's better than being hungry.
As far as water goes, fill up every time you see somewhere, you won't see many, we found a few front yards with taps and used those, most houses seem to have high fences or dogs, a cemetery here and there as well, but fill up every-time you see something, again, it adds to the weight, but you get the idea.
20180528-DSCF1709.jpg
3: It's more expensive than you think
This will probably be contentious but we were more than slightly taken aback at the price of nearly everything.
From day 1 in Geneva, (12€ beers anyone) to crappy and uncomfortable Accueils Jacquaires (hello to Paul in Le Grand-Lemps).
We grinned and bared it as best we could, but towards the end started to wish there was some kind of a standard required, not stars or ratings in anyway but some way of indicating to the pilgrim what kind of level of accommodation you'll be in for, it's a complete lucky-dip when you roll into town what you'll get each night.
Some of the hosts we encountered were terrific, bending over backwards to make us welcome and feel comfortable, others made us feel uncomfortable, like we were just an easy touch for some cash.
You will get used to eating quiche and salad for dinner and ham, cheese and jam for breakfast pretty quickly.
The Accueils Jacquaires with their system of donations should be an ideal solution to the lack of community hostels or cheap hotels, but having the host hang over you in the morning saying you should "donate at least 35€ each" is pretty uncomfortable and in many cases it's way overpriced.
Some of the Accueils Jacquaires we would happily recommend staying at and happily pay 35€ per person for, not many though.
We booked our accommodation a night in advance, usually the host where you are staying will ring ahead for you, if not you can try a tourist office in the town, if it has one.
Wrapping up the cost angle, expect to pay on average around 35€ per head in the Accueils Jacquaires, somewhat more in the occasional town that has a hotel if you choose that option.
The quality of these will vary wildly, from delightful hosts who put on big spreads with comfortable rooms and clean bathrooms, to utter rubbish with poor meals and bathrooms too dirty with years of caked soap and hair that you'll probably skip showering.
You'll find there are a few community run gite's along the way, use these to save some money, they seem to be pretty high quality and, the ones we used at least, seemed clean and comfortable.
You'll also need to carry cash, there's very little option to use an ATM and nobody has a card terminal of course.
So that's a brief look back on what was a very enjoyable Camino for us.
Asked along the way if we would recommend this route as a first time Camino to a friend, we'd have to say no, take on an easier route to start with, but put the Via Gebennensis in the diary for a future date, it's wild, it's remote, it's beautiful and it's memorable.
What more do you want.
Until next time
Buen Camino
 

edandjoan

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
St. Gallen to Muxia
2012-2018
Interesting recap.. We walked in May and had a lovely walk. I agree it is more expensive, but we have walked in Spain and other countries for years so we don't mind finding a private room and we never stayed in the Accueils Jacquaires as most were still "closed" in May. We booked a day ahead for the most part. We had more of a variety of food than you, but one does need to plan ahead for Sunday and Monday or a mid-week holiday. We walked over Col du Mont-Tournier by choice and glad we did. We don't mind the ups and downs. We also have no fear of taking an "alternate" route and changing course if we feel like it. We are perhaps more of the wandering type. Anyway good to see others walking "other" paths.
 
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nycwalking

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF: (2001, 2002, 2004, 2014). Hospitalera: 2002, Ponferrada. 2004, Rabanal del Camino.
I love this forum. I never heard about this walk until this post.

Thanks for post.

Congrats on finish.
 

hel&scott

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
2004 St Jean - Santiago, 2008 &18 Seville - Finesterre, 2010 Ferrol - Lisbon, 2012 from Cartehenga.
Though I haven't walked this particular route, yet, I thought your three points are well made and could apply to any Camino.

We love walking in Spain, in part because the history and scenery are so different from lush, wet, green, raw, NZ. After weeks on the dry Levante, we ended up in France walking trecks around Le Puy contemplating a longer, future, walk there. Thank you for reminding me how beautiful, if trying it can be.
 

Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
Food and water.
... on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday and in some cases Mondays when the entire village looked abandoned. Shuttered and deserted. We resorted to always having some dried crackers and tinned fish and a couple of apples, it weighs more in the bags but it's better than being hungry.
This is actually the norm throughout France (and not just on the pilgrim routes). The French close on Sundays, period. Often Saturday evenings, and/or Mondays, and/or a Tuesday or Wednesday. Your best bet is to inquire each night for the day ahead, and have your nightly host, who is calling ahead for a reservation for you ,to also check on how to resupply. It's not unheard-of to ask for a "demi-pension avec pique-nique" from your host if there is no resupply option. But yes, I usually carry about a kilo of foodstuffs with me (bread, cheese, nuts)
... expect to pay on average around 35€ per head. We booked our accommodation a night in advance,
Again, this is the norm throughout the French pilgrim routes. I would anticipate 35 E per night per person, for demi-pension, and another 5E for lunch groceries. And the French always call ahead.
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
Walked this route twice and loved it. I must have been lucky with the accommodations as I did not have anything gritty/grotty and the food was excellent. ( No quiche for dinner). The first time I didn't even mention the ups and downs, most have been fit, but last time I was painfully aware of them. Would walk this route again in a flash.
 

AJGuillaume

Pélerin du monde
Camino(s) past & future
Via Gebennensis (2018)
Via Podiensis (2018)
Voie Nive Bidassoa (2018)
Camino Del Norte (2018)
We walked the Gebennensis from 14 June to 6 July. It was our first Camino, so we had nothing to compare, except for the plethora of advice we received before departure.
I agree that it is beautiful. As beautiful as the Podiensis which we are still walking (we're in Lauzerte as I write).
I researched route profiles, and planned our stages. We planned all of our stages to ensure there would be no surprise, and we booked practically everything ahead. Planning and researching also meant we were never disappointed with our stages. So we were prepared for the steep climbs and descents.
We also planned our budget, and had a mix of gîtes, chambre d'hôtes, and hotels. We had one accueil jacquaire, and one camping.
Is it more expensive? Not more than the Podiensis.
I would say that planning and research will make this an enjoyable and successful Camino, so invest in that before you leave Geneva.
We loved the Gebennensis. And we're loving the Podiensis, even with the current heat!
 

Mournes

Active Member
I have just read on the web site www.amis st jacques .org a very moving hommage to Henri Jarnier who died in January this year.It is thanks to Henri that we can enjoy the Podiensis.It was on his initiative that this route was mapped out and waymarked.He decided to do this after having walked from his home in the Haute Savoie to Santiago.
He had to persuade landowners to co- operate which was no mean feat.He sought out accommodation including the Accueils Jacquaires .The variantes then followed with the guide books yellow,red, orange and blue.What an incredible legacy Henri has left behind! Merci infiniment Henri and may you rest in peace.
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
We walked the Gebennensis from 14 June to 6 July. It was our first Camino, so we had nothing to compare, except for the plethora of advice we received before departure.
I agree that it is beautiful. As beautiful as the Podiensis which we are still walking (we're in Lauzerte as I write).
I researched route profiles, and planned our stages. We planned all of our stages to ensure there would be no surprise, and we booked practically everything ahead. Planning and researching also meant we were never disappointed with our stages. So we were prepared for the steep climbs and descents.
We also planned our budget, and had a mix of gîtes, chambre d'hôtes, and hotels. We had one accueil jacquaire, and one camping.
Is it more expensive? Not more than the Podiensis.
I would say that planning and research will make this an enjoyable and successful Camino, so invest in that before you leave Geneva.
We loved the Gebennensis. And we're loving the Podiensis, even with the current heat!
I planned and booked everything too for both routes and it was brilliant for me.
 

Reija

Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2016, CP 2017, Jakobsweg Ulm-Constance 2017-2018, Via Jacobi 2018, (Via Gebennensis 2019)
I know I join this conversation many months later, but I still wanted to say thanks. I read everything with great interest because I'll be heading to Via Gebennensis later this year. I have never walked in France before (well, actually I have, that tiny section between SJPdP and the Spanish border) and I am somewhat worried over the language and finding the lodging. I will try to learn some phrases and at least the greetings and numbers before I leave. Gittiharre, did you book by email beforehand? The phone calls terrify me. On the phone the body language does not help. //More difficult than you think. Is there someone who could compare this to Via Jacobi, for example. Via Jacobi was also often up and down, but not impossibly hard at all.
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
It is up and down pretty much every day, but no worse than Switzerland.
I booked some by phone and some by email...on your own, you could probably almost wing it and get hosts to call ahead for you...
 

AJGuillaume

Pélerin du monde
Camino(s) past & future
Via Gebennensis (2018)
Via Podiensis (2018)
Voie Nive Bidassoa (2018)
Camino Del Norte (2018)
I know I join this conversation many months later, but I still wanted to say thanks. I read everything with great interest because I'll be heading to Via Gebennensis later this year. I have never walked in France before (well, actually I have, that tiny section between SJPdP and the Spanish border) and I am somewhat worried over the language and finding the lodging. I will try to learn some phrases and at least the greetings and numbers before I leave. Gittiharre, did you book by email beforehand? The phone calls terrify me. On the phone the body language does not help. //More difficult than you think. Is there someone who could compare this to Via Jacobi, for example. Via Jacobi was also often up and down, but not impossibly hard at all.
Hei hei Reija,
If you can, if have not yet ordered it, get the yellow guide from L'Association Rhône Alpes des Amis de St Jacques: http://chemins.amis-st-jacques.org/?page_id=6
It's in French and German (parts of it), and lists accommodation.
Interestingly, we found that owners of accommodation had a basis of English, but struggled with German.
Bon Chemin
Andrew
 

Reija

Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2016, CP 2017, Jakobsweg Ulm-Constance 2017-2018, Via Jacobi 2018, (Via Gebennensis 2019)
Hei hei Reija,
If you can, if have not yet ordered it, get the yellow guide from L'Association Rhône Alpes des Amis de St Jacques: http://chemins.amis-st-jacques.org/?page_id=6
It's in French and German (parts of it), and lists accommodation.
Interestingly, we found that owners of accommodation had a basis of English, but struggled with German.
Bon Chemin
Andrew
Thank you, Andrew, for reminding me. And I see that they have 2019 version out now. I'll order it.
 

Reija

Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2016, CP 2017, Jakobsweg Ulm-Constance 2017-2018, Via Jacobi 2018, (Via Gebennensis 2019)
It is up and down pretty much every day, but no worse than Switzerland.
I booked some by phone and some by email...on your own, you could probably almost wing it and get hosts to call ahead for you...
Thank you, Gittiharre, for your answer. I'll take my poles with. The hardest part for me are the down hills. On Via Jacobi I sometimes walked backwards down the hills. Definitely looked funny, but did not really slow me down. I was pretty much able to keep up with my 18-old daughter.
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
Thank you, Gittiharre, for your answer. I'll take my poles with. The hardest part for me are the down hills. On Via Jacobi I sometimes walked backwards down the hills. Definitely looked funny, but did not really slow me down. I was pretty much able to keep up with my 18-old daughter.
There is a fair bit of downhill on loose stones. Be very careful and walking poles are essential in my view.
A few people fell over. I walked very slowly...
 

Mr_Ross_Duncan

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Via Gebennensis (2018) Portuguese (2017)
I know I join this conversation many months later, but I still wanted to say thanks. I read everything with great interest because I'll be heading to Via Gebennensis later this year. I have never walked in France before (well, actually I have, that tiny section between SJPdP and the Spanish border) and I am somewhat worried over the language and finding the lodging. I will try to learn some phrases and at least the greetings and numbers before I leave. Gittiharre, did you book by email beforehand? The phone calls terrify me. On the phone the body language does not help. //More difficult than you think. Is there someone who could compare this to Via Jacobi, for example. Via Jacobi was also often up and down, but not impossibly hard at all.
Hi Reija,
Neither my wife or I can speak any French except for the very very basics, and I do mean the very basics, stuff like "Hello, Good-Bye, two glasses of wine, Thank-you." is about all we can manage.
We didn't have any issues on our walk at all, there was a couple of places where it would have been easier if we spoke French, some of the small village cafes and bars etc, but overall we had no trouble getting by.
We booked ahead by two nights, so for instance if we were in Les Cotes on a Monday we would have asked the hostel owner to call ahead to Yenne for us and make sure there was a place free on the Wednesday night.
That seemed to work fine. There's not a lot of choice along the way and all the hostel operators seem to be multilingual.
Hope you enjoy the walk, it's a beauty.
 

Reija

Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF 2016, CP 2017, Jakobsweg Ulm-Constance 2017-2018, Via Jacobi 2018, (Via Gebennensis 2019)
Hi Reija,
Neither my wife or I can speak any French except for the very very basics, and I do mean the very basics, stuff like "Hello, Good-Bye, two glasses of wine, Thank-you." is about all we can manage.
We didn't have any issues on our walk at all, there was a couple of places where it would have been easier if we spoke French, some of the small village cafes and bars etc, but overall we had no trouble getting by.
We booked ahead by two nights, so for instance if we were in Les Cotes on a Monday we would have asked the hostel owner to call ahead to Yenne for us and make sure there was a place free on the Wednesday night.
That seemed to work fine. There's not a lot of choice along the way and all the hostel operators seem to be multilingual.
Hope you enjoy the walk, it's a beauty.
Thank you for this answer... and the interesting and informative original post in this thread. I will stop worrying about the language. Somehow I will manage and if not, I will probably have great stories to tell. :)
 
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