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Walking through the Haut-Languedoc nature reserve - Some Practical Info

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Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
So… I’ve just walked to Castres on the Chemin d’Arles. I had planned to go further, but temperatures were reaching over 40 degrees Celsius, and I was experiencing symptoms of heat exhaustion, so it would have been pretty stupid to continue.

I didn’t do too much advanced planning, in fact I didn’t even have a guidebook – I just used Gronze and Google maps. And to be honest, this was sufficient: Gronze is impressively up-to-date with accommodation info, and the GR 635 markings are excellent, so it’s very difficult to get lost. However, there were a few things that I had to learn the hard way... So this is basically a “things I wish I’d known” post, with a focus on the section through the Parc Naturel du Haut-Languedoc (that is, from St Guilhem-le-Desert, to just before Castres).

A lot of people have posted about the difficulty of this stretch, so my focus here is more on practical information, such as food, accommodation, and public transport. I’d like to say one thing about the difficulty: I don’t think I’d fully comprehended that this would be a walk through a nature reserve, and that there’d literally be no services for 20-30km stretches. In fact, on most days you’re pretty far from accessible roads. So you really do need to be prepared. Physically, I found it VERY challenging (I wasn’t exactly at my fittest to start with…ahem) but even more challenging was arriving at a small village after a very long day, only to find I’d just missed the window to collect the gîte keys, or that the épicerie I’d been counting on for a resupply was closed, or had shut down permanently. Miam Miam Dodo seemed to have the best practical information, but I think it’s difficult to keep track of what happens in some of these very isolated villages. Sometimes the boulangerie would simply have a sign on the door saying “closed until next week”, or you’d hear that the private gîte owner was away on holiday or had sold the property. There’s also a lack of public transport, so it’s simply not possible to jump ahead a stage or even just a few kilometres if ill, injured, or facing time constraints.

I’ll start with more general tips, before giving more specific practical info for the various stages. Obviously this is just based on my personal experiences, and based on an attempt to do things on a pilgrim-style budget, while leaving room for an element of serendipity, and not shying away from a bit of adversity... (So if you’re planning on booking all your hotels and meals ahead, and on using taxis, you’re probably going to find the following quite irrelevant!)

In general:

Accommodation: For those who don’t know, a Gîte Communal (GC) is basically a municipal albergue. They are run by the Mairie, and are usually quite cheap (€10-€18). But watch out! You have to collect the keys from the Mairie or Tourist Office - always right in the centre of town, so easy to find – but which, as you’ll soon discover, are usually closed for 2 or 3 hours over lunch, over the weekend, and sometimes on a certain days or afternoons of the week. If you miss the reception hours, don’t worry too much, there are always private options (this is where Gronze or a guidebook comes in handy – you will need telephone numbers and a French sim or roaming). I found that you don’t really need to call a day in advance – that is, not if you don’t expect dinner. I know that it’s usually considered polite to call ahead in France, but on the odd occasion I wasn’t able to stay in the GC, the private gîte owners seemed all too happy to get a bit of custom, even if it was a bit last minute. Then, of course, there are the chambres d’hôtes, i.e. hotel rooms, which you can reserve on booking.com. I also heard of an “association” that you can join that gives a list of farms/houses along the way prepared to host pilgrims. Sounds great, wish I’d known about it (although to be honest I quite like meeting up with other pilgrims at the end of the day if possible, so for me the GCs were fine). Also, I met a 70-year old Parisian man who had tried unsuccessfully to contact farms on the list on two occasions, but the occupants must have been away. He couldn’t go any further, so simply ended up sleeping outside. One of the big lessons I learned on this camino was checking my expectations for "comfort and choice on demand". From not being able to eat exactly what I wanted, to not having a coffee in the morning, or not having a choice with regards accommodation or transport... Also, some big lessons in patience. Time moves at a very different pace in this region. Sometimes there's nothing to do but find a spot of shade and wait it out.

Food: the private gîtes often – but not always – have demi-pension options (if you call a day in advance) but the GCs are self-catering. If you want to economise, then you’ll be dependent on the local épiceries and boulangeries for your daily fodder. Even if you do decide to organise a demi-pension option with a private gîte, you’ll need to buy food for lunch and snacks the next day. The opening hours of the tiny épiceries and boulangeries can be infuriating. I think Miam Miam Dodo provides opening hours for some of these establishments, and it is probably worth the €20 investment for this information alone (but as I said above, sometimes things change…) If you miss out on an anticipated resupply, don’t worry, you won’t starve: there’s usually a boulangerie, and if there's a bar, it will probably sells sandwiches or pizza. A Belgium pilgrim I met actually described his camino as “le Chemin du Pizza”, as it had been the only thing he’d eaten for about 5 days straight. It’s always a good idea to have some high energy snacks in your pack, just in case.

Water: You’ll generally have to carry all your water with you over the very long stages through the nature reserve. On some days won't pass a single village or farm. So be prepared!

Insects: You’ll be walking through a region famed for its biodiversity, and you’ll encounter a glorious range of flowers and insects. The problem with the latter is that many of them are of the biting or stinging variety. I didn’t pack bug spray, which is one of my only regrets. I experienced a very “biodiverse” range of bites all over my body! Maybe this is specific to the time of year I was walking (late June), and the fact that it was so hot, or the fact that my deodorant had a floral scent… who knows? In any case, I’d seriously recommend some sort of repellent. One pilgrim I met had been severely snacked on by mosquitoes in the camargue area. He stocked up on repellent in Montpellier and hadn’t suffered too much after that. Another insect you need to watch out for… TICKS!!! I had to flick off quite a few, and remove two that’d got stuck into my apparently scrumptious right shin. I didn’t have a special tick remover, and not much experience with ticks, so this stressed me out a fair bit. Be careful when walking through long grass or sitting on the ground. You sometimes won't have much choice, as the path can be overgrown, but just make sure your legs are covered up. As I said this is a “things I wish I’d known”, so hopefully if you read this you’ll be better prepared than me.

Allergies: Just a note to those who suffer from them: I actually met a pilgrim who had to take a detour to a town with a pharmacy to get antihistamines. As mentioned above, you’ll be walking through meadows of exquisite grasses and flora. I found that the walk in the ‘wild’ is usually ok, but as soon as you enter the villages or agricultural zones they seem to invest a great deal of time and energy in mowing these meadows flat. I don’t usually suffer from allergies very badly, but my exit and entry into the villages was usually accompanied by a great deal of sneezing. In some places you could actually see that the air was thick with airborne pollens and grasses. (Obviously the relevance of this information depends on the time of year you’ll be walking, and whether or not you are sensitive to this sort of thing).

Snakes: Now, I’m sure this is a relatively rare event, but I very nearly stepped on a snake while traipsing through an isolated stretch between Lodève and Lunas. Just mentioning it here in case. Sometimes the grass is very long and the path is very overgrown. Try and watch where you tread.

Hunting: There’s a lot of hunting in this region over the weekend. I came across quite a few groups, and heard quite a lot of gunfire, which can be quite unsettling. Just be vigilant, and if possible alert the hunters to your presence.

Wifi: None of the communal or private gîtes I stayed in had Wifi. So make sure you have enough data on your phone!!

Ok... so that's the more general part. More specific information on its way!! 😆
 
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Felipe

Veteran Member
Thanks for the info -it is the kind of practical advice that guides usually don't include.
It has been my experience, too (not in the Arles, in other routes). Natural reserves are taken very seriously in France -and that means that there are not services, sometimes for long stretches. Not even human settlements; just the odd farm in the distance, and a fiercely barking dog. In the villages, there are not bars or shops, or they are frequently closed; and not a person in view.
Beautiful, yes, but for the walker used to Camino Frances, unexpected. If you walk in the off season, with rain and muddy paths, and you are alone, it could be a bit unsettling. An interesting challenge, on the other side; I liked it. But probably not for an unexperienced solo walker.
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Ok, so now onto the more stage-specific info.... I'll spare you the stage descriptions, as you can find these in your guidebook. This is more about the practical stuff that isn't always listed. Here goes:

Arriving in St-Guilhem-le-Désert:

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Accommodation: there’s a gîte in St-Guilhem-le-Désert run by Carmelite nuns, so for many pilgrims this is an important and desirable stop. Pilgrims are invited to attend Vespers with the nuns in the evening, so it is indeed a special experience.

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But “faites attention”! The Carmelites only accept pilgrims between 16h00 and 17h40. Yes, these hours are kinda random (welcome to the frustrating ‘horaires’ of the Chemin d’Arles!) If you don’t make it during that limited reception window, don’t worry too much, there are a couple of private gîtes in the village, so just make sure you have the accommodation list and your phone ready...

Food: I found out on arrival that the épicerie in St-Guilhem-le-Desert has closed down!! The Carmelite gîte has a self-catering kitchen, but that’s no use at all if you don’t have anything to cook. This lack of food could also be a problem for the next day, as you’ll need fuel before the big climb at the start of the day. I ended up having pizza for dinner (cheapest was €14)… and then two slices the next morning, completely congealed into the serviette they were wrapped in by the time I hauled them out. If you want to avoid a breakfast this tragic, I’d recommend stocking up in Aniane, a town you’ll pass through on the way to St Guilhem. Aniane has a supermarket (Spar) as well as other essential “commerces”. Make sure you stock up on anything you’ve forgotten, as you might not have another chance for a couple of days…

*Bonus tip! Make sure you factor in enough time to go for a dip at the Pont du Diable, just before arriving in St-Guilhem. I spent about an hour here, floating in the lake, happy as a clam. Nearly missed the Carmelite window though, doh!* :eek:

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Transport: In case of emergency, there is a bus that goes from Montpellier –> Montarnaud -> Aniane -> St-Guilhem-le-Desert (and further to Monpeyroux and Arboras, which is along the path you’ll be walking the following day). You can find the timetables on this page.
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Next stages....

St-Guilhem-le-Desert to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière:
Accommodation: Many guidebooks list Lodève as the end of the stage, but most pilgrims can’t walk further than Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière. I’d hazard a guess that many are ready to call it a day in Montpeyroux, which lies on the other side of the 500m hill you've just climbed...

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While you might be exhausted after the mountain hiking out of St Guilhem, Montpeyroux isn’t really eligible as a stop unless you want to pay €60 minimum for a chambre d’hôte. It has very few services, not even a pharmacy, so most pilgrims are obliged to forge on ahead to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, where there’s a GC for €16. Note that there's another big climb before reaching Saint-Jean.
Food: As previously mentioned, there’s no épicerie in St-Guilhem, so if you didn't buy stuff at Aniane, or have leftovers from your meal the previous night (or have organised a demi-pension/ breakfast with your hotel), you’re going to struggle. There is a small épicerie in Montpeyroux, about 12km away from St-Guilhem, but it is closed from 12h30 to 16h30. Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière also has a little épicerie, although this is closed in the afternoons (open mornings and evenings), and closed on Mondays.
Transport: In case of emergency, as mentioned for the previous stage, there’s a bus from Montpeyroux back to Montpellier. But there is NO public transport from here onwards along the Chemin route, so once you’ve committed to continuing on to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, your only option is to keep walking.

Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière to Lodève:
This is a short walk (only 14km), but this is quite welcome after the efforts of the previous day. Lodève is a bigger town, so has everything you might need, and plenty of accommodation and transport options (although NO transport from here onwards along the Chemin).
*Advance warning!!* You’ll need to stock up here if you plan on stopping in Lunas the next night, as there is NO épicerie in Lunas. You’ll probably also need to stock up for the day AFTER that too.

Lodève to Lunas:
Food and Accommodation: There’s nothing on the way to Lunas, and Lunas doesn’t have an épicerie, so you’ll need to buy lunch and snacks (and possibly also dinner) in Lodève the previous evening. The gîte in Lunas does not have a kitchen, and unless you opt for the demi pension (around €15 room and an extra €17 for dinner and breakfast), your meal options are going to be very limited. (On a personal note: I decided not to stay here, but to go on further to Le Bousquet d’Orb, where there’s a Spar, boulangerie, etc. The very lovely couple who run the Gîte Roselyne charged me €22 for their self-catering garden flat, which would have been shared with other pilgrims, had there been any).
Transport: there is NO public transport between Lodève and Lunas. And while Lunas has a train station, there are no trains in the direction of the Chemin. And as tempting as it may seem, pedestrians are prohibited from walking along the D35, which is the shortest distance between these two towns. I received a very stern warning from a local that pilgrims would be fined if caught attempting to walk on the road. The Cars go very fast and there’s no shoulder. Very dangerous, don’t even think about it!

Oh, and just to send shivers up your spine, here's a pic of the snake I encountered while walking to Lunas. Sorry it's not great quality, my hand was shaking 😆

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The scenery from Lodeve onwards is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Mountains, lakes, and flowers of every colour and fragrance. Butterflies of all hues, coming to land on you. Birds singing all round. At one point I felt like a Disney princess or something 😂

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Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
So... here come the next two!

Lunas to Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare:
The walk from Lunas to Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare is one of the most notoriously difficult of the entire Arles route. Close to 30km, with an ascent to 944m, and with NO SERVICES in between. You really need to be prepared. This day was a killer. I was attacked by insects, and it was so hot I thought I was going to spontaneously combust. No water sources along the way. I went off track a couple of times (have posted about this in a separate thread). But it was gloriously beautiful, and the views from that height were spectacular. I felt a great sense of achievement upon completing this stage.

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Accommodation
: I was ready to give up by the time I got to Mècle, but learned on arrival the gîte there had closed! So was forced onwards another 4km to St-Gervais-sur-Mare… unfortunately arriving too late to get the key from the Mairie!! My phone was glitching badly because of the heat, so I couldn’t extract numbers or use the dial pad (although to be honest I could hardly see straight by that stage, so I’m not sure it would have made a difference). I actually thought I was going to die (no exaggeration) when another pilgrim found me and organised accommodation for us. I'm still not entirely sure where we stayed, it seemed like a room in someone's house although we were charged €18 for a bed (so it wasn't a host from the association). I didn't ask too many questions.
Food: If you’re leaving from Lunas, this might be a problem as there is no épicerie so you won’t have been able to stock up for the next day (and if you leave very early, the Spar in Le Bousquet won’t be open yet). Not only do you risk a very hungry day, but you’ll be disappointed to find that Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare, where you’re headed, doesn’t have an épicerie either. When I finally got to St-Gervais EVERYTHING was closed, including the boulangerie. So guess what was for dinner that night (and breakfast the next day)?? Pizza again. Aaaargh.
Transport: there is no public transport between Lunas and Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare.

Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare to Murat-sur-Vèbre:
The walk from St-Gervais to Murat-sur-Vèbre is another hard day, with an elevation gain of 700m (reaching over 1,000m!). Shorter than the previous day, at around 23km. You also pass through a couple of hamlets, so will have access to water if desperate.
Food: As mentioned previously, there is no épicerie in Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare, so this could be a tricky day in terms of sustenance (there is a boulangerie in St-Gervais, though, so at least you'll have bread!) After a frustrating couple of days in terms of food options, you’ll be relieved to know that there’s a supermarket (‘Vival’) in Murat-sur-Vèbre! Woohoo! It’s closed from 12h30-15h00, but otherwise open mornings and evenings all week (but mornings only on Sunday).
Accommodation: The GC in Murat did not look great (I didn’t stay, but popped in to use the toilet on arrival and was not impressed), so I walked on a bit to “Les Felines” fromagerie just outside town that accepts pilgrims. Received a very warm welcome, and a comfortable ensuite room along with full use of the kitchen, and a delicious bit of bread and homemade cheese for breakfast. I was only charged €20, but looking at the Gronze price it seems I got a discount. I was the only person there. (Only negative was complete lack of mobile/cell signal).
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Transport: There is a bus that goes from Murat-sur-Vebre to Castres, but it veers away from the Chemin as soon as leaving Murat, so not an option for stage-skipping if you find you’ve had enough or are ill/injured. Here's the timetable for 2018-2019.
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Final instalment!!

Murat-sur-Vèbre – Le Salvetat-sur-Agout:
From here on the landscape becomes more agricultural, although still very beautiful with lots of lakes and pine forests (p.s. the picture below might look idyllic, but those mowed meadows are a nightmare for hay fever sufferers!)

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Food: Again, no services between these two villages, so you’ll need to stock up on nosh in Murat for the next day's hike. There is a supermarket in Le Salvetat, however, so not far to go until your next banana. By the way, I took the following photo in Le Salvetat to indicate the randomness of the opening times (it says "closed for the week"), and only noticed that there was something very peculiar about the baguettes afterwards :eek:

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Accommodation: I stayed in the GC in Le Salvetat-sur-Agout, although I did not rate it very highly at all. It had everything one might need on paper (cheap, bed, kitchen, shower, toilet), but it was also very dirty (bins not emptied for days, the single shower and toilet not cleaned in who knows how long, and the bed sheets had stains on them. Ew). Also, the doors were on mechanisms that made them slam shut, leading to a very disturbed night's sleep).
Transport: No buses in the direction of the Chemin stages, but there is a bus that goes from Le-Salvetat-sur-Agout to Beziers. A couple of the pilgrims I’d encountered along the way decided to end their pilgrimage here. Here’s the timetable, in case you’re interested.

*Bonus tip!!*
I am a huge fan of neolithic menhirs, so was very excited to learn that there were some very close to the Chemin (in fact Murat has a Menhir Museum, with some carved stones from the region). On leaving Murat-sur-Vèbre, I walked along the D162 for a while before joining the GR route (easy enough to using Google maps). I found two of them, RIGHT next to the road. Just wonderful. Set me up for a great day of walking. 😊
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Le Salvetat-sur-Agout – Anglès:
A walk very similar to the previous day... Here's Le Salvetat in my rearview mirror: 60422

Food: You know the story by now: nothing until Anglès, so you’re going to have to buy snacks the night before in Le Salvetat. Luckily there’s a small supermarket in Anglès (closed daily 12:30-15h30), so no need to stock up on too much. No restaurant options in Anglès (not even in the hotel – although the two pilgrims staying there were told they could use the hotel kitchen). Of course, the local bar had pizza… (and I can’t believe it, but a French pilgrim actually went for this option!! He was not very impressed, though; apparently the pizza was microwaved from frozen. Mais non).
Accommodation: The GC in Anglès was lovely! Very clean, and fresh bed linen that smelled of fabric softener (what a treat!) The woman in the Mairie was very kind, and obviously proud to host pilgrims (unlike previous municipal gîtes, where you sometimes got the feeling you were more of an inconvenience). Only 6 beds. There were 4 of us there at the end of June, so not sure what you’d do if the Chemin got busier in July/August, as there weren’t many other options.
Transport: no public transport at all from Anglès.

Nothing much in Anglès, but the French sure know how to "make an entrance"!


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Anglès – Boissezon - Castres:
So this is my final entry.. Castres is 38km away from Anglès, Two of the brave peregrinos in the GC with me decided to walk all the way, leaving at 5am. Most plan for Boissezon. I walked as far as I could on this stage, but then started suffering quite badly from heat exhaustion and enlisted some help to get to Castres.

Food and accommodation: again, nothing between Anglès and Boissezon (21km). And no épicerie (or even boulangerie) in Boissezon, so you’d need to stock up the day before in Anglès. The GC in Boissezon has cooking facilities, although this is obviously useless unless you have something to cook! From Boissezon to Castres (17km) you start walking into the city, so should find more options, although the first 10km or so of the walk from Boissezon is still very rural, so it’ll take a while before encountering any commercial establishments.
Transport: I had researched transport for this stage as it was so hot and there were warnings everywhere about being outside (let alone hiking the Chemin d'Arles!) I discovered that there was only one bus per day from Boissezon to Castres, that is, the 7am school bus. Apparently it’s at the driver’s discretion whether he lets non-schoolkids on, although I doubt he’d say no to one or two pilgrims. After Boissezon, if you’re desperate, you can catch a bus to Castres from Valdurenque. Valdurenque isn’t on the Chemin, but it’s only 3.9km off path and can be reached via an apparently quiet secondary road.
 
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Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)

lt56ny

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF2012,Le Puy/CF 2015 Portugues 2017 Norte 2018, CF 2019
Thanks so much. Really enjoyed reading this. It is a camino that I think may be too tough for me at 65. You reminded me of my trek on the Le Puy camino in 2014. Didn't know about Gronze.com then and only had the little Michelin guide which didn't have a whole lot of information. I had some long days, two or three without food almost the whole day as the guide showed I would walk through a few towns that when I got to them either had no shops or the shops were closed. I also spoke no French at all and had no phone. It was sometimes really tough finding the Gite. Those little stripes which mark the camino would sometimes be hard to spot as I would walk in such lovely areas and with my mind going blank that I would miss them and get lost and either not seeing anyone or not being able to communicate would make it tough to find my way back to the Camino. But it was still worth it and it was a wonderful walk. Thanks for letting us share your Camino with you.
 

Camino Chrissy

Take one step forward...then keep on walking.
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2015;
Norte/Primitivo 2016;
Frances 2017;
Le Puy 2018;
Portuguese/FishermanTr. 2019
Jan...A totally outstanding writeup and time consuming work of love you've shared with pilgrims contemplating this route! I'm totally impressed and now very interested because of your post. I love France and thoroughly enjoyed the Le Puy last June...looks like this would be no less wonderful! Thank you!
 

backpack45scb

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
2001 CF, 04-6 LP, 07 Port, 08-10 Arles, 11 Mozá,12-13 Gen-LP. 00-10 PCT, 15 Norte, 16 Primi
Outstanding trip report, Jan. Thank you!
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Thanks so much. Really enjoyed reading this. It is a camino that I think may be too tough for me at 65. You reminded me of my trek on the Le Puy camino in 2014. Didn't know about Gronze.com then and only had the little Michelin guide which didn't have a whole lot of information. I had some long days, two or three without food almost the whole day as the guide showed I would walk through a few towns that when I got to them either had no shops or the shops were closed. I also spoke no French at all and had no phone. It was sometimes really tough finding the Gite. Those little stripes which mark the camino would sometimes be hard to spot as I would walk in such lovely areas and with my mind going blank that I would miss them and get lost and either not seeing anyone or not being able to communicate would make it tough to find my way back to the Camino. But it was still worth it and it was a wonderful walk. Thanks for letting us share your Camino with you.
Sounds like a very similar experience... This is a truly amazing walk, but I think you need a sense of purpose and conviction to keep going for days on end, without much company or the usual creature comforts. I'm not sure age is really an issue, though. I met a French pilgrim aged about 70 who was doing fine physically, but I think he was finding the solitariness very challenging. He'd done the Frances previously, and had loved the social aspect, so this was a VERY different sort of experience. He'd also been forced to sleep outside twice, as he simply couldn't go any further. That said, he was very happy to finally meet up with a couple of pilgrims, and to share his adventures with us (a born and bred Parisian, sleeping in a field? He could hardly believe it himself! We all had a good chuckle about this together). I think that, because of the "deprivation", when you finally get a good meal, or meet up with fellow pilgrims, you come to appreciate these little things so much more. I had some really overwhelming moments of gratitude on this walk.
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
Jan...A totally outstanding writeup and time consuming work of love you've shared with pilgrims contemplating this route! I'm totally impressed and now very interested because of your post. I love France and thoroughly enjoyed the Le Puy last June...looks like this would be no less wonderful! Thank you!
Chrissy, I was genuinely surprised at how few pilgrims there were on this route. When I got to Montpellier, I was the only person in the entire Gîte San Roch, a donativo in a medieval building right in the centre of the city. And the hospitalero told me that I was the first pilgrim he'd seen in two days! I'm really not sure why so few choose this path, given its ancient history, as well as its outstanding natural beauty.
 

domigee

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
See signature
Wonderful information and photos! Thank you!
I only walked a small part of the Arles way (from Toulouse to Lourdes) and I was always on my own. It is indeed very solitary but beautiful. And yes, shops may or may not be open but that’s ‘la France profonde’ 😁
I’ve just stocked up on an anti-mosquito spray (for the italian rice fields 😳) so I’ll share the information here. It’s a French spray and it works!
Arkopharma anti-moustique spray
I’ve only found it in French pharmacies though but it can be ordered on line.
 

lt56ny

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF2012,Le Puy/CF 2015 Portugues 2017 Norte 2018, CF 2019
Sounds like a very similar experience... This is a truly amazing walk, but I think you need a sense of purpose and conviction to keep going for days on end, without much company or the usual creature comforts. I'm not sure age is really an issue, though. I met a French pilgrim aged about 70 who was doing fine physically, but I think he was finding the solitariness very challenging. He'd done the Frances previously, and had loved the social aspect, so this was a VERY different sort of experience. He'd also been forced to sleep outside twice, as he simply couldn't go any further. That said, he was very happy to finally meet up with a couple of pilgrims, and to share his adventures with us (a born and bred Parisian, sleeping in a field? He could hardly believe it himself! We all had a good chuckle about this together). I think that, because of the "deprivation", when you finally get a good meal, or meet up with fellow pilgrims, you come to appreciate these little things so much more. I had some really overwhelming moments of gratitude on this walk.
I appreciate your support about my age. I have thought about this camino many times. The solitary nature of it is not a problem for me. I was alone alot on the Le Puy camino and at night during the AMAZING dinners I had at some of the private Sites it seemed like I was the only one that could not speak French. I am going to do a November/December CF this year and looking forward to this. My next Camino after that will be the VDLP starting either in late February or the same Nov/Dec time period.
I will not walk in Summer anymore because of climate change. I would dread walking now. I do love meeting Pilgrims and sharing and learning from them but the CF crowds would be overwhelming for me even if summer temps were more tolerable.
I will do a second Portuguese (picked that one as it is a good compromise between the solitude of a quiet camino and the CF with lots of services too) in two years with 3 friends from college. Hoping a few more of the 9 of us who have remained friends for 47 years will join us. We will discuss it at our annual reunion. That one will be a camino of a lifetime!!!!

Keep us posted I have read lots of your posts and you always have something good to contribute.
Buen Camino
 

tinta

Member
Camino(s) past & future
SJPP to Santiago 2016, Le Puy en Velay to SJPP 2018, Santiago to Finisterre, Muxia 2018.
Okay, just found your brilliant report. You are amazing and officially a legend. Thank you.
 

jsalt

Jill
Camino(s) past & future
Portugués, Francés, Le Puy, Rota Vicentina, Soulac, Norte, Madrid, Salvador, Primitivo, Aragonés
Hi Jan, I have also just come across this thread. Great write-up, thanks. I am so glad I decided to stop walking at Castres in April (going in the reverse direction), as it looks a lot tougher than I thought! It was the day before Good Friday in Castres, and up to that point I hardly ever saw another pilgrim. I was often the only person staying at the gites. When I contacted Boissezon to reserve a bed I was astounded to find out they were fully booked. I was carrying a tent (in case I couldn’t find budget accommodation) but I’d just had enough anyway: of phoning ahead each day (to make sure places were open) and trying to find food. I got so fed up living on bread and cheese, and unable to afford eating in a restaurant (if I could even find one). It was time to go home! Jill
 

Jan_D

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Aragones (2011)
Frances (2012)
Norte (2013, 2014)
Hospitalera (2014)
Portugues (2017)
I am so glad I decided to stop walking at Castres in April (going in the reverse direction), as it looks a lot tougher than I thought!... I’d just had enough anyway: of phoning ahead each day (to make sure places were open) and trying to find food. I got so fed up living on bread and cheese, and unable to afford eating in a restaurant (if I could even find one). It was time to go home! Jill
Hi Jill! Well in that case I'm glad I didn't continue onwards... I'd heard things would get busier from Toulouse, but after reading some other threads it seems like the Arles is definitely the road less travelled (at least until Oloron-Sainte-Marie). I honestly don't know how you did it - I was actually thinking of you while walking as I'd just read about your epic journey before leaving, so wondered whether you'd stopped in any of the same spots. Anyway I was starting to get 'gatvol' after 2 weeks, so I'm amazed you were able to keep going for so long!
 

linnea.borealis

Pilgrim since 2010: Still walking
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy (2010), Frances (2010). Finisterre (2010), Geneva (2012), Portuguese (2014), Sanabres (2016),
Thanks, Jan! My husband and I (ages 75 and 78) are leaving for Arles-Toulouse in 2 weeks. I am hoping for cooler weather. We are expecting challenges. I've made notes from your account. We walked from Toulouse to Puente la Reina in spring 2018 -- and have previously encountered long distances with no services, and villages with nothing open in our walks in France. I can't imagine walking in this past summer's heat. My blog for Toulouse to P. la Reina, and 2 You Tube videos. http://caminobleu.blogspot.com/
and
and
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Again, soon as possible!
I Just found this Jan, thank you for taking time to record your experiences. Arles is on my list, but now I know more about what I may be getting myself into! You are a star!

Davey
 

Isca-camigo

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Various ones.
You can do the Haute Languedoc in shorter stages, sometimes it means going of chemin and following a GR offshoot path which goes to a departmental gite, these are usually around 1-2 off route( or2-4 in total including return), sometimes you can cut the 30km sections in half, I did after St Gervais sur Mare. The route is hard for stocking up on, you have to accept that when you can stock up you are doing it for 3 or 4 days at least, the French rural opening hours and tendency to suddenly shut up shop certainly challenged my patience and expectation levels, forgot what you see in the various guides, yes there may be a shop, but do not expect it to be open. The route is mostly quiet but I had heard that on public holidays the route fills up with French walkers, which is what happened. The days I spent in the HL region are among my most treasured memories and experiences walking Camino's, the region is stunning and very peaceful to walk through, I remember walking into one village and hearing cars on asphalt it was a shock to the system because it had been the sound of nature for a day or two. I walked it in may/June 2014 so it may have changed since then.

Bon Chemin
 

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