It was a short day, but not without its challenges. We followed the road, for 5 km, seeing perhaps 3 cars in nearly 2 hours, as we walked through old forests, climbing out of tiny Servies to join the GR 563 and the Chemin at the Col de Layrac from which we could see a few small villages in the valleys below, and endless mountains.
We were grateful for the cool temperature, but the wind we’d experienced yesterday continued to buffet us. After awhile we left the road, and took a steep, rocky descent through forests, exiting gratefully at Mecles, where we sat in the sun at a small fountain with a St. Jacques plaque.
Only three km from their to St. Gervais, pleasant until another painfully steep, rocky descent, then across a medieval bridge over the pretty Mare river, up into the mostly deserted long Main Street ofSt. Gervais.
The Mairie rose majestically above a pair of staircases behind imposing red bars and gates. The doors opened, and a lovely young woman welcomed us, gave us a map, and a key to the gite, and collected our money.
The pizza place was closed, but we bought some cheese pastries at the bakery just before it closed, and celebrated with two beers outside a cafe, before heading back through town to a lovely, clean, modern gite with a nice kitchen and beautiful bathroom.
About 4 pm, we returned to the now open tourist office where a wonderfully kind and patient woman spent the better part of an hour lining up places for us over the coming weekend. Many places were either full or closed, so we greatly appreciated her help.
A bit of shopping at the small grocery, and back to the gite where we met our two companions for the night, a French man and Spanish woman.
Two businesses on the street seemed open all the time: a car repair business, unlikely in the old town center, and a funeral supply store, both for people heading elsewhere.
Tomorrow, we climb to some of the highest peaks on this part of the route, but we’ve cut the 26 km day into two.
I write tonight from my bunk in Servies, a tiny village at the bottom of a narrow canyon, to which we descended in a roaring wind that blew off Kent’s pack cover, caused havoc with my one remaining hearing aid, and at times threatened to topple us over as we held onto our hats. A worn wooden sign at the pass read “Gite d’Etape, 3 km” and we were relieved. But the steep descent on a rocky Jeep trail seemed much longer, although there were stretches of fairyland beauty through mature beech forests where the track was softened by layers of leaves. We saw no sign of the village until a house appeared below the trail on our left. We reached the far end of the village, still high above it, before we came to an intersection with a parking area and a road descending back through the village.
We wandered through the narrow street, past the church, past a door labeled “gite relais” and had not seen a soul, nearing the end of the village we heard voices, and walked back, spying an elderly woman on stairs above us, who pointed behind us to a friendly, energetic woman who was hurrying toward us. She pushed open the door to the gite, which I’d previously tried, but hadn’t pushed hard enough (it had no latch). We struggled up a few stairs into a large main room with a small kitchen and huge fireplace at one end, and seating for fifteen around a collection of tables in the center.
She showed us the bedroom with two bunks, the bathroom, dinner in the “frigo,” and pain in a big brown sack on the table.
We paid her $66 Euros and some cents, she showed us the way out of town to rejoin the Chemin by another route, wished us well, and left our exhausted selves to our usual evening routine.
It had been just minutes after five as we walked into the village, and I think we were asleep by 8 pm We had left the gite in Joncels before 8, and must have been the last to go. For the entire day, we never saw another person, other than a few people in Lunas and some hunters in cars.
We lost the trail shortly out of Joncels, which we left in rain, and lost perhaps 20 minutes or more, walking uphill, of course, while the trail, markings hard to see in the rain, had veered off into the woods on the left. After seeing no markers for 15 minutes, I checked the IPhiGéNie map app, and saw where we had gone astray.
The walk to Lunas was along a narrow brushy path, with the usual rocky descent into town. I’d hoped we might find a few pilgrims at a cafe enjoying a second cup of coffee, but no— only a few men smoking. We bought a apple from a small epicerie, and made fast tracks along the highway to Bosquet sur Orb, through which we climbed steeply, no shops in sight. Then we climbed still more, past a welcome water spigot to a bench where we sat for a few minutes to catch our breath and enjoy the view. Some creative signs decorated with shells led steeply up the hillside between houses. For the next two hours we would clinb steeply up through sometimes brambly paths.
We stopped for lunch on a rock outcropping, from which we could see part of the village and railroad tracks far bellow.
After that the trail evened out a bit, and we had pleasant walking through the trees, with views now in a new direction. Eventually we arrived at Le Col du Pins” and an intersection with a forest road lined with heather. On this we descended, losing most of the height we struggled so hard to gain. The sun shone, and it was fairly smooth, fast walking. A kite soared overhead. We began to climb again and came to a series of picnic areas with tables. Then climbed more, all on dirt roads, until we had gained another 300-400 meters, and topped out at the windy junction where we took the fork to Servies. From that junction we could look far below, and see the road we’d eventually take. A couple of vehicles with hunters were parked at the pass.
It would be almost an hour before we reached Servies, steep downhill into buffeting chill wind all the way. We were grateful to have cooler weather at last.
Back now to Day 10. We paid our bill at Hotel de la Paix, a total of 314 Euros, 80 per night for room, and the rest for meals, including 8 Euros breakfasts, of which we didn’t eat much our second morning.
We waited for the audiologist office to open at nine. The woman on duty replaced the tube on the whistling aid in a few minutes, but, alas, it was no better, and she said there was nothing more she could do, so we headed out of town, at least an hour later than we would have liked. The first part of the walk climbed through pleasant forests, then eventually opened out onto dirt roads that climbed endlessly upward. Does the road go upward all the way? Apparently yes. I would see the road vanish at a curve ahead, hoping each time there would be a summit, but each time we rounded the corner only to find the hill continuing.
The sun was hot, we sweat buckets, worried about running out of water, and eventually arrived at a summit where a few tracks converged. Pilgrims heading to Lunas could here take a shortcut on the GR 7. We turned toward Joncels, and were happy to descend through some trees, where we took off our packs and paused briefly for lunch. The sandwich from the Carrefour Express was not wonderful, and I tossed part of my half into the bushes.
We descended to a highway, which we followed uphill toward windmills, then turned onto a smaller road that descended into a valley, then climbed again. The clouds turned to rain. We were off and on again with ponchos for the next few hours.
At one point we passed a farm, where I spied a spigot, but no water came out when I tried the tap. We descended into another valley, crossed some streams, then climbed up to little Joncels , which we could see on the hill above us. After a steep climb through forests in intermittent rain, we arrived in the village and found the gite, The Forge, where we were warmly welcomed by Veronique and her husband.
We had a room to ourselves with a sink. Toilet, shower, and kitchen down the stairs. As soon as we arrived a torrential rain broke loose, pounding on the skylights. We thought we were there alone, but met Daniel an Wotan, with whom we shared dinner the the Forge dining room.
I briefly met a Dutch woman, never seen again, and another woman, never spoken to.
I had hoped one might be going to Servies, too, but all must have been going all the way to St. Gervais-sur-Mare. which at 37 km with all those ups and downs, I know we could not have done. We will get there tomorrow, 17 km.
Meanwhile, we are enjoying the peace of Servies, thinking this Chemin is too hard on these old bodies, but maybe we can make it over the mountains yet remaining.
No WiFi here, and no cell service either, so I will send this when I can.
Distances walked: Saturday, September 28, 17 official km, and 11 iPhone Miles. Sunday, September 29, 14.1 iPhone miles
Rest Day in Lodeve, Monday September 30.
We have enjoyed a much-needed rest day in Lodeve. We arrived about 5 pm yesterday, hot and tired. No place to stay. Spied the Hotel de la Paix as we entered town, staggered into the lobby, and asked for a room. We’ve been treated like family here. Lovely room, great meals. We’ve washed clothes, gotten money, topped off my phone, visited the Tourist Office 4 times, run into the Canadian pilgrims as they arrived late this afternoon, and visited the gorgeous St. Fulcran Cathedral twice. We have worked out some details for the next week, and reserved some nights ahead.
This evening our host with the large speckled dog shared his photo album of his trip to the US Southwest in 1995–Taos Pueblo, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Moab, then treated us to drinks.
One of my hearing aids is having problems, so I will try to get help at an audiology office in the morning, which will delay our start on a tough 22 km walk..
Days 7 and 8
We’ve had a wild up-and-down couple of days since we climbed up the cliff behind St, Guilhem at dawn on Saturday morning. Several pilgrims were just ahead of us, and one passed us, but by the time we had reached the top of the climb, all had disappeared from sight, and we have seen none of them since, although several should be here in Lodeve and leaving this morning.
We have decided to stay here a second night, giving ourselves a rest day and time to wash our clothes and figure out the rest of the trip. This town of perhaps 9,000 is the largest we will see for several days.
Back to the climb from St. Guilhem, where we had slept like four large sardines on the side-by-side mattresses that, except for a small passage from the door across the bottom ends, had entirely filled the room.
The climb was the first for this trip of over 1000-feet, and it was good to make in the cool of morning. The temperatures have been in the upper 70 Fahrenheit range, which has meant much hotter walking than we’d anticipated and than we would like.
The cool morning breezes helped refresh us as we climbed, and the views were spectacular. The walk though a forest at the very top was among the most pleasant anywhere. Then, we descended on less picturesque gravel roads. We looked out over a vast expanse of country, and saw the sun reflecting on the Mediterranean in the distance.
The official trail sometimes veered off the road onto scrubby brush trails, adding distance, but also variety. There were smaller climbs and then a very long descent, hard on knees and feet. Suddenly below us I saw the crenellated outline of a castle wall.
We enjoyed some quiet moments without our packs, looking at the remains of the once-bustling Castellas de Montpeyroux.
Once down on the relative flat, it was an uneventful walk and then a bit of a climb to Arboras, where we found the cafe in the middle of town — the only business—serving delicious platters of salad with toast and chèvre.
This is where we had arranged to meet Emanuel, our friend and companion on our previous walk, who was driving from Grenoble. Meanwhile I thought I would call the number of the Arboras family that was to take us to our evening’s lodging.
It turned out that the number handwritten by the woman in the tourist office that I thought was an 8 was a 2, and I’d been calling the wrong number, leaving messages and annoying the folks who had no idea what I was talking about, nor did I understand their replies to me.
We waited more than two hours for Emmanuel to arrive, and it was great to see him looking just as we remembered him. By then the cafe had closed, and I turned my phone over to Emmanuel, who discovered my misreading of the number.
When he finally got the right number, we discovered that the people we’d been trying to reach lived just two doors from the cafe.
We ended up showering and having tea at their home, and then riding in Emmanuel’s car back to Montpeyroux and on to St. Jean Du Fos, where we’d accidentally detoured the day before, all this at a dizzying auto pace, past places where we’d recently trudged like snails.
Our night’s lodging was a picturesque stone building set in a vineyard, but it left quite a bit to be desired in terms of amenities and cleanliness. The toilet was an outhouse with a camouflage net for a door. The beds, with torn quilts, were up a ladder-like stair in a loft.
We had reserved dinner in the place in Montpeyroux at the Terrasse de Mimosa. It was a lovely dinner, although it grew cold as the evening deepened. It was 11 pm by the time we had retrieved our packs in Arboras, made several attempts to find our way back to the “farm,” and finally arranged ourselves in our beds for the night.
We had purchased some pastries and yogurt for morning (in Montpeyroux), found a kettle and some coffee, and then set out for St. Jean de la Blaquiere, deciding to skip the rough walk between there and Arboras, and realizing we were getting a late start.
We next wasted perhaps an hour seeking a shortcut that never materialized, then climbed through lovely forest paths to the tiny village of Uscias, where we rested briefly on benches in the shade, and looked at the medieval pilgrim grave markers in the cemetery.
There was a water spout, that we were assured probably had drinkable water although the sign said “non potable.”
Then came the long climb of the day, past some boar hunters, who said they’d shot a fox. We have almost no wildlife and few birds so far on this walk. Why would anyone want to shoot a fox high in the mountains?
We encountered several times a large noisy group of hikers attended by a bus. Touristic pilgrims perhaps?
The turn-around point for Emmanuel and our good-bye took place following a tour of the Priory of St. Michel de Grandmont, the impressive remains of what had been extremely austère order. So austère that it ceased to attract members and after a long decline became defunct in 1604.
The priory was also the site of several Neolithic dolmens and mysterious stones.
Emmanuel made it back to his car in less than half the time it had taken us to walk uphill, and arrived a good 2 hours before we would reach Lodeve with nowhere to stay. None of our phone messages, including those left by Emmanuel, had been answered. Booking.com showed just one hotel, with one room left, on the far side of town.
The long descent into Lodeve on a steep and rocky path, hot in the late afternoon sun was torturous. The first brew of the city presented a huge cemetery along a highway flanked by commercial buildings. I felt ready to catapult myself I to that cemetery for a permanent sleep.
We ate a true shared, cobbled together pilgrim lunch—an apple, potato chips, small sausages, cookies, soft drinks and almonds and a chocolate bar. Then it was time to say goodbye.
My feet and knees ached, but finally the descent slowed and ended quite near the center of town.
Across a lovely river, with water splashing over a small dam, and ducks paddling, we spied the 3-star Hôtel de la Paix.
The door opened when we tried it, and a gentleman sitting with a large speckled dog at his feet asked if we would like a room, and motioned for us to sit. A young woman appeared, took one look at us, came back with a key and led us to an elevator and to our room! Ah heaven!
Shower, toilet, crisp sheets, towels, and a view of the river and the ducks.
We received a shock when our ATM card was declined twice. I had time this evening to check our Capital One account and discovered our withdrawals were coming from our checking account rather than our savings account, and we were over $800 in the hole! Yikes! Fortunately,
I was able to instantly move funds between accounts, so we should now be OK.
We have been whiling away a couple of pleasant hours under the famous large old sycamore tree surrounded by restaurants in front of the historic Abbey of St. Guilhem, a place I remember from 20 years ago.
Yesterday i discovered that the place where I’d requested a reservation for that night in Montarnaud, claimed it had not heard back, and had given away our places. I had had no email response from them. But, with the help of Laurent, whom we encountered at a little patisserie in Montarnaud, we booked at Aniane, another 14 km away for the night.
Immediately upon leaving Montarnaud we scrambled up a limestone escarpment of 1000 to 1200 feet. There was a lovely breeze at the top, which helped cool our sweat-drenched selves.
Then we descended, and after another hour or two came to the village of La Bossiere, where there were tables set out on wooden platforms along the street, evidently belonging to a bar of some kind operated by some young people sitting nearby who invited us to sit. I took off my boots, propped up my feet, and we enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwich we had carried from the patisserie.
Along came Laurent, and then one we labeled the “fast walker,” who chatted for a moment as we filled our water bottles at the nearby park, and then rapidly disappeared ahead of us. We next encountered a long detour along a very rocky trail with almost no shade. At last the trail branched off and the grande randonee, which we followed, headed steadily uphill. In the distance I could see the large rock we’d seen before Montpellier.
Kent waited for me at the top of the hill, then pointed below. There were Laurent and “fast walker,” who had taken the low road. We’d probably climbed unnecessarily, although the views were spectacular. The track descended, we came to a road, followed the red and white bars or GR 653, but eventually realized we had to be going the wrong way—there was no Aniane in sight, and no more markers. We consulted our book and online maps. We’d gone about a km downhill in the wrong direction. Back up hill, we we trudged another 10-20 minutes, and right near the top saw our mistake—a small track had veered off to the right. We were very tired and discouraged when we finally came to the Hostellerie de Saint Benoit, which was, of course, on the road exiting the town. Laurent, who had arrived only half an hour before us, had sent the hotel owner out to look for us. He had taken a wrong turn, also, on that low road.
All turned out well, and we joined Laurent for dinner, one of the most beautifully prepared meals I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t take a photo, alas, of a swirl of melon, and a salad in a cabbage leaf, holding up a skewer of fried shrimp, with berries decorating the edges. This was followed by a tender confit of duck, and finally a chocolate and cream dessert. We slept well in our private room, but it was all too short.
In the morning we said good-bye again to Laurent over a very elaborate breakfast. We revisited the village, picked up some packages of dried soup, insurance for the days ahead, and headed off toward St. Guilhem. Another short day, but again we got turned around after a lovely, quiet time at the Devil’s Bridge, and ended up in St. Jean-de-Fos, which added another two km to our walk in the heat of the day.
Final mistake of the day. At four pm we headed to our gite, only to find they did not have our reservation.
As I wrote on Facebook, there was a little note at the bottom of the welcome letter that I failed to understand . A reply had been required, so although very disappointed, we were fortunate to find two beds in the Club Alpin Francois, where we are in a room with 4 mattresses together on a platform, no space in between. We will see how the night goes.
Sadly, I did not understand that the wording below meant I was to respond “oui” or some such. So when we arrived just now, they did not have us confirmed, and they had no room. I had made this reservation several days ago and was looking forward to a lovely gite with the Carmelite sisters, and a place to wash sweaty clothes. Fortunately we have another place. St Guilhem is crawling with pilgrims and tourists. We are lucky to have a bed at all.
“Dans l’attente de votre confirmation, recevez nos cordiales salutations fraternelles”
We look forward to new adventures tomorrow as we climb a mountain and have lodging in a family home—and plan to meet Emanuel, our young friend from our walk last year.
Today was a surprisingly beautiful day of walking, given that we had chosen to walk the original Via Domitla Pilgrim way, rather than the considerably longer route.
Our concern was that this route followed a super highway quite closely, but in actuality, we walked through more wild countryside than we had previously. There were lovely patches through scrubby forests—I think there is a French name—but it escapes me now.
I felt at times that we were walking through landscapes not too different from those traversed by medieval pilgrims.
The noise of the sometimes nearby freeway was often buffered by trees.
We arrived at last in the center of Vendargues, to the Post Office from which a bus left to take us to a tram to the center of Montpellier.
It was all a bit stressful, because we didn’t realize there was both a bus and a tram, and didn’t know in which direction to take the bus. Google maps was not much help.
Iphigenie maps,however had been of great help at several intersectionns along the way.
But at last we found our way into the city by bus and tram, and with the help of Google maps found our way to the Gite Pelerins de St. Roche, right behind the church.
We had not reserved, but were relieved to find beds, and encounter once more Isabelle, Genevieve, and Georgina. We 5 make up the pilgrim contingent tonight.
This was a hard day for me in some ways, after a hurried start this morning.
I did find time to pray during long quiet, and often rocky stretches of the way.
But entering the Elglise de Saint Roch brought tears to my eyes. St. Roch was born in Montpellier, a saint I have sought out on my many pilgrimages. He always has his dog beside him,often with a piece of bread in its mouth. The story I know is that Saint Roque was a pilgrim to Santiago in the 1300s, and had a wound on his leg that never healed, but was kept free of infection by the dog’s licking of the wound.
Statues of St Roch and his dog are found in churches and chapels through the European pilgrim routes.
There is much more, but I don’t have time now to research the story. But at the front of this church is a painting of the saint on his deathbed, with the faithful dog at his feet. I have never seen this depiction before, only statues of St. Rich as pilgrim with his dog.
Since I have praying for so many I’ll friends on this walk, I was deeply moved.
We are in a true pilgrim gite tonight. Tomorrow we again take transportation to the edge of town, from where will walk 10-12 km to tomorrow’s stop.
The old part of Montpellier is lovely and charming.
No time for pictures tonight, but One from my phone:
After a rather fast start this morning on country lanes in the cool of the day, we reached the small village of Cadognan in the company of Isabelle, Genevieve, and Georgina after 8.5 Km in just under 2 hours. Kent and I were hoping for a cup of coffee and a bit of a break, so we peeled off toward the town center. We passed a small supermarket and the post office with a bench out front, were motioned to continue by two women we had asked for directions. We ended up with pain au chocolat and juice from a boulangerie, which we took back to the bench, where we were greeted by friendly townspeople, including a woman in Muslim dress.
Unfortunately the rest of the way to charming Gallargues-le-Montueux was through large fields of grapes, along roads and industrial areas.
There was a lovely restaurant at the beginning of the old town, where we encountered Laurence and had a lovely shared plat du jour again, and a pleasant conversation.
At both of our stops we encountered the Canadian-French trio. The walk out of Gallargues-le-Montueux was also hot and shadeless, until we reached a river crossing just before Villetelle, where we said good-bye to everyone, but it turned out that all but Laurence, and Georgina (who had gone on ahead), were coming to the same Chambre d’Hote d’Aimardou.
Now, I wasn’t expecting much of this place, but here behind a locked gate is a paradise, a Mediterranean-style house built around a swimming pool. Our private room here is bigger than that we shared with six people two nights ago, and contains a bidet, a toilet, a huge bathtub, two sinks and a television set, as well as a large bed. The bath area, which is up four steps, is tiled with images of saints. Everything is pristine and beautifully decorated. I was hoping for a bed with sheets. That would have been luxury enough!
Our legs and feet are aching after the day’s walk, but I think we are getting stronger every day.
Blue skies, light breezes and varied scenery made today much better than yesterday. Tonight we are sleeping in what was once a horse stall at a gîte operated by (according to his self-description in our MiamMiam DoDo guidebook) a ”pelerín ancien,” although he is considerably younger than we are.
We’ve just had a nice, simple dinner, and I’m having a hard time staying awake although it is only 9:30 pm.
The other guests are a young French couple, and the two women we first met yesterday on the digue, and whom we hadn’t seen since. Their names are Isabelle and Genevieve, and we will stay in the same place with them tomorrow.
Notable sights today: orchards of plums, peaches, and apricots — fruits already picked—apples still on trees, and grapes already harvested, but with a few low-hanging clusters at the ends of rows along the road, to which we helped ourselves.
We walked along the shimmering blue water of an irrigation canal, encountered a large number of domesticated pigs, rooting happily under trees in a forest mucky from yesterday’s rain, observed a few lovely white horses, and encountered some very fierce barking dogs, two of which escaped their fence and came after me. I turned and faced the, and looking into their eyes held out one hand in a stop motion, and shouted at them, « Non! » and « au revoir! » while I walked slowly backward, not wanting to risk s nip in my calf, until finally they turned away.
Finally, we came to eerily beautiful, totally burned forests, still smelling smoky. There had been awful fires in this area over the summer. At first I thought the oak leaves had just turned bronze, but then I realized this was the fire we had read about.
Upon entering Vauvert, one of the first places we came to was a house with a menu du jour posted outside. We entered through a courtyard, climbed an outdoor flight of stairs, and were welcomed by a. Pleasant woman, even though it was near what must have been her 2 pm closing time. We shared one meals of salade miste, poultry and pasta. We drank 3 bottles of table water, and luxuriated in sitting in chairs at a table for the first time in two days.
There was so much more. As I walked I composed prayers for two friends confronting cancer, Anne and Anita, much-loved by many and so generous to others. May they be healed, but if that is not possible, may God hold them in his loving arms and give them peace and comfort. I prayed, too, for my friend Monica, also wise and generous, that her recovery from a stroke may restore some of the wonderful talents now eclipsed. And for my friend John who has lost his lifelong partner, Karen.
Now to sleep, so I’ll have strength to walk another day.