Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Just back from an amazing eleven-day, 240-kilometre walk along the Via Podiensis, the road from Le Puy, most venerable of the French pilgrim ways to Santiago. It's a wonderfully bucolic walk from Le Puy, pop. 20,000, to Figeac pop. 10,000, with the biggest town in between, Saugues, clocking in at 2000 inhabitants. You can go for hours without seeing a highway or a power line; what you will see (and hear and smell) is plenty of cows. The scenery is spectacular and ever-changing, though all those magnificent vistas come at the cost of a lot of ups and downs.
gites (equivalent to Spanish refugios), to say nothing of the cafes and bars, were already closed for the season. But we were always able to find a bed somewhere. The facilities were comfortable and clean, the ways clearly marked, the bread, cheese, meat, coffee, wine - all very French.
Many differences between the French way and the Camino Frances. Most of the people I met considered their journey a walking holiday rather than a pilgrimage, and there is no need to carry a credential or identify oneself as a pilgrim in order to stay in the gites (with a few exceptions). It's easy to buy groceries in France early in the morning, not so easy to find an open bar or restaurant at night. The churches are more likely to be open at any time of day here than in Spain, though most are surprisingly unornamented compared to Spanish churches, having been burned down or stripped bare during the Hundred Years' War, or the wars of religion, or the Revolution.... Lively history, France.