Day 1: 11th May, Le Puy-en-Velay to Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille 19 kms
Our first day of walking. We bought our lunch at the local supermarket next to the hotel, and started our walk up the hill. It was all really exciting to be on our way. We climbed quickly and soon had magnificent views of Puy-en-Velay and the ancient volcanic countryside. We stopped for lunch on the side of the road with a lovely view of the rolling, green countryside. The day was clear and sunny in the morning but early in the afternoon, we got caught in a hail shower that lasted for about 5 minutes. With the hail, the sky became overcast and it was colder. The villages along the way are constructed of stones and rock. The masonry is impressive.
After 19kms of walking, we arrived at our hotel, Le Provence, on the other side of the village of Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille. The village itself has an old monastery and two museums, and once again with impressive stonework. We went for a walk in the village but it started to rain what felt like ice. The hotel itself was cold and the heaters didn’t come on until about 8pm. Dinner was copious and quite rich – salad chevre chaud for entrée, omelette for main course with potato gratin and a souffle of vegetables, cheese and then dessert. Salva had pate for an entrée and casserole for the main course.
Day 2: 12th May, Le Monastier- sur-Gazeille to Le Bouchet St Nicolas 24kms
We picked up our lunch (panier/picnic) from the hotel and headed off into the rain after breakfast. It was much colder than the previous day. In the village, we passed the impressive Chapel of Saint -Jean and a lavoir. Old lavoirs, abreuvoirs (troughs) and wrought iron crosses are a constant feature of the first half of the GR70. In the fields, we noticed early plantings of lentils and barley for animal feed. We walked down the hill from the village then climbed quite steeply up a hill through the forest. At the village of Cluzel, we were accompanied by a friendly local dog who then continued to walk with us for about 6 kms. We became concerned that it was never going to leave us so we stopped at a café in Saint-Martin-de-Fugères. The woman in the café phoned the farmer who owned the dog. It was a young dog and well-known locally for following walkers. While we were in the café, it hailed heavily outside (thanks to the dog, we were sheltered). When we arrived at the village of Goudet, I put my feet in the icy water for five minutes as I was already experiencing swelling and sore feet. The village is situated on the Loire, and this was the first of the many major rivers which we crossed on the chemin.
After lunch in a semi-sheltered corner of a field, we continued our long walk of ups and downs. It was getting colder as the day passed. By the time, we got to the village of Ussel, we still had 8 kms to go to our hotel. These last kms were long, relatively flat but the cross wind from the north was strong and glacial. We arrived at the Auberge Le Couvige in Le Bouchet St Nicolas. The Auberge was a delight – charming hosts, warm and a lovely spacious room with a big shower. We ate at a communal table with 3 other walkers – Viviane and a German couple. We had an entrée of lentil salad. I had lasagne au chevre. It was delicious. Salva had veal with potato gratin and a vegetable souffle. The wine was complimentary.
Day 3: 13th May, Le Bouchet St Nicolas to Pradelles 21 kms
We left our comfortable auberge and into an icy wind and cloudy sky. We stopped and took a photo on the way out of town of RLS carved in wood. The path in front of us was across flat fields with little shelter from the wind.
At the first village we came to, Landos, we stopped at the pharmacy and bought special bandaids for blisters (called “Urgo”). These bandaids like a second skin turned out to be highly effective. What a blessing! We stopped under an old railway viaduct near Arquejol and beside a creek for lunch. I put my poor swollen feet in the icy water while we ate leftover picnic food from the two previous days.
We arrived in Pradelles after a long walk around a pine forest with the village so temptingly in view. It was a long and cold day of walking and my feet were in their worst state. At our hotel, when Salva pulled off the bandaid, my toe nail came off too.
Our hotel, Hotel du Ponant was in the main street. It was a relatively busy street with lots of trucks. The hotel was old and basic, and our two storeys walk upstairs was painful. The room was also basic but had a lovely view. The village itself is old and run down, but is one of the “100 plus beaux villages de France”. There are parts the old village walls, churches and a lavoir.
We ate in a restaurant next to the hotel. The service was lovely and the food was quite good. We had lentil salad again. I had fish cooked in aluminium foil and vegetables. Salva had daube de boeuf and vegetables. We finished our meal with the local eau de vie, “Verveine du velay” (Verveine or verbena is a wildflower used as a flavour for alcohol, medicine and herbal tea). It’s the local ‘eau de vie’ – bright green in colour with a medicinal! Not for me…
Day 4: 14th May, Pradelles to Cheylard L’Évêque 22 kms
We ate breakfast in the same restaurant as dinner the night before. We started our long walk down the hill towards the big village of Langogne. We crossed the L’Allier river and then bypassed the scenic GR70 route through Langogne by walking directly thought the town. We stopped at a boulangerie and bought two sandwiches, two apple tarts and drinks for our lunch. Another day, and another stop at a creek under a bridge. We ate our sandwiches (very fresh after yesterday’s left-overs) while I soaked my feet. We started to know and recognise people on the chemin – a French couple with a special walking trailer, Viviane, la Parisienne, a couple from Bordeaux and a German couple. After lunch we climbed the hill towards the village of Saint Flour de Mercoire, notable for a house with a sign supporting retention of railways and stations in the area and a small local theatre to support and encourage dramatic arts. We passed by a forested area with huge granite boulders. After the next small village of Fouzia, we turned right to walk through a pretty forest to our next stop at Cheylard L’Évêque. The landscape was changing. It is hillier and less undulating, more forested and less cultivated.
Our accommodation for the night was in a chamber d’hote “Le Refuge du Moure”. The village itself is tiny and pretty, and in the bottom of a scenic valley. The Refuge is huge – for the first time we were in accommodation for the real randonneurs. There are many bunk rooms, though we had our own room with an ensuite. At dinner, there were 32 people – all at big tables with the food placed in the middle for serving. The food was excellent. We started with a salad with charcouterie, followed by pot au feu, cheese and dessert of chocolate gateau with a strawberry coulis. I had the same food but with no charcouterie and fish instead of the meat. The vegetables were very good. We sat with Yves and Edith, both from Alsace, and an American couple.
Day 5: 15th May, Cheylard L’Évêque to La Bastide-Puylaurent 26.5 kms
We set off with our picnic/panier as we had been told that there were neither cafes, nor shops on the chemin to La Bastide. It was cold again but we started to climb immediately and soon warmed up. We passed a little lake – more like a big swamp but a nice place for a picnic, although we didn’t stop. By late morning, and after 11 kms of walking, we arrived at the village of Luc with its ruined chateau and an imposing statue of Notre Dame on the top of the ruin. It had been placed there in 1878, weeks after RLS passed by.
At Luc, we decided to not follow the GR 70 but cut off some kilometres by following the village road that continued by the Allier river. We had already decided not to go to Notre-Dame des Neiges – a monastery which RLS visited and is still open today for limited accommodation. The walk to the monastery would have meant an extra 5 kms. We had a lunch beside a small creek in the village of Laveyrune. I soaked my feet for the second time this day, as we ate our delicious lunch of salad, an egg, an orange and some bread.
We stayed the night in the Hotel La Grande Halte – an impressive name for a very ordinary hotel – in the village of La Bastide-Puylaurent. The room was basic – a pull across plastic door for the bathroom and the Wi-Fi didn’t work, but dinner was delicious. I had a battered piece of fish and frites. Salva had roast chicken with frites.
Day 6: 16th May, La Bastide Puylaurent to Chasseradès 12 kms
We were so delighted to have a short day. At breakfast, we saw La Parisienne and the German couple for the last time as they were traveling many more kms than us that day. Also, we met for the first time, two old French blokes who were travelling with a donkey. They dressed like the real thing i.e. RLS, and one of them walked in front, singing while the other lead the donkey.
We walked up the hill – up and up to 1300 metres – through a beautiful forest. At the top of the hill, there are wind turbines and many more being constructed. After a long walk downhill, we passed through the settlement around the Gare de Chasseradès and on the outskirts of the village of Chasseradès, got to our hotel, Hotel des Sources. Near the hotel, we saw the trailer couple for the last time. They were having lunch under a tree in a field.
It was lunchtime, when we arrived so we had lunch in the restaurant – we both had delicious salads. The hotel was good, warm and welcoming but still no Wi-Fi. After lunch, we had a walk around the little village. It is cute with a really old church with houses adjoining. Opposite the hotel, there is a railway line with a roof over it to prevent snow falling onto the tracks.
For dinner, we had a vegetable soup (potage), vegetables for me (no more omelettes please) and caille (quail) for Salva. We had a nice dessert of red berries in a syrup with ice cream on top.
Day 7: 17th May, Chasseradès to Le Bleymard 17 kms
We woke to, as forecast, an overcast day with rain. My feet were still swollen and sore. So, we decided to organise a transfer for the day instead of walking. La Malle Postale picked us up with our luggage about 9 am. We got to our next stop, Le Bleymard and the hotel La Remise about 10am and waited in the lounge with really good Wi-Fi until our room was ready. The hotel is super – nice bar, a café for breakfast, a restaurant and a great bedroom with an automatic light in the bathroom, big shower, big comfortable bed and a TV.
There is a supermarket across the road from the hotel so we went there and bought some chocolate, wine and some ponchos as the rain was forecast to continue for several days. We had a walk around the little village – a bridge across the Lot river, abreuvoir, church, mairie and an unusual old machine for constraining horses while their shoes were fitted.
Day 8: 18th May, Le Bleymard to Pont de Montvert 19kms
Saturday, day of the election in Australia and we had a big walk over Mont-Lozère ahead of us. We started off in the cold and wet, and after stopping off at the supermarket to buy some lunch – sandwich for Salva, a banana, a container of quinoa and lentil salad for me. It was raining intermittently.
At the ski station of Mont-Lozère, we were quite bizarrely in the middle of a moto-cross event, which included the fire brigade, first aid, a café in a tent and people dressed in fancy dress. It was very cold at an altitude of 1421 metres. We continued to walk even higher (and colder). It was quite foggy, and the impressive stone plinths (menhir) along the route disappeared into the fog.
Towards the top, there is a sign that says if it is foggy or snowy don’t go to the sommet de Finiels (1699 metres). We took the alternative route to the bottom which was easy to follow, but it was like a creek bed so difficult to walk down. On the way down, we saw some snow. After the end of the creek walk, we arrived on a departmental road and walked down to the commune of Finiels. In the village, we saw Protestant graves alongside houses, as they were forbidden from using the Roman Catholic cemeteries. We were in Camisard country, and henceforth we would see lots of temples or protestant churches. The Camisards are French protestants living in the Cevennes who organised an armed insurrection against persecution in the early 1700s, after Louis XIV had revoked a law-making Protestantism legal. The spirit of the Camisard still survives in the local population. They have a reputation of being fiercely independent. During the second world war, they defied the Nazis by protecting many Jews.
The walk from Finiels to Pont de Montvert is beautiful with stunning rock formations and trees. As we got the closer to the village, the track become like a goat track – steep, narrow and rocky. We realised later that many people walked down the road.
We had arrived in Pont de Montvert – a village at the confluence of 3 rivers – the Tarn, Rieumallet and the Martinet. The village is built along the rivers in a very narrow gorge. Our hotel – Auberge de Cevennes – was very basic and no Wi-Fi. We unpacked, showered, did some washing and then went to the Bar du Commerce on the other side of the river. They had really good Wi-Fi. By now, we knew who had won the Australian election and I was shocked and sad. Wine was good and we were joined by Yves, Edith and their friend Thomas. It was a good convivial environment.
Dinner was not so good. Viviane sat with us. We had a potage de legumes. I had an omelette and Viviane and Salva had a slice of roast beef each and overcooked cauliflower with a sauce. The bread was hard and stale. This was definitely the worst meal.
Day 9: 19th May, Pont de Montvert to Florac 28.5kms
In the morning, at breakfast our host almost made up for the meal deficiencies by telling us of an easier route for the day’s walk. We had a long walk ahead and the weather wasn’t looking good. In fact, it turned out to be the wettest day of our walk. The night before, we had bought some cheeses and meat at the local supermarket. Before leaving the village, we bought a fresh baguette and a flan aux prunes at the boulangerie next to the hotel. Amusingly, the baguette was so hot that it made hole in my new poncho. I still wore it though.
We left the village and climbed steeply and quickly. Like the day before, the scenery is beautiful – lots of rocks, hills and villages mostly in the bottom of valleys. After we got to plateau on the top of hill, we took our different route as advised by our host. It enabled us to avoid the next hill, cut off a few kms and as he said due to the weather, we would not see anything from the top. It was raining and as we went further it became steadier and we got colder. After our steep walk uphill, our long walk on a plateau including on a road, we walked downhill from the Col de Sapet (1080 metres) for about 11 kms. It rained constantly but not heavily. Fortunately, the path is good – a forestry road which is wide and smooth. At the bottom of the hill, we walked alongside the Tarn River.
We stopped in Bédouès to look at the Chapel Saint-Saturin, important in the life and story of Pope Urbain V, as he endowed it. He was born in a village close to Pont de Montvert. We then stopped at the café across the road for a chocolate chaud and glass of red wine for Salva before continuing for Florac, 5 kms away. It was still raining when we got to our hotel in Florac – the Grand Hotel du Parc. It was quite grand – lovely garden and park but also quite empty. We think that there was one other couple in the hotel of about 30 rooms. But our room was warm and spacious. The hotel restaurant was closed – it was Sunday night – so we walked into the centre of the village and bought two pizzas. We had this on our bed with a half bottle of wine that we bought in the hotel. The village like the hotel, was dead.
Day 10: 20th May, Florac to Cassagnas 17.5kms
After breakfast, we headed to the village centre to a boulangerie to buy lunch – a sandwich each and a Florentine biscuit. We walked out of the village and started to climb gently alongside the river Mimente. We were now truly in the Cevennes. It is a nice track and a pleasant walk. The trees were beautiful – lots of hêtre or beech. The weather was much better than the day before – no rain but still a bit cloudy.
We arrived at the little village of Saint-Julien d’Arpaon. This is the only commune in France with a temple but no eglise. Past the village on the side of the river, we came to a pop-up café (cabane) with a wooden hut, shelter, chairs and tables and a chaise lounge for me. We had a chocolat chaud and a rosé, and ate our lunch while reclining. The cabane is situated on the site of the ancienne gare and when we started walking again, we followed the line of the former railway. It is impressive with many bridges constructed in stone to pass over the creeks that join the Mimente river below, and many tunnels. The railway was built to carry coal from Ales to Florac and used for relatively few years. It was a lovely walk and the weather got better – warmer and sunnier. The water looked beautiful – a green-blue colour, and very inviting. The river bed is rocky and there were many beautiful water holes. After passing by another ancienne gare at Pont des Crozes, and crossing to the other side of the departmental road, we were closer to the river. I had to try the water, so we found a quiet corner and I stripped off and jumped in. It was cold and refreshing.
We arrived at the Ancienne Gare de Cassagnas, hoping that our chambre d’hote or at least the pick-up point for our chambre d’hote high in the village of Les Hermes was close. But it wasn’t. We had about another 2.5 kms to walk uphill to get to the chambre d’hote le Mimentois. We were picked up there by our host of the chambres d’hote “Pelous”, Joel. We had a room and an ensuite downstairs. It was comfortable but a bit cold. We went upstairs to use the Wi-Fi (it worked), we met Martine and to our surprise the other guest in the chamber d’hote was Viviane. It was nice to see her again. For dinner, we had a lovely salad (great dressing), I had an omelette and rice and the others had osso bucco and rice. This was followed by cheese and a lovely strawberry parfait with mousse, strawberries (from Carpentras) and ice-cream. It was nice to sit and chat to our hosts and Viviane but it was a much later night that we were used to. It was almost dark by the time we got to bed!
Day 11: 21st May, Cassagnas to Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française 23.9kms
After breakfast, our host dropped us near the passerelle (foot bridge). We thought about taking an alternative route to get to the top of hill but decided against it as even though it is about 2 kms shorter, it is also steeper. By chance, we met Edith and Yves at the point where we re-joined the GR70. We walked up the hill with them – they walk quickly. My feet felt good for the first time since the first day and my blisters miraculously had all healed. There seems to be no end to the hills on the Chemin Stevenson. We climbed up and down quite significant hills most days. We reached the col de la Pierre-Plantée at about 900 metres after our uphill slog and visiting a prehistoric sight of a sépulture (stone tomb). We had lunch with a beautiful view of the valley. We could sense more and more that we were in the south – different vegetation, including irises and genet (broom), and different architecture and brighter colours in the houses. There are lots of terrace of impressive stonework, which are a testament to long gone agricultural practices and hard work.
We were also in the area where châtaigniers or chestnut trees are and have been an important part of agriculture and food. Their fruit, châtaignes, are an emblematic flavour of the Cevennes. We had châtaigne syrup with champagne, châtaigne eau de vie, châtaigne jam, and roasted châtaigne in a salad. In days gone by, they were used to make flour.
We reached the village of Saint-Germain de Calberte about 2pm where most of our co-randonneurs were staying for the night. We still had another 9 kms to go and were tired. But we struggled along and got there (one foot in front of the other). We saw our accommodation in the Chateau de Cambiaire on the hill behind the village of Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française about 2 kms before the village. We climbed up the long driveway and were greeted by our host. The chateau is in a beautiful verdant setting – the trees are huge and varied. The chateau has a lovely internal courtyard and a ruined chapel. And it is for sale! What a dream. The proprietor showed us to our apartment – kitchen, bathroom in the tower, 2 bedrooms and a massive terrace. We were in love.
We had dinner in a café in the village “Un Dimanche à la campagne”. It was excellent and copious. I had trout instead of the suggested omelette and Salva had a huge entrée with meat and prawns and a main of chicken. This was followed by ice cream and a chocolate cake. We walked up to our chateau and slept well.
Day 12: 22st May, Saint-Étienne-Vallée-Française to St Jean du Gard 12.7kms
We had breakfast in the first floor of the chateau and had a little tour of the rooms downstairs. They are enormous. Our last day, and our first and only warm and windless day. There were no surprises on the chemin. We were climbing as usual, to the Col Saint Pierre where we passed the boundary into the Gard. We felt like we were almost home.
After that it was mostly downhill to St Jean du Gard. We walked by le Gardon for the last 3kms and reached the centre about 1.30pm. We had lunch a celebratory restaurant in a restaurant next to the Gare. We were both very happy to have finished and exhausted, and proud of ourselves. About 4 pm, we met up with Yves, Edith, Thomas and Viviane for a celebratory drink. Dinner that night was in the hotel but in a separately managed restaurant – silver service and very good. I had noir de lieu (fish) and Salva had chicken.
It was an amazing adventure. We passed through beautiful forests, climbed many hills, crossed many of France’s great rivers, and met interesting people. The chemin itself is well marked, and mostly a very good track. There is a lot of variation in the landscape. It was fascinating to go from the agricultural and ancient volcanic area in the north of the chemin to the Cévennes, south of Mont-Lozère with its beautiful trees and rock formations.
For more information: https://chemin-stevenson.org