The Way of Saint James
The Way of Saint James is an ancient pilgrim route that strings together a series of medieval villages and religious sites. Walked for over 1000 years it is the daddy of all long distance walks plus donkeys and muleteer! Dates 2019: 7th - 13th April, 1st - 7th September
Few footpaths resonate with history quite as much as the Way of Saint James. There are many versions but the ultimate destination is always Santiago de Compostella and the grave of Saint James the Apostle in north west Spain. The route we follow starts in Le-Puy-en-Velay in central France and is considered to be the original.
When we saddle-up the donkeys and set out from Le Puy we are following in the footsteps of more than 1000-years of pilgrims. Heading west we cross the high Margeride – a high pastoral plateau of pine trees and dry-stone walls once roamed by wolves – and where there is little for you to say for sure that it is still 21st century. Then from the high-altitude meadows, moors, rivers and lakes of Aubrac we descend into the wooded gorges of the Lot valley.
Many of the ancient pilgrims’ rests continue to receive pilgrims in villages unchanged in centuries. Saugues, on the edge of the Margeride, reeks of the Hundred Years War while Conques, our ultimate destination, retains the atmosphere of the pre-Reformation golden age of pilgrimage among its tall stone townhouses and narrow streets. It is not, though, an austere pilgrim experience with The Walking Party. There is always elevenses and Diana’s picnics, the renowned Aubrac beef and many pungent cheeses to look forward to.
This trip cannot be recommended highly enough. The Way of Saint James retains a special atmosphere that everyone should experience at least once in their life. By the time you reach the dramatic abbey church, deep in the wooded valley at Conques, you will envy those continuing all the way to Santiago de Compostella in northern Spain.
James hosts this trip. Donkeys and Mag the muleteer accompany us also for all of this trip on hand to do the carrying and keep us right. Hotels, restaurants and visits have been carefully selected to reveal the character and colour of the Auvergne and the Lot. All meals are included and lunch will be a mix of picnics and restaurants.
HOTEL LA REGINA
The historic town of Le Puy-en-Velay in the Massif Central is the start of one of the main pilgrim routes to Santiago de Compostela and we stay at the Hotel Regina right in the middle of town with its modern, bright and spacious 25 bedrooms all en suite with king-size doubles. Telephone, Wi-fi and TV. 1 night.
HOTEL LA TERRASSE
Saugues, in the Margeride (an idyll of pastures, pine woods, dry stone walls and cows), is haunted by the olde legend of the beast of Gevaudan but these days boasts a peaceful halt on the St James’ Way. In the family since 1795 the 9 en suite bedrooms of this friendly hotel have Wi-fi and satellite TV. 2 nights. There is a very good restaurant here too.
Situated at over 1300 metres, this unusual pilgrim’s halt in Aubrac is right up our street – wooden floorboards scattered with sea grass rugs, a warehouse style sitting area with a huge wooden burner, walls decorated with interesting photos, quirky things in every corner like an old-fashioned indoor croquet set – 12 bedrooms. No Wi-fi. 2 nights.
HOTEL AUX ARMES D’ESTAING
Estaing is classed as one of the most beautiful villages of France and hugs the foot of its impressive chateau alongside the river Aveyron. The hotel is at its centre overlooking the centuries old bridge, the river and the hills and has 32 bedrooms, all en suite. Wi-fi is available in the picturesque café next door. We eat in the restaurant.
HOTEL SAINTE FOY
In the heart of Conques’ meandering and cobbled streets, timber-frame and fish-scale, slate-roofed houses lies the 4 star Hotel Sainte Foy. Its faded elegance of former glory is charming and the rooms are all spacious with en suite bathrooms. To spend a night in this fairytale, 12th century, higgledy-piggledy village is simply magical. Wi-fi. There is a restaurant and a lovely terrace to eat out at night.
Grade Of WalkingThe path of St James was first walked by Bishop Godescalc of Le Puy en Velay in in 951AD. Much of it follows the old Roman trading paths. All the paths we walk on are good and solid. We avoid the huge hills and offer fifteen to eighteen kilometres of walking a day. Should anyone be feeling tired though we do have a back up vehicle to pick you up and take you on to the hotel. Our donkeys will be carrying any weight you wish them to carry but sadly they are not for riding.
FOOD & WINE
Along the historic pilgrims way Diana’s picnics will appear with lots of fresh market produce and salads. In the evenings most dinners will be in the hotel restaurants all of which cook some wonderful food.
The hotels have good selections of wines from the south west of France. James and Diana also have an excellent cellar so there will be examples of this too like a delicious Saussignac sweet white wine from Chateau les Miaudoux with a ‘Carles’ Roquefort cheese or a Cuvée du Soleil from Pietri Geraud down in Colloiure with a Pouligny goat’s cheese. These would be presented at the picnics to give a little lift for the afternoon walk.
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SINGLE ROOM SUPPLEMENT
7 Apr - 13 Apr
1 Sep - 7 Sep