The Chemin de St Jacques – an Ideal Holiday?

“Oh no! We don’t have to go up that hill, surely? I thought you said it would just be another two kilometres…” In the scorching (28ºC) heat of the afternoon, every step seemed a kilometre.

Our 8 a.m start hadn’t been early enough. We’d been urged to take the scenic route to Espalion via the Virgin Mary who stood on a hilltop surveying the valley. You reached her via a climb, an awkward descent and a further climb. She had a lot to answer for, we thought, as we slowly scrambled down through the woods from her pedestal towards the town. As morning gave way to afternoon, another climb and descent…it just got hotter…and hotter…and…

…as if gazing at a ring of palm trees in the desert, we saw the sign for a makeshift café, and it was open! Beer, ice cream, lemon tea, all were available,

but we were delighted to find two French ladies who’d become travelling companions, sitting at a table. Three more arrived shortly afterwards, one sporting wounds from a fall sustained during her descent from visiting the Virgin earlier that day. The refreshment and the company gave us the inspiration to complete our journey to Estaing (shown here).


The Chemin is an ancient pilgrimage route that ends at Santiago de la Compostella in north-western Spain, where tradition has it that St James is buried. We walked a 250 km section (as measured on the map) from Le Puy en Velay in south-eastern France, walking due west to Figeac over 14 days.

The countryside is stunningly beautiful with unspoilt, wooded rolling hills. Wildflowers abound, birds sing, cows, calves and sheep graze in the meadows…and sometimes you have a real surprise like this: 

The villages are quaint and charming. It’s not dramatic like the Alps or Corsica, but walkers are treated to a daily diet of climbs and descents where poles are essential,

the exception being two days crossing a plateau 4,500 feet above sea level which begins when you reach a hostel at ‘Le Sauvage’, and wild it is!

The route is well marked although our guidebook (by Miam Miam Dodo) proved invaluable both in planning our holiday and in finding our way.


 Would I recommend it to you? If it’s your honeymoon, No. If you want an adventure that’s also an achievement, Yes. Here are a few tips for anyone thinking about following in our footsteps.

Accommodation – DO arrange this beforehand. We chose a mixture of guest houses (chambres d’hotes) and hostels (gites d’étape). Staying at the hostels were a great way to create camaraderie with other walkers but at other times it was nice to enjoy our privacy and a touch of luxury.

Luggage – Pack economically but check the weather forecast. It can get cold on the plateau, and you need to prepare for wet weather and sunshine alike. We used Le Malle Postale, a daily service that forwarded our small suitcase to the next destination for £106 in total. It was well worth it!

Food – we ‘ate in’ except on the three occasions when meals weren’t provided. Without exception, the meals were a treat, homecooked and excellent value for money.

Feet – you need proper walking shoes/boots and socks, preferably of wool or cotton. Prepare well with creams and blister dressings, e.g., Compeeds.

Preparation – the Calderdale Way proved ideal, the gradients being comparable to those on the Chemin, if shorter. This gave us chance to iron out our footwear problems. Be realistic about the distances you’re going to walk. We started at 15 km per day (which was just right) and increased this to 20-23 km as we thought we’d adjust. This would have worked perfectly had we not run into a heatwave!  


Shall we do the Chemin again? Hmm…I think we’ll opt for something easier next time, but I’m very pleased we’ve done it.     

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