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Tales from the GR36 Walking Route in the South of France

Tales from the GR36 Walking Route in the South of France

Marie d’Arles

“Je suis ravie de rencontrer quelqu’un”.

Marie d’Arles smiled out from beneath her poncho. Despite her petite frame, she was no lightweight. Marie was undertaking the full 752 km Via Podiensis, all the way from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port, at, as she put it, “20 km par jour”.

It’s early autumn and the glorious walking tracks of France are empty. These extraordinary routes are not like our local walking loops, where the vast majority of people are out for a one-hour stroll. These are great linear pathways, where the only hikers are either enjoying a walking tour for pure pleasure or are dedicated to the impressive goal of one day reaching Santiago de Compostela.

We had a nice chat, me explaining to her how I lived for four years just up the road from her beautiful hometown of Arles. We joked about the local festivals I spent years attending, but this wasn’t a day for standing around too long. As we parted, I glanced over my shoulder at her, jealous of the mammoth undertaking she was clearly enjoying.

The poncho-wearing weather had curtailed our meeting. Constant rain accompanied us that day. Not that it could dampen the spirits of those who trod these gorgeous tracks. Any Irish person indifferent to the charms of km after km of oak-dominated native, mixed and healthy woodland would need a zap of the nearest defibrillator.

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The Squirrel

It was l’écureuil that welcomed me back to the big river, by pausing half way up his tree so we could have a good look at each other. This typical red squirrel behaviour afforded me the chance to note how dark his coat appeared, compared to that of his Irish cousins.

Discover our 2018 guided walking holiday to France.

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The Sunflowers

Les tournesols stood like sentinels to a lost leader. Drooping, blackening, falling, rotting; they looked like they were waiting for a harvester who had forgotten to come. In fact, sunflowers go brown / black before being harvested, although whoever had the job of gathering the seeds here was clearly a little late. The birds had already eaten half of them.

tales from the gr36 walking route sunflower

Sunflowers

The sweet corn just across the narrow little-used road and the vines further along looked the same, as if they too had been neglected. The once luscious red grapes looked like they were definitely past their “best harvest” date.

tales from the gr36 walking route sweet corn

Sweet corn

Rural de-population is a huge issue in France, certainly even more so than here in Ireland. Today’s youth equates “la France profonde” with the older generations living in tiny villages with few services or none.

Register your interest in joining our walking week here.

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The Raptors

The southern French raptor population is in a far more healthy state than its Irish cousins. While at home a sighting is still a special occurrence, immediately followed by a crushing fear that some other less benign observer may have laid eyes (and crosshairs) on the magnificent bird, in the south of France these beauties are commonplace.

Today, we were restricted to enjoying their evocative calls from deep within the oak forest. With rain falling, no self-respecting buzzard, kestrel or kite would bother to open his wings and rise out of the branches. Still, even their sound is a treat and reminds me that there are plenty more magnificent creatures on this earth than us humans.

“Ni le ciel ni la terre ne nous appartient.”

Neither the sky nor the earth belongs to us.

Here’s a nice webpage about birds of prey in France (English language).

Tales from the GR36 walking route

If these simple little tales from the GR36 walking route inspire you, or you’d like to create your own, then why not join our small group walking holiday to this wonderful part of France from September 2 – 9, 2018.

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Guided Walking Holiday in the South of France

Guided Walking Holiday in the South of France

Once her official character was demasked, Michèle was a hoot. In her capacity as receptionist and ticket seller at la Chapelle des Pénitents Noirs, she was as detached as any other French heritage site employee. She had no change, you see. She needed her colleague to skip across the road to get some, along with two coffees while she was at it.

Vous en voulez un aussi, monsieur ?

I declined the coffee, but with the offer and as the other lady vacated the building, out popped the real Michèle. We joked about the town, the hoteliers who don’t answer enquiries by email, the chambres d’hôte which claim to remain open all year but which, in reality, hibernate from September 30th.

As I left this wonderful old church, Michèle pleaded down the street after me to go and tell the local Tourist Office about these issues. After all, this was not good for the image of her town. I assured her I would, but didn’t.

There’s little resemblance between the French people that mass tourists meet on the streets of Paris or the Côte d’Azur (if they meet any at all) and the rural southerners you meet while out walking in the Midi. The southern rural French person is warm and inquisitive. They’re interested. And for that, they are interesting themselves. Walking in this part of France is a real treat. Not only does the south of this wonderful country have spectacular scenery, full of broadleaf forest cover, vineyards, sunflowers and more, but the people make the trip special.

guided walking holiday in the south of france
As we left Villefranche, to climb towards Monteil on a 23km long day, we met Yves building a stone wall perimeter to a new primary school, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We discussed the state of our economies which, he mused, paled into insignificance compared to that of Spain, the homeland of his beautiful wife. We could have stayed chatting to this total stranger for an hour, but had to push on. He didn’t mention having to get back to work …

Back in Limogne, the almost impossible to contact local taxi driver (I had sent multiple texts and emails, to no avail), when eventually I got to speak to him, declared himself unable to take us the few km we needed to hurdle. When I told a local our story, he offered to being us in his own car. We had a great chat along the way.

guided walking holiday in the south of france najac
Then there was the evening we forgot to get food for the following day’s lunch. Arriving in a tiny village, luckily for us the market had pitched up on the square. Lunch consisted of a glass of rosé, a handful of Muscat grapes, two apples and some cheese. All accompanied by un café. We were the talk of the town that day, with locals asking about where we had come from, where our destination was and the state of the Irish economy.

guided walking holiday in the south of france concots

Guided Walking Holiday in the South of France

Our one-week guided walking holiday in the south of France in September 2018 consists of five days on stunning forest tracks, one ‘link day’ mostly on small rural roads, one rest day visiting the beautiful town of Villefranche and one ramble through vineyards. We will stay in a combination of basic gites d’étape, chambres d’hôte and small hôtels. As always, we will travel in a small group (no more than 12 guests). The cost of the trip will include B&B each night (sharing), 3 dinners and 2 packed lunches. Flights are not included and guests are reminded that you must be covered by your personal travel insurance and ensure that you have an up-to-date European Health Insurance Card (aka E111).

If you’d like to join us in France, or learn more, please get in touch by email to info[at]tourismpurewalking.com or call me on 086-8318748.

Dates : September 2 to 9, 2018

On this guided walking holiday in the south of France, we will be traversing the southern départements of Lot and Aveyron, a wonderful rural area far from the madding crowds and brim full of traditional French culture. Come not just for the walking, but for the sights, food and wine!

Walking will be mostly on lovely off-road tracks through magnificent oak-dominated forests, stretching across the hills to the blue skied horizon. We will walk “entre deux rivières” from the banks of the River Lot to those of the River Aveyron, rising up onto the so-called Causse that stands between the valleys. Le Causse is a rich limestone landscape – think of our Burren, but still covered in its soil carpet and enormous forests. While one day is almost entirely on-road, these are tiny roadways that see very little traffic as they sinew from one small hamlet to the next.

guided walking holiday in the south of france track
Highlights of our week include the gorgeous little towns of St Cirq and Najac, both among the select range of “Les plus beaux villages de France” and the former the initial winner of “France’s favourite village” in 2012. The larger town of Villefranche is great too, boasting numerous excellent visits, including France’s largest cloister at La Chartreuse, splendid churches, its arched town square and medieval architecture throughout.

We will experience one of this nation’s famed outdoor markets and her world-renowned cuisine, while enjoying seven days of the best of walking in France. With one day’s rest in Villefranche for visiting and relaxing, the pace is nice and easy throughout the week. We walk between 12 and 24 km over most of the other days, with inclines few and far between. Most of all, we will take our time to discover this wonderful place and her people.

guided walking holiday in the south of france bouzies
Accommodation is in twin rooms (sometimes triple) and, due to the fabulously rural nature of the areas in which we will walk, quite varied. We walk from basic hôtel, to simple gîtes d’étape, to comfortable chambres d’hôte to gastronomic hôtel. Indeed, the variety is part and parcel of the experience of walking in France.

Guided Walking Holiday in the South of France 2018 – Provisional Programme (subject to change, depending on flight times, etc.)

Day One – Arrival & 16 km walk
Day Two – 17 km
Day Three – 12 km
Day Four – 19 km
Day Five – Rest day, for visits
Day Six – 24 km
Day Seven – 15 km
Day Eight – 9 km, before departure

Please note that walking distances are approximate, in function of flight times and other factors.

Luggage transfer is provided on each day, so we will only carry a rucksack with our requirements for the day’s walk.

Bookings

The trip is on the basis of per person sharing and excludes flights.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have. Get in touch, on 086-8318748 or by email to info [at] tourismpurewalking.com to express your interest and receive the detailed brochure.

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