Le Puy's Notre Dame Cathedral, France

Classic Tour - Le Puy to Conques

Overview

We begin our 17-day journey in Paris and travel southwards by train to the volcanic region of Auvergne and the pilgrim city of Le Puy-en-Velay. We spend the next thirteen days walking along the Via Podiensis, an old pilgrim route. We visit churches, chapels, pilgrim sites and market towns, walking through a variety of landscapes to reach Conques. At Conques we explore its rare medieval treasures – relics reputed to cure blindness and restore vigour. Then by coach to Rocamadour, the dramatic pilgrim town built into the side of a cliff where we’ll visit the Shrine of the Black Madonna and see the Sword of Roland before returning to Paris.

Tour Focus

Walking part of the historic French Pilgrimage over 18 days

Le Puy to Conques
The tour is structured to provide a personal experience of pilgrimage, allowing the participant to choose his or her own level of involvement in the journey. This pilgrimage is infused with Christian tradition which may overlay an earlier Celtic or pagan tradition – that of following a path stretching from the centre of the European heartland to the “end of the world” at Padron on Spain’s Galician coast.
As well as being a complete pilgrimage in its own right, the focus is also on providing an introduction to the 1500km pilgrimage trail from Le Puy in France to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Since our main luggage will be transported everyday between our nights’ accommodation we will only need to carry a daypack with the essentials. We will stay overnight at country inns and auberges selected for their convenience and ambience.
The 13-day walking journey includes a rest day. Throughout the journey there will be ample opportunity for discussion and sharing of experiences, which is an essential part of pilgrimage, both group and individual. These days, pilgrimage is an exciting and challenging opportunity to depart from our usual lifestyles and experience the world beyond the horizon. Walking gives us the opportunity to slow down, to appreciate the world through which we normally race. The physiological benefits of longer distance walking are many, including an increased sense of well-being. Pilgrimage also gives us the opportunity to participate in an ancient religious/spiritual tradition. Preliminary reading about the pilgrimage will add to your experience and your own knowledge and experience will be appreciated by your fellow pilgrims.

The Le Puy to Conques walking Route
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Full ITINERARY for Le Puy to Conques Tour

This itinerary includes a day and a half in Paris and travel to and from the beginning and end of the walk.

  • Begin at: Paris, travel to Le Puy-en_Velay.
  • End at: Rocamadour and return to Paris by train.
Le Puy to Conques Itinerary: 19 days
  • Day 1. En route. Our flight departs Sydney for Paris and arrives the next morning.
  • Day 2. Paris. Meet in Paris. The flight from Sydney arrives in the morning. Land content tour members meet us at the hotel. Hotel check-in. Rest time. We will make an afternoon visit to Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Tour St. Jacques and Rue St. Jacques. The two oldest streets in Paris are Rue St. Jacques and Rue St. Martin. They are aligned with the original main Roman road which passed through Paris. Tour St. Jacques is set in a small garden, Square St. Jacques. The tower is all that remains of the church of St-Jacques-la-Boucherie which was demolished during the French Revolution. This was one of the starting points for the great pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims would then make their way southwards in groups along Rue St. Jacques. Cathedrale de Notre Dame was begun in 1160 and completed around 1245. In the plaza outside Notre Dame is the site known as “Point Zero.” All distances in France are measured from this point. Sainte Chapelle was built by King Louis IX (St. Louis) in the 1240s when he was beginning his campaign against the Jewish Talmud. He built Sainte Chapelle in the likeness of Solomon’s Temple to enshrine the holiness of God. Louis bought important relics such as the Crown of Thorns, a large piece of the True Cross, some fragments of the Holy Spear, the Robe worn by Christ, the Holy Sponge and the Holy Shroud from the Latin Emperor of Constantinople. Tonight we meet for a light welcome dinner.
  • Day 3. Travel to Le Puy-en-Velay. This morning we take a pleasant walk to enjoy more of the sights of Paris and board the TGV train to St. Etienne at 13:00. From St. Etienne we transfer to another train to arrive in Le Puy around 17:30. We settle in for an early night.The Velay is a volcanic region and its landscape is studded with countless puys (tall conical hills). The word puy is derived from the Latin podium, hence the Latin name of the trail is the Via Podiensis. It is also one of France’s longest Grande Randonnees or long distance paths – the GR65 Chemin de St. Jacques.
  • Day 4. Le Puy. Today we explore this ancient pilgrim town but not before attending the 7.00am mass and pilgrim blessing in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. We have the opportunity to sign the Livre de Pelerins. Pilgrims gather here before descending the steps to the Rue des Pelerins to Rue de Compostela. We can obtain our Pilgrim Passports in the Pilgrim Office behind the cathedral. The first recorded pilgrimage to Santiago was made in 951AD by Bishop Gottschalk who began here in Le Puy. Then we will visit the Chapel of St. Michel and explore the town, ending the day with a pilgrim’s meal and a final briefing for the beginning of our journey tomorrow.
  • Day 5. Walk to Montbonnet 15km. The total distance From Le Puy to the Spanish border is 800km and then there are another 700km to Santiago. However, our journey is only 210 km. We climb the path out of Le Puy and onto a large plateau passing small villages and a chapel dedicated to St. Roch, the patron saint of pilgrims. 5km La Roche. 3km Saint-Christophe-sur-Dolaison. 6.5km Chapelle Saint Roch. 0.5km Montbonnet.
  • Day 6. Walk to Monistrol d’Allier 13km. We walk past the Allier Gorge and descend to the river at Monistrol. 5km Le Chier. 2km Saint-Privat-d’Allier. 3km Rochegude. 3km Monistrol-d’Allier.
  • Day 7. Walk to Saugues 12km. Up out of the valley, passing the Chapelle de la Madeleine, set into the side of the cliffs and continue along the trail to Saugues. 4km Montaure. 3.5km Le Vernet de Saugues. 4.5km Sauges. Tonight we will stay at the hotel which is the traditional meeting place for all pilgrims coming from the Auvergne region.
  • Day 8. Walk to Les Faux 25km. Some members may prefer to walk a part of today’s route and take the local coach the rest of the way.Continue along the valley to Clauze past forests of pines. 7km La Clauze. 2.5km Le Falzet. 1km Villeret-d’Apcher. 2.5km Contaldes. 6km Domaine du Sauvage. 3km Chapelle Saint-Roch. Visit Chapelle-Saint Roch with a statue of St. Roch with his dog. 3km Les Faux.
  • Day 9. Walk to Aumont-Aubrac 27km. Some members may prefer to walk a part of today’s route and take the local coach the rest of the way. 2km Le Rouget. 3.5km Saint-Alban-sur-Limognole. Visit the village of St. Alban and its Romanesque church. 2km Grazieres-Mages. 5.5km Les Estrets. 9km Aumont-Aubrac. Desolate region, treeless yet with wild flowers, we follow part of the old Roman road of Agrippa into Aumont.
  • Day 10. Rest day at Aumont-Aubrac. We deserve this day of rest. Time to let go and recouperate. This small town has four hotels, shops, cafes, a bank and a post office.
  • Day 11. Walk to Nasbinals 26km. Some members may prefer to walk a part of today’s route and take the local coach the rest of the way. We cross the remote and vast plateau of Aubrac. Warm clothing is advised. Burons- huts built of lava and granite topped by limestone slabs. Drailles – old drove roads. We follow the forest path. 4.5km La Chaze-du-Peyre. 2km Lasbros. 4.5km Les Quatre Chemins. 4.5km Ferme des Gentianes. 4.5km Rieutort d’Aubrac. 3.5km Montgros. 3.5km Nabinals – a market town with 11th century Romanesque church with statues of St. James and St. Roch inside.
  • Day 12. Walk to St. Chely-d’Aubrac 17km. Tiny hamlets and ancient bridges. 6km Buron de Ginestouse Bas. 3km Aubrac – lunch. Aubrac – The village was founded by a Flemish knight who was attacked by bandits while on his way to Santiago. On his return journey he was almost killed during a wild storm here. He decided to build a pilgrim refuge on the site of his deliverance. Aubrac is a great transhumance centre where livestock is moved to and from for seasonal grazing. Walk past the Tour des Anglais, constructed in 1353 as a defence against the English during the 100 years War. 4km Belvezet. 4km Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac. We pass the ruins of Templar castle and make our way down into St. Chely.
  • Day 13. Walk to Espalion 26km. Take lunch. Some members may prefer to walk a part of today’s route and take the coach the rest of the way. We walk to the Lot Valley. 6.5km L’Estrade. 13.5km St-Come-d’Olt is classified as a “Les plus beaux villages de France.” 5km Eglise de Perse. 1km The village of Espalion with its pilgrim bridge and medieval gateways.
  • Day 14. Walk to Estaing 11km. 3km Church of St. Pierre-de-Bessuejouls has a chapel of pink sandstone. 6km Verrieres. 2km Estaing. This village has the festival of St. Fleuret in which costumed folk follow a procession to commemorate St. Jacques and pilgrims. The chateau of the Counts of Estaing is now a monastery where mass is said daily.
  • Day 15. Walk to Espeyrac 25km. Some members may prefer to walk a part of today’s route and take the local coach the rest of the way. 5km Montegut. 11km Golinhac. At the entrance of the village is a cross with a tiny pilgrim and staff at its base. Here is the church of St. Martin with a statue of St. Roche with coquilles inside. 8.5km Espeyrac.
  • Day 16. Walk to Conques 13km. 3.5km Senergues. Walk through Senergues with its picturesque castle. 5km Fontromieu. 1km Saint-Marcel. 3.5km Conques. A dramatic descent into Conques, one of the finest hill-towns in France. Lunch at Conques. Reaching the jewel of Conques is a wonderful reward for all those who journey along this path. Conques occupies a spectacular position on the slopes of the River Dourdou and is one of the great villages of southwest France. The site was chosen as a retreat by a hermit called Dadon in the seventh century and was named from the Latin Concha meaning shell. Dadon founded a community of Benedictine monks here. Conques was once a stopover on the Compostela route and was often bypassed by pilgrims visiting the nearby town of Agen and the relics of Ste. Foy. Ste. Foy was a Christian maiden martyred by the Roman emperor Diocletian in AD303. To attract pilgrims to his village, the abbot of Conques sent his monk Aronisdus to Agen to appropriate the well-guarded relics. Aronisdus joined the Agen clergy, but had to wait for ten years before his turn to guard the relics came due. That same night he gathered the relics up in a bag and climbed over the monastery wall and hurried back to Conques. The Cluniac monks at Conques provided protection for the relics, but refused to return them. Instead they paid the town of Agen some compensation and Conques became a pilgrim destination in its own right. Sainte Foy – known for her ability to cure blindness and liberate captives. “When you enter the part of the Treasury of Conches, you will be fascinated by the eyes of Holy Foy which will speak to you, whether you are a believer or not. It is an idol, whose history is lost in ancient times (it is thought that its head is of Byzantine origin), but the miracle is there: Sainte Foy speaks to you.”
  • Day 17. Coach transport to outskirts of Rocamadour and walk final 2km into Rocamadour. We will walk the last two kilometers into Rocamadour and visit the shrines of the Black Madonna and relics such as The Sword of Roland. Rocamadour Conques had its relics and its steady stream of pilgrims. Although neighbouring Rocamadour was blessed with a magnificent location and housed the Sword of Roland, pilgrims continued to bypass it. Roland was the famous Christian knight who held off one hundred thousand Saracens at the Roncesvalles Pass in the Pyrenees, long enough for Charlemagne’s army to retreat back into Frankish territory. Rocamadour also has a shrine to the Black Virgin. One day while the workmen at the abbey were digging a grave they discovered a body still in relatively good condition. It was announced that this was the body of a tax collector from Jerusalem who had been converted by Jesus and then traveled to this region to live as a hermit. He was canonized St. Amadour and his body reburied near the shrine of the Black Virgin. What finally brought the pilgrims to Rocamadour was the force of the Inquisition. Heretics, primarily the Albigensians (Cathars), had a stark choice – either go on pilgrimage to Rocamadour and pay homage to the Black Virgin or be burnt at the stake.
  • Day 18. Return to Paris by rail. We farewell Rocamadour and board a train for Paris. After fourteen days of walking and exploring, it will be a pleasure to sit and watch the countryside through a train window. We arrive in Paris, check-in at the hotel and celebrate our journey with a pilgrims’ dinner.
  • Day 19. Return flight to Sydney. This morning those returning to Sydney will be transferred to the airport for their flight to Australia. Other members can continue their further travels.
Our Take:
As well as being a complete pilgrimage in its own right, this tour provides an introduction to the 1500km pilgrimage trail from Le Puy in France to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. Some say that this is the most picturesque section in France.