We recently got back from our end of season holiday in France. After a busy summer at Saddle Mountain Hostel doing our best to help guests enjoy their annual getaways it was our turn for a break. The idea for this year’s holiday was quite simple really – to get up each day and walk! After a lot of planning by Greg we set off to hike for 20 days on two of France’s grandes randonnées or GRs as they’re also known.
The first trek was a wonderful 9 day and 190km circuit called the “Tour des Volcans du Velay” or GR40. As the name suggests this is a tour of the volcanic landscape around Le Puy-en-Velay in the Haute-Loire region. Everywhere we looked there were ancient volcano peaks sticking up amongst the villages we stayed in each night.
It was an unexpected delight to be hiking in shorts and T-shirts as the weather was more like summer than autumn! We also enjoyed the feeling of solitude and being able to properly unwind. It’s definitely not one of France’s most popular GR routes, and it was the end of the season, so we only met other hikers once on the trail, when our route coincided with a section of the Camino de Santiago pilgrim route.
After a couple of nights to recharge our batteries we set off on our second walk, the “Chemin de Stevenson” or GR70. This 11 day and 270km linear trail heads south from Le Puy-en-Velay to Alès through the Cévennes National Park. The route is inspired by the author Robert Louis Stevenson’s (“Treasure Island” and “Kidnapped”) account of his walk through the Cévennes with his donkey Modestine in 1878.
In honour of Stevenson’s Scottish roots, the weather turned more autumnal and the shorts were relegated to the bottom of our rucksacks in favour of warmer clothes and waterproofs! Heading south we noticed the changing landscapes as the volcano peaks receded into the distance to be replaced by giant granite boulders. Crossing the highest point of our trip, Mont Finiels (1,699m) it felt like we’d been transported to the Cairngorm plateau. This walk was slightly busier but also had an end of season feel to it. Although we saw plenty of donkeys along the route we were disappointed not to meet anyone hiking with a donkey, something the route is known for. To fit in with the theme of the walk we travelled with 2 wind-up toy donkeys that fitted neatly into a small pocket on Helen’s rucksack. Perfect for photo opportunities without any of the hard work!