07: St Chély d’Aubrac to St Côme d’Olt

From the steppes of Aubrac to the lush vegetation of Lot

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, MILENA DELLA PIAZZA, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.

For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/de-st-chely-daubrac-a-st-come-dolt-par-le-gr65-51220823

It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places in France without an Internet connection. Therefore, you can find a book on Amazon that deals with this course.

Click on the book cover or title to open Amazon.

The Camino de Santiago in France / V. From Puy-en-Velay to Cahors (Via Podiensis) on GR65 track

 

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

Today you’ll leave Aubrac behind, almost reluctantly. But the Way of St James is so varied that other horizons await the pilgrim. Lot River will not stop wandering in central France.

You are in Aveyron for several days. And the direction always remains southwest. The stage is entirely in Haute Rouergue, the northern region of Aveyron, wedged between the Cantal of the Massif central and the causses of southern Aveyron. The track runs over the heights of Boralde de St Chély. River, which flows into Lot River near St Côme d´Olt.

You are leaving Aubrac for the Pays d’Olt. So, Olt or Lot (you have to pronounce the t) the same thing? You can imagine that the etymologists have looked into the question. And yet, nothing is quite clear. Because we have to go back to the Celtic, Gallic, Occitan, and other origins of these countries crossed by the river. Some experts lean towards a Gallic/Celtic origin, ollo meaning large. Under the Romans, ollo will become oldo, then olto. And then in old French olt. Other experts believe that ollo would rather refer to Ollodio, the god Jupiter, the greatest. Whatever the origin, Olt one day switched to Lot, by a phenomenon known in linguistics under the beautiful term of metathesis. For pronunciation issues, we start reversing the letters, most often the consonants! So, don’t be surprised that the Lot Valley is still called Olt Valley today. Anyway, if olt means large, we can only agree with the etymologists, because the river and the valley are without doubt among the most beautiful in France.
 

 

In these regions, breeding (especially cattle, sometimes sheep) predominates, in a geologically complex landscape, in a network of small rivers. It is the land of “boraldes”, small rivers or fast torrents that flow in deep valleys. These small rivers cut into the base of Aubrac, which here is formed of schists and gneiss, which are rocks transformed from granite, the base of Aubrac, which is, on the surface, covered with basaltic volcanic rocks. The Lot valley clearly forms a border to the south of Aveyron.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations today (+288 meters/-711 meters) are significant, especially downhill. The stage is not long, even if many pilgrims push as far as Espalion. But, the fact remains that, even shortened, it is a difficult stage for many retired or less athletic pilgrims. The start of the stage is a reasonable climb to the high plateau. Then, the stage is a long descent towards Lot valley on stony tracks towards the exuberant vegetation of Boralde de Chély River. You start all the same at an altitude of over 800 meters at St Chély d´Aubrac to arrive at the end of the stage at less than 400 meters. At the end of the route, expect a little effort when you have to climb to La Rozière. Some unfortunate people will say, with a slight bias, that this is not the most beautiful stage of the Camino di Santiago. But, the forests here are beautiful and the vegetation exuberant.

 

Today’s stage is clearly to the advantage of passages on dirt roads:

  • Paved roads: 6.0 km
  • Dirt roads: 10.0 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

 

Section 1: The path climbs up to the high plateau.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: some serious slopes to climb to Le Recours, then fairly reasonable climb.

 

Here, you’ll quickly leave the central square of the village to descend to the river. The slope is steep in the winding alleys.

At the exit of St Chély, a bridge is thrown over the small river which flows here, the Boralde de St-Chély. On the bridge still stands an old Calvary erected a long time ago, in the XVIth century, which represents a pilgrim, one hand resting on his staff, as if to drive out disbelievers and demons, the other holding a rosary. The river seems plump and full, now generously nourished by the rains and snows of winter and spring.

You’ll quickly abandon the river below to climb through tight laces on the path that crosses the hill above the village near the cemetery. Here, the deceased can comfortably enjoy the murmur of the river at their feet, along the path.

St Chély d´Aubrac is really a beautiful village in its gray uniform and its stone houses.

Beyond the cemetery, the pathway becomes a little stonier, and climbs, in a sleepy rhythm between the half-light and the great light, into the benevolent shade of the large trees.
Here, majestic pines are away, Aubrac is behind you. From now on, you have to do with the greenness of the hardwoods. Here, the trees are also majestic, and tall ash trees compete for space with beeches, hornbeam and oak trees. Hazelnut trees and small maples complete the crew. For now, the chestnut trees are more subdued on this side of the hill.
The forest is beautiful here, near the granite blocks where the moss creeps in. The route then pauses at a road. Be careful here, the track is poorly indicated. You have to descend a few dozen meters to find the pathway and not climb up the road. But, if you continue up the road along the tall ash trees, you will come higher up to the same place as the pathway.
However, the pathway continues to climb in the stones above the road. Here, hornbeam trees clearly dominate the other species, along the stone blocks, covered with fleshy moss. A cross is planted in a heap of pebbles which incites reverie, which could take you into the magical world of elves.
Another little stroll, with a smell of wet ground under the large oaks, hornbeam and ash trees, and the pathway joins the paved road again.
The first climb of the day ends in the hamlet of Recours. A little flat, like a generous stopover that allows you to recharge the batteries.
At Recours, GR path flattens on the paved road. Passages on the tar, there are every day on the way …
… before continuing, on the dirt road, the climb through the Grausmaurel forest towards Les Cambrassats.
Here, the decor is often majestic, in a sort of tunnel thrown under the great hornbeams and beeches, which hesitate between shadow and light.
The pathway then climbs the hill on gentler slopes in this magical world. The hornbeams and beeches, generous here, sometimes allow a few rare oaks, birches or chestnuts to express themselves.
Like the wolf, the pathway gradually comes out of the woods. Below, the village of St Chély d’Aubrac is drowned in thick foliage, with the bare Aubrac plateaus above.
The track then emerges from the undergrowth, arrives on a small plateau, on a quiet paved road, alongside oaks and tall ash trees with an embryo of agricultural life. The cows, still mostly of the Aubrac breed, graze in small fields. Here and there the peasants mowed the grass. As far as the gaze stretches, you can only see a vague succession of leafy domes gleaming in the sun.
At the exit of the undergrowth, GR path smoothens on the paved road towards Cambressats hamlet.
Some pilgrims (there are also) will be a little tired, it must be said, of all this green, of this sweet anarchy that only nature can succeed. So, the eye looks for something else to get under the retina. The eye then complacently stops at Les Cambressats, a handful of freestone houses with sloping slate roofs that sometimes reach down to the ground. Here, you might think that these are basalts used for construction. They are sandstones of various colors, because you came out of the granite base.
GR path leaves the hamlet on a small narrow lane which runs along the last house in the hamlet.
Here once passed a Roman road. There is not much left. Rather, it is a narrow path here, rarely very stony, quite gentle, which undulates over the dark ground, sometimes along the stone walls, in the shade of the leafy trees.
There is slight agricultural activity, but here the country is rather empty, with inhabitants who have probably never been numerous over the centuries.

Section 2: Towards a small stop at the Estrade before a long descent, often steep.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: without difficulty until L’Estrade, then the slopes will gradually increase.

The lane continues along the ridge along hedges into the open countryside. Up to the Estrade, the landscape then clears up for many kilometers, either flat or very slightly downhill. Here under the beeches, the ash trees and the oaks, dominate the meadows and the cattle. Sometimes the narrow path makes ups and downs behind the bushes and ferns. Sometimes it widens a bit.

Sometimes the gaze falls on the fault where Boralde de St Chély River flows through lush vegetation.

Further on, GR path reaches a paved road.
A long, light descent on the tarmac then follows. Alas, many pilgrims will say. Yes, but on the tar the step is certain and the pilgrim does not have to watch where he puts his soles. So, he can let his gaze wander towards more radiant horizons, commune with nature in that wonder that comes from the vision of so many beautiful settings sculpted by time and water. Who will say the feeling of plenitude that so many pilgrims experience on the way, whether they enter forests as old as the world or even the feigned flatness of the countryside? For some of them, the eyes shine like those of little children in front of the Christmas tree.
Fortunately, others will say, GR path returns to the undergrowth, where you find oaks, ash trees, hornbeams, beeches, and in the meadows, where it is best expressed, on large dirt roads with little stones.
The pathway then runs along the hedges. Here, the chestnut trees are more and more present. When the hedges open, the eye is lost on clusters of farms scattered across the countryside.
Here, the pathway is wide and easy. There are even wild cherry trees along the way.
The pathway then approaches L’Estrade hamlet. And who says hamlet also says presence of cattle. Here, Aubrac and Salers cows mix their beautiful horns.
Don’t expect to find a market town in L’Estrade. These are just a few large houses of sandstone blocks and their superb slate roofs. In Haute Rouergue, the geology is different from that of Aubrac. You are in complex geological territories where granite and basalt sometimes still exist, but where limestones and schists abound. This can be easily read on the facades of houses or on the stones of the road.
But, here, there is above all a refreshment bar, an old bread oven fitted out for the use of pilgrims. For a modest sum of 1 euro, which you slip into a box, you can have a hot or cold drink or eat some cookies. It must be said that it is always a pleasure to find these refuges on the way.

At the Estrade you are still 830 meters above sea level and 4 kilometers further on you will be less than 500 meters above sea level. The pathway will slope down without stopping towards Lot valley, on a long promontory between the Boralde de Chély River and a small stream, the Cancels. After the immensity of the fields, the forest looms again, among the deciduous trees. At the beginning, the slope is gentle and the countryside still present, the cattle too, along the deciduous hedges.
But at the bend of the pathway, you sense that this will change and that the slope is announced. As an appetizer, here is a wide pathway covered with brittle schist stones.
Do you appreciate brittle schist stones?

 

At first, the forest is not very dense, and the path sometimes hesitates between clay and shale. On these pathways, where stones sometimes abound, you are so focused on the ground that you lose sight of the fact that you cross here forests rich in wild chestnut trees.

 

Section 3: A very long descent to the river.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: steep and tough descent, between 10% and 20% of slope, often on stones towards the creek of Cancels.

There are sections of the Camino de Santiago that seem endless to you. This is one of them. Some pilgrims love it, others hate it. The pathway will make big spiral turns, in a stony landscape invaded by creeping vegetation, deciduous undergrowth. And the slope cannot be let down.

 

 

Often, the pathway progresses in the rather sparse forest, sometimes with small clearings.

Here, among the beeches and oaks, it is now the chestnut trees that dominate, which were almost silent on the other side of the hill. Some, perhaps several hundred years old, frame the path, like so many pillars, we will say here as so many milestones of a path that never ends. Sometimes the gnarled trees mingle in a large, clawed arch above the heads. At the foot of these trees, frail hazelnut trees and the hornbeam shafts, their thin branches entangled in a jumble of disheveled brush.

Further down, the pathway runs deeper into the forest …

… to come out soon after. Halfway down, you can see the Lot valley below. But, it is still very far away. Then the pathway grazes the meadows again, with their barbed wire fences.

Sometimes, on the way, pine cones signal the presence of conifers, quite rare here. Further down, the pathway sinks deeper into the forest and the humidity increases accordingly.

You still believe in getting through it. But no! A bend announces yet another bend. In places, the forest becomes very dense, very humid. The soil too, clayey and sandy, is tinged with chlorophyll. It is like a sponge, gullies or swells in periods of heavy rains. The ferns lie on the slope, at the foot of the trunks of hazel and chestnut trees covered with a thick layer of cottony moss, like small green and brown algae. Other, more filamentous mosses hang down as well as the sticky hair of gorgonians.

 

At the bottom of the lane, under the dark vault of trees which forms a tunnel of darkness, you can hear a stream rumbling. It is also that you reach the Cancels, a small rather tumultuous and wild brook. The torrents of Aubrac, the “boraldes”, born from the flow of water from the meadows, left the peace of the high plateau, to throw themselves through deep rifts, along oppressive slopes on the River Lot plain.

Before taking a foot bath in the brook.

 

At the bottom of the valley, the path crosses the stream over an old bridge built at the time of François I, which has since been spruced up for his Aubrac hunts. A little visit to the monasteries, but above all a lot of wild boars, such was the program of the monarchs of old times.

In the woods of Cave Combe, the luxuriance is such that sometimes it is difficult to follow the pathway when it leaves the asphalt for the undergrowth. Honestly here, you just want to get out. Here, vegetation is abundant. Vipers too, keep an eye out! From the bridge, the GR path smoothens a while on a paved road.

At one point, you will be offered to follow the road to reach St Côme d´Olt. Go cheerfully! GR path, for its part, likes to make detours, getaways, climb straight up towards La Rozière, where a water point is nestled in the schists. The decision is taken a little further, after the bridge over Boralde de St Chély River.

But, whatever your choice, you will already have to face a pathway that gets lost in the tall grass, in the thick chlorophyll at the bottom of the valley.

Shortly after, GR path finds again a paved road to cross Boralde de St Chély River.

Along the road, the humidity is so present and the dale so deep that the trees rise up on their roots to find light and sun. The ash trees are gigantic, protruding by several cubits the oaks, beeches, hornbeams and chestnuts. Chalara fraxinea, that evil mushroom from the east that penetrates through the leaves and necks of trees and kills ash trees, has luckily not yet landed there.

Beyond the river, GR path still climbs up the road through lush vegetation until it crosses a pathway that climbs into the forest. Then comes the time to choose, either continue on the paved road towards St Côme d´Olt, or decide to run up towards La Rozière.

Section 4: A leg-breaking route to St Côme d´Olt.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: ups and downs often very steep, unless you decide to follow the paved road.

 

For those who prefer ease, the paved road quickly emerges from the forest after a few bends in the undergrowth.

It passes through the villages of Martillergues and La Ragaldie, with beautiful stone houses, before flattening and reaching the entrance to St Côme d’Olt.

But of course, you are a true pilgrim, and it is not the small climb to La Rozière that will scare you. The climb begins, quite steep, in a sunken path under large trees and hazelnuts.

Long enough, the path hesitates between the forest and the clearings. Sometimes the lane is smooth on the ocher dirt, sometimes adorned with large stones. From time to time you see spruces and pines.

In this dense, green wilderness, the bushy ferns soar so high that they almost look like shrubs. And again and again, the chestnut trees, the beeches, the hornbeams, the oaks and the ash trees that show you the way.

Soon, the climb comes to an end when the pathway arrives at La Rozière, which you can hardly guess, so much the hamlet is buried under the vegetation.

La Rozière is a remarkable hamlet, made of old residences, with large limestone and shale stones, bent by the weight of years. In all likelihood, no one should live here anymore. A farmer, a little further down, told us that there were only two left to live on a little animal husbandry and to subsist only on meager European subsidies. Many pilgrims will undoubtedly stop here along this wall from which a fresh water tap gushes out.

Here, the postman does not have to pass every day. You are 3.5 kilometers to St Côme d´Olt.

A fairly stony lane then slopes down into a very shaded undergrowth to cross a small tributary of Boralde de St Chély River. From here, the oaks dominate the landscape.

Further afield, the pathway climbs up over large pebbles on the other side of the stream, still in the exuberant vegetation of hardwoods and tall grass.

The climb is not long and the pathway passes in front of a few isolated houses.

You’ll then reach a small plateau and the pathway runs through the meadows under the antennas and the high-voltage line.

Shortly after, the pathway begins to descend towards the plain, along the hedges in the countryside. In the region, there are only meadows, no cultivation.

Soon, as you approach Cinqpeyres village, you’ll see St Côme d´Olt and the tapering steeple of the church below. Here grow walnut trees and fruit trees.

Under the ash and walnut trees, near a beautiful cross nestles below the village of La Rigaldie, where the paved road passes for people who did not want to make the detour to La Rozière.

GR path crosses Cinqpeyres and approaches the departmental road that heads from Laguiole to Espalion.

But, GR path does not follow the road. It follows a narrow lane through low walls and tall grass.

It’s fairly brief here, and GR path quickly finds its way on the paved road as it grazes Rigaldie hamlet.

Quickly, the small country road joins the departmental road at the entrance to St Come-d’Olt. This is also where people arrive who have followed the road and avoided La Rozière.

When you reach the village, you can see the Church of St-Côme-et-St-Damien on your left, whose steeple as thin as a needle rises into the azure. In front of you, to the north of the village, is the “The Chapel of the Penitents”.

Formerly known as Saint-Pierre de la Bouïsse, it is the oldest monument in the city, originally dating from the XIth century. It was near a hospice dedicated to Saint Côme and Saint Damien, two twin brothers, doctors and martyrs from the end of the IIIth century. The hospice welcomed and cared for pilgrims coming from Aubrac. It will also give its name to the village, St Côme having also become the patron saint of doctors. Then, the church will remain a parish church until the XVIIIth century despite the existence of the competing church. So, it will welcome the Brotherhood of White Penitents so that its current name designates it as “The Chapel of the Penitents”.

 

St Côme-d´Olt (1,300 inhabitants) is an almost circular village, with a deeply medieval character. The old ramparts are now the exterior facades of the houses facing the river. The city center is a sort of big horseshoe, with small squares surrounding the church and the heart of the medieval city.

There are still access gates to the city, the Porte de la Barrieyre, that of Théron and that of the Porte Neuve. St Côme d´Olt is a magnificent village, classified among the most beautiful villages in France, with its alleys, its sometimes-winding alleys, its squares, its flowered houses and its elegant residences, some of which date back to the XVIth century.

In the XIIth century, the lords of Calmont d´Olt owned the entire region, with their main castle above Espalion. They had a mansion here, which has been restored many times. It is now the Town Hall, located near the church.

 

In the XIVth century, the castle of the lords of Calmont d´Olt also had a chapel here. The chapel, which had become too small, was enlarged to become today’s Church of St Côme and St Damien. In this picturesque little medieval town, the twisted bell tower of the Gothic church, in the flamboyant style of the XVIth century, emerges from the slate roofs (flat stones of schist, slate, gneiss or basalt), present throughout the town. The doors of the church, carved in oak, bear wrought iron nails. With the church closed, we have no feeling from inside. But, here in the village, wherever you are, you always have the steeple in front of you.

And then, near the church, there is this incredible and mythical gîte del Roumiou, with its windows which, like loopholes, seem to wall up dark secrets. One of the rare gems of the Camino de Santiago in France. Accommodation and means of catering are modest in the village.

Local gastronomy

 

In Rouergue, aligot is still an everyday dish and a festive dish. But each terroir marks its difference. You are very gradually approaching the duck, which you will find from now on, and this up to St Jean Pied-de-Port. In the Lot valley, you will be able to taste traditional charcuterie, based on pork and duck, whether in the form of sausage, sausage, ham or pâtés.

You will also see the first wines appear, which come here from Entraygues sur la Truyère or Estaing sur le Lot.

Lodging