15: Limogne-en-Quercy to Vaylats

The serenity and hospitality of a convent nestled in the middle of the causse

 

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-limogne-en-quercy-a-vaylats-par-le-gr65-30233197

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’s stage still takes place in the Causse de Limogne, in the Causses du Quercy Regional Nature Park. You’ll still travel under the tight oaks near the dry-stone walls at the edge of the pathwayss. Sometimes the pathways become stonier than before, as if we were gradually changing the geology of the soil. They call here “grèzes or castines”, these limestone screes which encumber the valley bottoms. The track always heads to the south of the Lot department. Tomorrow you’ll arrive in Cahors

Here, still the majesty of the causse, and just a big village, Varaire, which deserves a small detour of less than 300 meters outside GR path. The stage ends with the sisters in Vaylats. However, many pilgrims do not pass through Vaylats and stop at Bach to continue directly on GR path. We can only encourage a detour to Vaylats for the charm, serenity and friendliness of the people who run the convent of the retired sisters. Usually, the pilgrims meet here, as they do in Conques by the Premonstratensians.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+149 meters /-146 meters) are insignificant today. It’s just a walk, a day off, in a way.

Here is a nice stage where the dirt roads take a clear advantage over paved roads:

  • Paved roads: 4.2 km
  • Dirt roads: 12.0 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: In the undergrowth of oaks.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

To leave Limogne-en-Quercy, GR path reaches the outskirts on the heights of the village.

The road reaches the locality known as Bel-Air, near a cross.
There, GR path will follow the Chemin du Joncas, the Chemin des Dolmens, in the undergrowth.
In Limogne, the vernacular architecture of dry stone can be seen everywhere: in the fields, in the enclosures, on the low walls along the paths, in this beautiful “gariotte” hidden at the corner of the woods. In the Cahors region, they say “gariotte” rather than “caselle”.
The pathway is magnificent, very stony, flattening or lightly sloping down. The mule tracks all look the same. These are stones in abundance that mistreat the feet. And small oaks all around. The path then finds a fork for the Joncas dolmen.

Many signs of the past emerge from even earlier times. The Joncas dolmen is a bit off the path. There is still a timeless atmosphere around these large stone tables which still hide many secrets and as many legends. Some will only see a very shady place for the picnic here. Dreaming, or eating, or both, your choice.

 

 

Back on GR path, the show is still there. For two days, you have become the fleeting spectator of an unchanging, eternal nature. There is always an atmosphere of “end of the world”, where silence is the key word, and you can only hear the sound of your footsteps crunching on the stones, where you feel free in the middle of the oaks. that make you dizzy. Some pilgrims try to compete with nature by creating cairns, ephemeral statues, so loaded with symbols.

 

Sometimes the country opens up a bit to meadows. There is no culture in this barren, arid, dry land. Sometimes the walls rise a little higher, as if there was something to protect around here.
Nearly, the forest opens up, and GR path joins a paved road near Ferrières Bas.
There’s an embryo of life here on a farm where the rabbits have deserted the hutch.
For the admirers of Obelix, other dolmens lie on the causse. Sometimes they are reported. Religious symbols, of whatever religion, are always there to sign the way. The cross here has weathered over time. They went far in this region of limestones, to look for granite to make the crosses more perennial, eternal.
The paved road then hesitates again between forest, meadows and bushy hills. At the edge of the woods, in a grassy dale, a few peaceful Aubrac cows graze the dry grass. There are almost only Aubrac cows in the causses.

A little apart, a massive, stern-eyed bull peers at his females. The breed does not represent the most elegant male specimens in France.

 

Further on, GR path leaves the road for a dirt road. The few cultivated fields here are not planted with wheat, but barley, oats and triticale. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye, used as a forage plant.
The pathway here sets out again in more scattered undergrowth, with many ash trees and dogwoods, along the bramble hedges.

Section 2: In the undergrowth to Varaire.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

In this universe of moor and drought, it is always the same trees that you meet, those of the causses. The oak remains the dominant tree, the extremely powerful king. But, country maple and Montpellier maple also make their way there, as well as ash when the country opens up a bit. Hornbeams and chestnut trees are rare in the region, if not sometimes a little hornbeam bushes as usually along the hedges.

Then, miracle! A small body of water, which you do not know if it is an old washhouse, a fountain with a spring, or simply stagnant water. But, it’s water, yes.

 

 

And the dry-stone walls pass by again, one behind the other. In this magnificent uniform ruin, which still stands by chance, perhaps a barn, a little larger than an ordinary “gariotte”, even the roof is made of gray limestone.

On slight oscillations of the ground, always runs the ocher and stony dirt road, surrounded by magnificent low walls covered with moss. For a long time, walking was unfairly associated with vagrants and barefoot people. After centuries of denial, walking has given itself a rebirth. Not all hikers go to Santiago. It is only to see the happy faces of the walkers who daydream here, in these exceptional landscapes, for many of them, for the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other and starting over.

 

Sometimes the oaks twist, often grow askew to find a little light, and the high forests impose shadows of silence. Here, the “gariotte” has not been able to withstand the ravages of time.

At the end of the forest, the large farm of Pech Canot marks out the path.

Here, the Lot electricity company takes the bet on sustainable development. Well done!

Further afield, GR path will follow a small paved road for a few moments. Here, they are only small roads for the use of the peasants. Outside the main roads, you will rarely encounter a vehicle.

A few meters away, GR path leaves the road to find a wide dirt track.

And nothing changes, along this great avenue. Nothing superfluous around here, just listen to the silence of the trees, that’s the program.

Further on, after a few meager fields of cereals, the pathway returns to a thicker undergrowth.

Everything is then orchestrated again in the serene and calm harmony of the peaceful forest, in the symphony of colors that the light casts on the oaks with gnarled branches, or on the faded moss of the stone walls.

What more can be added to this little wonder that the ancients erected from the depth of their soul?

 

The forest remains one of the last bastions of freedom not to be touched. Silence and loneliness at the moment cannot be sold. Do we know if one day we will have to pay for them at a high price?

Then, GR path finds again a small paved road.

Here, you are 1 kilometer to Varaire and GR path follows the road that leads there.

The road climbs a little through the countryside to the village.

Section 3: A small detour, if you want to visit the phosphate mines.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: : course without any difficulty.

On your way up you can see the steeple of the village, and the road reaches Les Ecoutilles crossroads.

GR path grazes Varaire (311 inhabitants), but does not stop there. Take the detour. The town deserves it. You can stay in Varaire, where you can also find something to eat, which deserves to be mentioned, because this type of infrastructure is not abundant on the stage. In the heart of the village lies a divine “butterfly washhouse”, in which the ducks splash around in the greenish water. It was the breeding ground of the Cardaillac, a famous sprawling family, which has spread to many places in the causses.

Here in Varaire, there used to be a hospital attached to a church, known as St Jacques de Peyronèse, which welcomed pilgrims, on the edge of an ancient Roman road, called here “Cami Gasco”, the one that precedes the “Cami Ferrat”, after Bach. History also notes that two inns received travelers in the Middle Ages.

 

The XVth century St Barthélemy church, enlarged in the XIXth century, is very bright, in its gray and pink limestones. Some pretty nice statues of saints are present here.

Some pilgrims will be surprised by the kitsch side of the Virgin who rests in an alcove near the church. Tucked around its church, beautiful stone houses, some with the appearance of a fortress, wrap around the stately home of the Cardaillac and its gigantic dovecote.

 

You have to go back to Les Ecoutilles, to continue the journey.

GR path leaves Les Ecoutilles on the paved road, along these magnificent stone walls covered with moss, which run alongside the paths and roads on the causses. If at the top of the causses, it is mainly small downy oaks that haunt the forests, as soon as you descend lower, the vegetation is more complex. Large white oaks are more numerous, but you find in fairly large quantities walnut, ash, country maple and Montpellier maple, these last two trees being very common in the causses.

GR path still passes on the road near a sort of small castle lost in the trees, then reaches the dirt road, under hedges of oaks and maples trees.

Another beautiful stone house on the edge of the undergrowth, and the path returns in the majesty of the causse. Little by little, the oak resumes its role of master of the causses.

The pathway, always magnificent, will run for kilometers, among the trees, in a rather sparse forest, surrounded by stone walls. As always, the magic happens in these places.

Further on, there is a fork in the road. Indeed, the GR36/46 and the GR65, which are common from Varaire, separate again, the first to go up north, the second to reach Bach in the south. It’s here that you’ll arrive if you walk along Célé Valley, and then to St Cirq-Laopie. Here you have to choose whether you want to stay in Les Moulins, or better yet visit the old phosphate mines of Cloup d’Aral. In this case, it is then recommended to take the track that leads through the undergrowth to Les Moulins.

 

Very close to there, on D19 road which goes from Varaire to Bach, are the old mines. The site of Cloup d´Aral is magnificent and worth a visit. You can visit the abandoned phosphates, stroll around the site, visit the theme park, descend the Time Stairs which give access to the abyss, in a tropical atmosphere between light and the underground world of fossils. Ask about the hours if you want to go down to the bottom of the mines.

Otherwise, you’ll just have to see the mine carts. An educational trail explains the birth of phosphate.

Section 4: On the way to the Daughters of Jesus monastery.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

If you made the detour via Les Moulins or Cloup d´Aral, the best solution is to reach Bach by road (less than 1 kilometer). At Les Moulins, you can find accommodation.

But of course, phosphate doesn’t mean much to the majority of pilgrims, other than being an unfortunate additive to laundry products. So, they will prefer to dawdle a little longer on the causse pathway. You then quickly find a small paved road that heads to Bach.

Beautiful stone houses are present along the road. These residences, which are the soul of the causses, breathe the past and the silence.

For camera reasons, we will be more discreet on the rest of the trip to Vaylats. We borrow some images taken during a distant passage on this track, in the light a little too bright to reflect the reality of things.

Whatever your choice, on the GR or by the detour, you’ll get in Bach, a village as big as a pocket handkerchief (170 inhabitants). The pilgrims, who do not go to Vaylats, stay in Bach or in Les Moulins.

The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, dates back to the XVth century, amended until the last century.

A water point is available for the thirsty at the center. Near the water point, a sign announces Vaylats 3 km away. GR path takes D19 road, which leaves the village.

It follows the road a few hundred meters, then forks in the fields on a dirt road, sometimes grassy, in the middle of the bushes and the green countryside, until finding the fork between GR path and the shortcut heading to Vaylats, at the edge of the forest.

From there, through fields, on a grassy path, you’ll arrive at Vaylats. Vaylats that’s 250 inhabitants and its St Peter’s Church, a neo-Romanesque church that stands isolated by the side of the road.

There is also a bakery and grocery store, but above all a huge and splendid convent built at the end of the XIXth century, on the site of an old castle destroyed during the revolution. It is the magnificent Convent of the Daughters of Jesus, which also serves as a gîte.

In 1820, Father Jean Lausiu, priest in Vaylats, founded a community and a school for the education of girls and the care of the poor. This was the origin of the Congregation of the Daughters of Jesus, a congregation which numbered up to 600 nuns in the XXth century. Today, the sisters are mainly present in the southwest of France. In Vaylats, they are elderly, retired sisters. They are helped by lay people who share their charism. The sisters no longer take care of the pilgrims.

Inside the convent, a large tree-lined courtyard leads to the chapels, the refectory or the apartments of the sisters.

There is no shortage of space for pilgrims. There are 15 rooms with 1 to 4 beds and a large dormitory for groups. Donkeys and horses are welcome here, if they are equipped with a movable fence. However, the sisters do not appreciate dog company. Here, everything is done to help the pilgrim. A large laundry room is available. However, it is not possible to cook. The housekeeping gives you a tour of the premises. The pilgrim is advised to attend the service at 6 a.m. sharp. You may have the privilege of hearing the cracked sounds coming from the harmonium or the tired glottis of the old sisters.

7 o’clock sharp is time for the meal, shared with the sisters. There are often more than 50 people in the dining hall. Surprise! The sisters drink red wine. The meal begins with a clear soup and few vegetables. You see smiles on the lips of a large majority of pilgrims. This is followed by very simple dishes, served by the volunteers with great kindness and in all communion. This is also the Santiago track.

Evening descends on Vaylats. It’s time to take a digestive walk in the magnificent park that adjoins the convent. In the cemetery, the sisters are buried, side by side, in groups of three. There are no surnames or dates of birth or death. Only the names of the sisters appear engraved on the tombstones.

The time for curfew is approaching. It’s time to get to the dorms. The doors of the convent will close for the night. It is 8 o’clock in the evening. Good night! But you’ll have to be on time for breakfast. At 7:1/4 sharp. They don’t mess with the timetable in convents.

Local gastronomy

 

At the Couvent de Vaylats, you will not be served the very famous “black diamond” that you taste in the Lot and Périgord. The truffle is one of the precious jewels of French gastronomy.

The truffle is underground and lives in close relation with the roots of oaks, sometimes of hazel trees. It is born in early spring, but it is only 7 to 10 months later that it reaches maturity. It grows 0 to 20 cm deep around trees. How do you know if there are truffles? By the presence of a “burnt”, ie an area on which the vegetation grows with difficulty. By observing the flies that hover above the mushroom, as if intoxicated and almost motionless, to lay their eggs. But, it is better to own a pig or a truffle dog to unearth these precious treasures.

In Limogne, there are two large truffle markets: Limogne-en-Quercy and its big competitor Lalbenque, right next door. This is the great local tradition. The truffles are sold by the basket. On January 21, 2014, at the Limogne-en-Quercy market, 19 baskets were sold for a total of 9 kg of truffles. The price: between 300 and 500 euros per kilo. A trifle, what! But there is still more. In recent years, the white Alba truffle has sold for 375 Euros per 100 grams, 10 times more expensive than the Quercy black truffle.
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