Carnet de Voyage: from the Channel to the Mediterranean

Carnet de Voyage: from the Channel to the Mediterranean

Travel notes from the real France. Carnet de Voyage is a weekly personal travel story in France sent in by readers. If you’d like to write a story for Carnet de Voyage, head here for details on how to submit.

Having subscribed to France Magazine for many years and visited the country sporadically during his working life, when my husband retired he suggested we had a project: – How about walking from the Channel to the Med in easy stages over the following few years?

No sooner said than started. What a fantastic time we had. We started at Ouistreham, where I picked up a shell which I carried in my rucksack all the way to Gruissan Plage where we finally arrived at the Mediterranean 15 years later!

We decided to follow the GR36 as far as possible and spent at least two or three weeks every year walking along the route. We usually camped for five days in one place and quickly got into a routine of driving to the end of the day’s walk, cycling to the beginning where we left the bikes in a “safe” place (usually near a church!) then strode back to the car. Having collected the bikes we returned to the campsite. Distances were not great, so we could easily manage 4 or 5 days at one site.

We were very fortunate that several friends entered into the spirit and joined us occasionally which was great – and we didn’t have to cycle as they always brought their own car!

What wonderful memories – Suisse Normande, the Gatine, Parthenay on the pilgrims’ route, to the Dordogne via Bourdeilles, a gem, and beautiful Brantome. Past the fabulous bastides and on to the next magnificent river, the serious Lot, overlooked by Cahors where we of course sampled the deep red wine, St-Circ- Lapopie and on up the Stations of the Cross. The Tarn came next and Albi where we learnt about the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars of the region in the 13th century.

We loved staying at Ambialet in the loop of the Tarn. Soon we came to Sidobre Region and had a very wet walk through a forest where we came across some enormous balancing stones called Les Trois Fromages! The Montagnes Noires proved challenging but we were up for it and ascended to Le Pic de Nor on top of which was something out of James Bond, a huge concrete building with a very tall red and white tower no doubt for transmitting…. The walk down and along a crest down to the valley was spectacular and we were alone in the world, with the Pyrenees in the distance.

At the Canal du Midi near Carcassonne we very sadly said goodbye to the GR36 and continued direct to the coast via Narbonne where I tossed the shell into the sea and plunged in before a celebratory bottle of Champagne with the four friends who joined us for the finale.

The conditions were constantly changing and we experienced clambering over fallen trees after the ouregon, occasionally wading through mud, but also wandering along in the spring sunshine listening to the birds under the beautiful trees bursting into life and hundreds of frogs croaking in a pond, or whooshing the autumn leaves from our path. Sometimes it was incredibly hot and other the rain poured down in torrents. It was all just fantastic and liberating. Sometimes we stopped for a delectable French lunch if a hostelry presented itself at the right time – one of the best was a Sunday when we found ourselves in a huge empty dining room which soon filled up with what must have been the whole village – wow! Another was L’Oubliette in Rochefourcauld upstairs behind a brown door where Steve was so content he had a brandy before we set off for the afternoon’s walk.

Crossing the great rivers of La Loire, La Charente, La Dordogne, Le Lot and Le Tarn were highlights and confirmed to us why the Departments are named after them.

Surprisingly, to us anyway, there was hardly a soul to be seen on the whole route. We didn’t treat it as a forced march and over the 100 days we took we averaged 10 miles a day. Actually 1663 kilometres was the total which I totted up when we finally got home. We were meticulous and didn’t miss out a step. I was devastated and would have definitely fitted in another kilometre to make it up to 1664 because at the end of each day we downed a Kronenbourg 1664 to celebrate.

I would heartily recommend this to anyone who loves the countryside, history and of course La Belle France.

And a big thank you to France Magazine for ensuring we made the most of it.

PS: If anyone is interested I have all the Serie Bleue IGN maps that are well thumbed but quite useable.

Read our other Carnet de Voyage entries here.

Share to:  Facebook  Twitter   LinkedIn   Email

More in Carnet de Voyage, hiking in France, walking

Previous Article An Extraordinary French Collection
Next Article French Film Review: Madeleine Collins

Related Articles

By Carolyn

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *