Here is the second and last part of my trip to Auvergne last Summer. During my stay in Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, my friends and I spent an afternoon in Le Puy-en-Velay. This medieval town is famously known to be one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago. And what a spot to start a pilgrimage, the city charms with its cobbled stones and its pastel blind-cladded windows. We wandered in its alleyways on that hot afternoon of July, with no real plan but as fate would have it we got to experience some of Le Puy’s greatest features.
LE PUY CATHEDRAL
Without a doubt the star of Le Puy-en-Velay, this monument that sits up above the town. Hence, it is a bit of a steep climb to get there, especially the stair part but believe me it will be all worth it. The cathedral offers stunning views over the city’s rooftops and you get to walk in the steps of the Camino de Santiago‘s pilgrims. This is where they start their journey after getting released through the cathedral’s doors and being blessed in the morning.
Other points of interest in the cathedral include the 12th century cloister and the Black Virgin, Our Lady of Le Puy, which is the object of another pilgrimage celebrated every 15th of August (2016 is a big one as it coincides with the jubilee that happens every 11 years).
Next to the cathedral is the Hotel Saint-Vidal which is the designated reception centre for the pilgrims who are looking for information, accommodation or a place to gather and socialise. It hosts Le Camino, a museum on the pilgrimage history, as well as Le Cafe des Pelerins, which has the most enchanting little courtyard. My friends and I ordered much needed refreshments after the dreary cathedral’s staircase and sat there for a while, enjoying the calm surroundings. Added bonus, the bar staff was super friendly and answered all our questions on their role in welcoming the travelling pilgrims.
THE “RENAISSANCE” MURAL
It’s completely by accident that we stumbled upon Patrick Commecy’s mural. His trompe-l’oeils are pure magic, maybe you’ve seen his work on the Internet before? He paints realistic scenes on boring blank city walls that fit into their surroundings so well. He also likes to incorporate details that evoke the place’s history. Look closely to “Renaissance” and you’ll spot all Le Puy’s specialities: the green lentils, the lace-makers, the verbena liquor Verveine, the pilgrims and “Le Roi de L’Oiseau” (literally the Bird King), the yearly renaissance festival for which occasion the mural has been commissioned.
NOTRE-DAME DE FRANCE
Notre-Dame de France is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that dominates the city. Its peculiar rusty colour is due to the fact it was made from the cannons brought back from the Crimean War. It is located on the Rocher Corneille, a volcanic formation from which height you can enjoy panoramic views over the city.
THE POUZAROT QUARTER
The Pouzarot is the oldest neighbourhood in Le Puy. It goes back to the Middle Age when it was built after the discovery of a water source. This part of town feels like a village inside the city. The facades are adorned with exposed bricks and greenery abound in between the cosy cottages.
Le Puy is a lively and culturally rich place, we barely scratched the surface. For instance, I wish we had time to climb to St-Michel d’Aiguilhe, a chapel located on another volcanic rock in the North of the city. But even lacking a plan or a map, this welcoming city opens its arms to the pilgrims and the tourists alike without any resistance.