Quick Guide to Le Puy-en-Velay | France

Le Puy-en-Velay

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-en-VelayLe Puy-en-Velay

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).

Le Puy-en-Velay

HOTEL SAINT-VIDAL

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.

Le Puy-en-Velay

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.

Le Puy-en-Velay

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.

Le Puy-en-VelayLe Puy-en-Velay

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-en-VelayLe Puy-en-Velay
Le Puy-en-Velay

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.

Postcards from Saint-Julien-Chapteuil | France

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

Last Summer, I went to a tiny village nestled among the volcanic hills of Auvergne called Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. I was to spend a week there with my friend and her sweet little family who had recently relocated from Belgium. I was especially eager to finally meet their adorable baby. Two trains and some seven hours later, Brussels far far behind me, I was sitting in her van in a middle of an intense catch-up session while she was driving us to the village I had heard so much of already.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

The week spent there was one of the most peaceful of my life. Every morning, I’d be woken by Saint Julien’s bells. More often than not, I would ignore them and fall back asleep. We were living on baby schedule, time before noon was slow and cosy, you would probably find me in the kitchen window stuffing my face with apricots. We had bought a whole crate for a ridiculous price at the end of the market. In the afternoons, if the sun wasn’t too hot, we would go on hikes in the mountains surrounding the village. The volcanic region offers some interesting rock formations like “basalt organ pipes” not unlike the one you can see at the Giant’s Causeway.

Saint-Julien-ChapteuilSaint-Julien-Chapteuil

The views over the valley were breathtaking and the air so pure. So was the water, can you believe the tap water tasted better than bottled?!

The evenings were spent cooking with good wholesome food. Sometimes we would set our table on the terrace, facing the mountains where the sun would eventually lie, lighting the sky orange and violet. And as the stars shone bright in a star-gazer’s perfect dream, we would play cards until our eyelids felt heavy. I would fall asleep to the song of cicadas, sometimes punctuated by the cymbals of thunderstorms.

Saint-Julien-Chapteuil

Ever since I left Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, I’ve been thinking of its slower pace of life (certainly enhanced by our lack of wifi) and its wonderfully old-fashioned events like the soapbox races and the Soup festival where people from the surrounding villages would come and gather in Saint Joseph’s school courtyard to eat cabbage soup, drink wine and dance to the old French tunes sung by an old lady with a quivering voice. For a long time, London has been on my mind but as I grow older, I feel ready for a change of pace.

What about you? Could you see yourself living in a village in the middle of nowhere or are you a city person through and through?
Next week, I’ll show you Le-Puy-en-Velay where we spent an afternoon. This picturesque town is famous for being one of the starting points of the Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrim route.