June 12th – 15th, 2014
We were now heading away from the civilisation of Lyon to realise one of Graham’s boyhood dreams. Once in a book when he was not much older than Lucas, he had seen the famous church atop a volcanic core at Le Puy en Velay and wanted to see it with his own eyes. Now we were heading deep into the Auvergne region of France to see this dream become a reality.
The Auvergne has been settled since 10,000 B.C, but around 3000 B.C. the Celts and Arverni, whom the region was named after, settled there. The region contains many volcanoes, although the last confirmed eruption was around 6,000 years ago. They began forming some 70,000 years ago, and most have eroded away leaving plugs of unerupted hardened magma that form rounded hilltops known as puys. It is now one of the least populated regions of France. – wiki
There was more than just distance to wrestle with – there was a French train strike on. The French take their striking seriously. It’s not just about keeping their plush by-other-train-drivers conditions but seriously about bringing the rail system to a halt. What had started as a 24hr protest was stretching into days (little did we know it would stretch into weeks eventually).
So we set off in the early morning despite our afternoon ticket – determined to get there. It was an early tram to Lyon, a long wait at the station, a random jump onto a TER train to St Chamond (at least we were going in the right direction), a bus (rail replacement) to St Etienne and a final bus to Le Puy. Shockingly, we arrived at our original train arrival time.
The up side was that most of the bus journey drove along the Gorges of the Loire Valley route, so we were treated to some spectacular scenery. Also our host had expected a late pick-up due to the strike, so we had some extra time in Le Puy. So whilst Graham and Reuben explored the old town, the rest of us caught up on some rest and schoolwork.
Andre soon arrived with his borrowed red van to take us all to his farm house in Lepasseyres and the beginning of a wonderful adventure. No public transport, no TV, no internet. His farm house is set amongst a tiny outcrop of houses, set in lush green fields. The farmers who surround him keep cows and plant crops. For Andre this is now his family summer house. He has a large vegetable patch to plant and harvest, during this time away from his other home in Le Puy. He also has a loveable big dog named Tou Pac who took us into his charge, guarding the children and dubbing Graham his favourite.
The accommodation was rustic but adequate. Luckily Andre is a real traditional foodie, who loved to cook, so we were in for a gastronomic feast. On our first night we sat outdoors under the arch of the wood store and dined on pork with roasted onion sauce and whole chestnuts. Of course in France this leisurely meal also comes with a salad course and ends with cheese and wine. Heavenly. This would set the trend for the many wonderful meals we shared.
The quality and freshness of the produce here is stunning. Yes, the ten kilograms both Graham and I lost in India were largely regained in the Auvergne.
The next morning we had a well earned rest. In the morning we visited the cow shed next store and watched them being milked beside their new calves. In the afternoon we drove to Saint Privat D’Allier to explore.
On Saturday we were dropped off in town for the morning markets. You can bet we bought a hunk of blue brie. Sensational.
We were fascinated by the crafts of lace making and sculpture so typical of this area.
We walked through the old town to the Basillica.
Le Puy-en-Velay’s most striking attraction is the Cathédrale Notre-Dame du Puy, dating chiefly from the first half of the 12th century. The façade, striped in courses of white sandstone and black volcanic breccia, is reached by a flight of sixty steps, and consists of three orders, the lowest composed of three high arcades opening into the porch, which extends beneath the first bays of the nave. Above it are three central windows that light the nave, and above them are three gables on the gable-end of the nave, flanked by two openwork screening gables. The south transept doorway is sheltered by a Romanesque porch. Behind the choir rises a separate Romanesque bell-tower in seven storeys.- Wiki
This region is also famous for the famous pilgrimage trail of Santiago de Compostela several of the traditional routes pass through Le Puy. During our stay we saw many people making this journey. We would love to walk it too – one day.
The huge iron statue of the Virgin Mary overlooking the town, was designed by French sculptor Jean-Marie Bonnassieux, and is made from 213 Russian cannons taken in the Siege of Sevastopol (1854–1855). It was presented to the town on 12 September 1860 in front of 120,000 people. – wiki
Felix and Lucas were tired so we played games below. Reuben and Graham made the big climb up the Roche St Michel. A dream realised.
Menu lunch at a local eatery, another stop for coffee, a look at he aviary and joining in circus activities at the local park.
A spectacularly, colourful display by a male peacock attacted everyones attention but the peahen… Then home.
We all had a slow morning, the boys helped Andre plant some seeds in the vege patch. Reuben uncovered a piece of pottery which we imagined could have been made by ancient hands.
The beauty of the Haute-Loire with its softly rolling hills, its tiny stone houses, ancient history, folklore, peaceful churches and flowered streets were endearing. We saw wild rabbits, buzzards and even a fox. We heard a community music festival, prayed in ancient churches and snoozed in the sun. We drank wine, cognac and fruit syrup, whilst dining like kings. The boys talked to the cows, read books, went on long walks and paddled in Lake Boucet.
It was a magical, peaceful time thanks to our host Andre. We felt like Andre and Tou Pac were family when we sadly departed to once again enter the fray.
The train strike was still on…