Cycle the first section of the Way of St James in France from the Haute Loire to the Lot Valley. The pilgrimage route to Santiago has been travelled for over 1000 years by foot, donkey and more recently by bike. Offering an incredible diversity of scenery and passing through some of the prettiest villages in France, this is an epic cycling route with a spiritual theme. This journey, along the Via Podensis, the French Way of St James, takes pilgrims from Le Puy en Velay to the medieval town of Cahors, passing a multitude of churches and monasteries, resembling a travelling museum of Romanesque art. With some steep climbs, followed by fast descents, this trip is ideally suited to fit cyclists keen to extend their experience to an iconic route. At night your hosts in the guesthouses and small hotels will ensure that you are well fed and immersed in their particular region with its culinary specialties.
Arrival in Le Puy-en-Velay, capital of Haute-Loire, the town is located in the South-East of the Massif Central, surrounded by a volcanic landscape which is dominated by rocky peaks rising from the valley floor. As the starting point of the famous Via Podiensis, one of the routes to Santiago de Compostela, since the Middle Ages, the Auvergne town is a major pilgrimage site, with its Romanesque Cathedral of Notre Dame and Hôtel-Dieu listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Make sure you purchase your pilgrim passport to have it stamped throughout the journey to your final destination.
For your first cycling day, you start from the cathedral, the route climb out to leave the town of Le Puy. It goes through the Monts du Velay, where green lentils are grown, before going down into the Haut-Allier gorges. Then the itinerary takes you through a variety of landscapes and terrain before reaching the Plateau de la Margeride and its ascent just before Saugues, the last difficulty of this stage. Overnight in Saugues which is famous for mysterious Beast of Gévaudan and its mushrooms!
Challenge: 46km, 1050m ascent, 625m descent
Saugues is a small town famous for its English Tower, its Mushroom Fair and the legendary Beast of Gévaudan. Starting there, the route continues into the Margeride plateau and through the Truyère valley before reaching the charming village of Aumont-Aubrac. On your way, pass front of St Roch Chapel, hightest point of your stage with an altitude of around 1300m and cross pretty hamlets of Le Rouget, St Alban sur Limagnole and Les Estrets. Arrival in the town of Aumont-Aubrac, located in the heart of Lozère, an important point on the pilgrimage route.
Challenge: 44km, 800m ascent, 730m descent
Leaving Aumont-Aubrac, the route goes through pine groves before reaching the Aubrac plateau, you cycle above an altitude of 1000m, covered with pastures as far as the eye can see. Just after Nasbinals, famous village for the "transhumance" (end of May), you pass the hightest point of the Way of St James (col d'Aubrac - altitude 1340m). Continue to the nice village of Aubrac where starts the long steep descent of almost 30 km!! Further down, in Saint Côme d’Olt (labeled one of the most beautiful villages in France), route becomes "flat" and you will discover the Lot Valley and the lovely village of Estaing.
Challenge: 78km, 655m ascent, 1375m descent
Get ready today, one of the shorter stage but probably the most difficult (but what a beautiful!). Leaving Estaing and the Lot valley with a very steep ascent to Campuac. Continue direction Espeyrac, nice village with its ruined castle of the Middle Ages. Few kilometers later, you reach Sénergues also very interesting with its castle and the Tour Carrée. Then, a spectacular route takes you downhill towards Conques, jewel of Romanesque art and a must on the Via Podiensis!
Challenge: 36km, 680m ascent, 440m descent
Start today along the river Dourdou de Conques which brings you back along the Lot river. Follow it to Livinhac-le-Haut and from there the road becomes uphill and goes on the next valley, the Célé valley. Last section on a steep ascent before reaching Figeac, pretty town of Art & History, by the Célé river. This is the home town of Champollion (the ‘Father of Egyptology’ who first deciphered hieroglyphics) and a very important pilgrimage connecting point.
Challenge: 43km, 430m ascent, 740m descent
Welcome to the secret Célé valley! Follow the road that winds the river through typical Quercy villages like: Espagnac and its lovely 13th century church, Saint Sulpice and its troglodyte houses, Marcilhac and the ruins of its Benedictine abbey church, then Sauliac and Cabrerets with its prehistoric cave of Peche Merle. Few kilometers later, in Conduché, you will find the Lot river again and you will just have to cross the bridge for the overnight in Bouziès.
Challenge: 54km, 80m ascent, 150m descent
What a day for your last cycling day... First, join the common track with the hikers before starting a breathtaking route, cut in the rock on the edge of the Lot to reach Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Take the time to discover this gorgeous village perched on a rocky, labeled one of the most beautiful villages in France. Leave Saint-Cirq-Lapopie and the valley on a steep ascent with panoramic views. Take a break in the village of Aujols! Then, continue towards Flaujac-Poujols ang go for a beautiful 5 km descent, which will then take you to the medieval town of Cahors, your final destination.
Challenge: 35km, 540m ascent, 550m descent
End of your trip after breakfast. We advise you to extend your stay in order to take the time to visit the beautiful city of Cahors and its Valentré Bridge.
All accommodations are carefully selected because of their location, atmosphere and/or unique services.
We choose comfortable 2*/3* hotels or B&Bs where all rooms have private en-suite bathroom and every morning breakfast are included.
For more comfort, when it's possible we can upgrade the hotels with 3*/4 * category (supplement applied).
8 Nights included
2/3* hotels and B&B's
Tourist tax included
Breakfasts and 5 Dinners included (not included in Le Puy, Figeac and Cahors)
Maps and tourist information on all the places of interest
24/7 Bilingual Emergency hotline
Luggage transport to your next accommodations
Parking informations on request
GPS tracks are available on request
The closest airport is Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport.
Also possibility of arrival in Paris airports Charles de Gaulle in the North and Orly in the South are served by a large number of scheduled and low cost airlines. They are connected with Paris by metro and bus services. From Paris you can take a train to Le Puy-en-Velay (via Saint-Etienne), see below.
From Paris to Le Puy-en-Velay (approx. 6h - 540 km/336 mi). Acces to driving routes see the website ViaMichelin.
You can also take a regular shuttle bus "Compostela" at the end of your trip to reach a train station or to travel back to the starting point (more information on request).