France 2007 Day 3: Ceillac to St-Véran

Posted on 12 August 2007 in Travel and Holidays (No comments)

It's day three, and time to leave the Hôtel La Cascade. After breakfast, our bags packed, we headed out of the door. Several days worth of clothes and more are taken with us. To reception where we leave them for someone else to take to our next destination. Hey, we're on holiday and who really wants to carry their luggage with them if someone else can do it?

Ceillac

The day was to start with a gentle stroll towards Ceillac, which we'd walk through before heading up some hills.

Alongside the Torrent du Mélezet

Our instructions told us to walk through the nearby campsite (which was interesting, as as we left the campsite there was a sign telling people not to walk through it!) and then join this nice path alongside the river towards Ceillac.

Church in central Ceillac

It was also our first and only chance to have look round the village of Ceillac - our hotel being about 2km away from the town. It was a pleasant village - wood built buildings, and attractive little churches. However our destination was back on the GR 5 footpath, which at this stage, shares its route with a path we'd get to know very well over the next few days - the GR 58.

Le Villard and Ceillac in the distance

For a short while, the paths also shared their route with roads, but at the small hamlet if Le Villard, we hit the footpaths proper - a rather rocky little path, the consequences of which would be felt...

Col de Fromage

Our first destination was the Col de Fromage (2386m) - yes as in cheese. And that's because the Col Fromage is limestone, and said to be full of holes. And if you can't get why that means its called the Col Fromage, well there's no hope!

At the Col Fromage

With some great views to be had, we had a bit of a rest and ate some of our packed lunch. Riffling through I found two hard boiled eggs. Oddly though, one was shelled and one was not. The shelled one had been wrapped in cling film.

The shelling of one egg seemed a rather strange thing to do, and I couldn't help but cast my mind back to the previous night in some attempt to explain why one egg had been shelled - had there been some hard-boiled egg related food stuff on the previous nights menu, that might not have been used? If there was, I couldn't think what it was, which meant no explanation was ultimately forthcoming.

Being peeled didn't exactly help the boiled egg it had to be said - especially given the fact that some of the salad dressing had leaked out of the salad tub. This was something we'd been warned about by Inntravel and had dutifully taken some slightly more secure tubs with us to transfer the salads in to. Unfortunately we'd forgotten to do the transfer...

Back amongst the trees

Col des Estronques

Setting off again, we left the good old GR 58 and headed off along an unmarked path towards our next stage - the Col des Estronques. Our path continued to have one downfall though - despite having been on the go for a couple of hours, our starting point remained clearly visible, as if to taunt us! Clearly leaving Ceillac fully behind wasn't going to be easy - something that became more and more true as we hit the final very steep stage to get to the Col.

Looking back at Col Bramousse and the Col Fromage

On the plus side, our sheer height did afford us some absolutely stunning views to look back on and enjoy before we rejoined the GR 58 which had actually run from the Col Fromage to Le Villard, then up to Col des Estronques.

St-Véran in the distance

It wasn't until we arrived at the Col des Estronques (2651m) that we really said goodbye to Ceillac - and hello to our destination. As we climbed up to the top and over, the village of St-Véran came into view in the distance.

It was also a perfect place to stop for some lunch - more bread, a sweetcorn based salad, Camembert, more eggs, cakes, crisps and so on.

From there-on, it was down hill for quite some way - around 900m descent over the next few hours, with St-Véran continuing to be seen in the distance. As we'd popped over the hill, we'd also lost something else - the sun having disappeared some point earlier. A mild wind instead brushed itself past us as we went down, down and a lot more down.

Zig-zagging down the hill Mountain waterfall

Lots of steep descents on zig-zag paths followed - the odd view of attractive waterfalls couldn't really take the mind of the legs, aching a bit as the vibrations off the rocky path took their toll on the knees. To help matters, the rain started to appear. Thankfully not heavy, but not quite the glorious sun we'd left behind earlier in the day.

Zig-zagging down near Caurfours

As we came down, we passed one woman who was clearly struggling with the descent - and obviously in some pain in her knees. And not surprising too - we spent a huge amount of time going down, and very steeply too. The reward of an attractive waterfall couldn't come too soon.

Waterfall at the bottom of the descent

With St-Véran now getting closer, we headed on along the gentle wooded path, before taking tackling something of a novelty for the afternoon - a hill.

Into St-Véran

St-Véran

After all that down, we were to go up again before arriving in the village - our final destination of the day. The village itself is on several levels and - of course- our hotel was near the top. The Hotel L'Astragale sits on the main street opposite the town's 17th century church.

Checking in, we met a friendly and very talkative woman in reception, who spoke a lot of French at us - thankfully at a reasonable speed so that Catherine could just about keep up. Our room was at the back of the building on the third floor - which as they had a lift, was not a problem!

The room appeared to be set in the roof, and featured a mezzane level set in the eaves, with a single bed - which we naturally ignored in favour of the king size bed downstairs. As well as a lovely shower, the room featured a mini-bar which was - for my money - curiously stocked with just one of everything - one bottle of Kronenburg, one bottle of Heineken, one bottle of Perrier, and so on.)

I'm no expert on mini-bars - I've never used one in my life) so maybe successive hotel managements have found that customers only ever take one of anything, so it's easier to just put one in - but it seemed slightly odd that if there was two of you, and you each wanted a beer, you'd be stuck after one!

Wandering round the village

Suitably refreshed, and after performing various stretches to help our limbs the following day, we headed out into the rain to explore St-Véran.

Wandering around St-Véran

St-Véran is Europe's highest village to be inhabited all year round, as is a major residential area during the ski season. And apparently, it has a bakery which produces bread every day of the year. That data coming apparently from a tourist leaflet for the town. People probably don't come here for the bread though - more likely they come for the featuring many centuries-old larch wood houses, wells and fountains. And on this day, rain.

Our guide notes from Inntravel proclaimed that this area gets an amazing 300 days of sunshine each year. Just think about that for a minute - 300 days of sunshine. Not surprising either, as the village is basically surrounded by a horseshoe shaped set of hills - any clouds coming this way generally come having already rained themselves out elsewhere.

So it was somewhat ironic then that we arrived late July - right in the heart of summer - to enjoy one of the 65 days a year when it rains... Typical really.

Food, Glorious Food

After a hard days walking - 15km isn't a huge amount, but when you're going up 1300m and descending 1100m, then it does take it out of you - we were ready for a bit of a relax and some food and Monday night at L'Astragale is raclette night!

For those that don't know (I suspect most people reading), raclette is a local specallity which is pretty much a pile of ham slices, some slices of local cheese which have been grilled, a pile of salad and a big bowl of new potatoes. Oh, and of course, some French bread.

Which wasn't particularly good for Catherine, so greatfully accepted the offer of pea soup, followed by a "grande salad". And when they described the salad as "grande", they weren't wrong - it was absolutely huge! All washed down with a local white wine - fruity and nice.

Even after having huge amounts of cheese and ham, the staff kept offering more. And given the meat was fantastic, and the cheese delicious, it was hard to resist, however resist I did. Mind you, the table in front of me had had about four plates of cheese between the two of them. Pretty full, it was time for desert (a tiramisu ice cream, supplied apparently by Carte d'Or - although we did have the option of a fruit salad) and coffee, before hitting bed. The old leg muscles needed a bit of a rest - despite the stretching, they'd been stiff all evening. And if that wasn't enough reason for a rest, there was the simple fact of another long day hiking the following day...

Number of different cheeses eaten on day 3
Andrew3
Catherine2

For more photographs of this holiday, have a look at my France 2007 photo set on Flickr

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