Day Trip! Bad Salzig to St. Goar, August 9th

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Hi all! Yes, I know I haven’t posted anything this year and it’s killing me not to get to really do the Camino this summer.  I have a pretty major qualification I’m in the process of getting which is taking all the money I would normally spend on the Camino (no paid holiday :-() so it will likely be next year before I get a nice, long trip.  I may decide to take off a week and do a 5 day hike if I can save enough, so fingers crossed!  I have, however, been doing lots of day hikes closer to home, and last weekend a friend and I decided to check out the Rheinburgenweg.  When we got there in the morning I was totally excited to see Jakobsmuschel signs everywhere!

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Turns out the Rheinburgenweg and the Jakobsweg join forces on the Rhein, so, awesome!  We picked Bad Salzig to St. Goar as it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful stretches of the whole trail, but also one of the most difficult.  Pro Tip: when a German hiking guide says a trail is “difficult” dear lord they do mean it.  Luckily they also mean it when they label it an especially lovely trek.

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We started out bright and early in Bad Salzig and headed straight up the mountain, and then down the other side on a trail so steep we actually slid down a good part of it!  Luckily there was only a little bit of rain and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking.  All the trails on this stretch are dirt or field, so make sure you come prepared with dry socks.  Trust me on this one.

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The climbs are extreme but always when you’re about to give up hope, you’ll come across a viewpoint with giant benches to take a break and enjoy the fruits of your labors.  There’s also a place with a famous statue of the Bietende Nonne and a Unesco flag which is totally worth seeing.

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The first town you come to is Hirzenach, and it’s absolutely worth taking some extra time to see the parish gardens.  Also noteworthy is that if you are hoping to find a cafe to rest in after the first mountain, you’re out of luck.  Everything here opens late.  But hold on until you get to the next village of Holzfeld, which has a goat cheese hut, picnic tables, and wine and beer on tap.  They close at 13:00 on Saturday and we just missed it! Don’t let that happen to you.  On the plus side, we found some old gentlemen outside doing work on their house who were looking for an excuse to take a break, and they offered us coffee and a great chat to get our spirits up for the next part of the trek!

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About halfway up to Holzfeld we stopped and had a proper picnic, which was great.  To be honest, the climb up nearly did me in, and Alex, who is afraid of heights almost lost it on the teetering Alpine trail on the way down (the photos don’t really show how unstable the trail was and how sheer the drop was) so it was nice that we each were able to motivate one another on one part of the trek.  After Holzfeld there really isn’t anything but forest until St Goar and the Rheinfels castle, so PLEASE remember to fill up your water bottles there.  However much you have won’t be enough if it is a hot day!

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At the bottom you’ll also have to make a decision.  If you still have lots of energy, you can do one final steep climb up over the next hill, see the castle and then go down into St. Goar.  If you’ve had it for the day you can follow the road to the river and in 1 k you’ll hit the town. You can go up to the castle from there and it’s easier.  We chose option two. The prospect of a proper dinner and cold beer, the hot sun and our tired feet made the decision really easy!  Also keep in mind that St. Goar is pretty but it’s an absolute tourist hell.  I wanted to continue on on Sunday, but there were no rooms to be found.  This didn’t disappoint me so much once I saw how busy and touristy it really was.  After a long hike like that I think it’s nicer to be somewhere small and quieter.  If you are planning on staying overnight, try looking in Biebernheim a few k. later.  All in all this was an excellent, challenging day.  If you’re doing this as part of a longer Jakobsweg trek, the next stage is much less physically demanding so never fear.

Till next time!

Oh, and last weekend we hiked on the Rheinsteig over some of the Siebengebirge to the Drachenfels, where Siegfried slew the dragon in the Niebelungan legend.  I’m posting about that over on my blog for my nephew’s travelling stuffed animal, you can check it out there  soon, if you’re interested.

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Gargilesse to Eguzon: October 3rd

 

I am now right on the border of rugged Limousin and the landscape has totally changed.  The streams and rolling farmland of Berry are slowly being replaced by the Creuse and low, forested mountains.  Every single one of the amazing views today I SERIOUSLY had to earn. I headed out early today and climbed my way out of the valley.

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What a sunrise!  The path continued up and down,  and then UP to Cuzion.

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After Cuzion things get REALLY interesting. The path suddenly goes off onto a gravel path, which turns into a grass way, and, after entering the forest goes steeply down all the way down to the banks of the Creuse.  It is so peaceful and pretty that whole trek, but do not go this way if you aren’t sure-footed.  It is steep and slippery and winds down a long way.

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Eventually you stumble onto the river, which is big and lovely and soft and sweet-smelling.  What a sight! As I was leaving and elderly gentleman was heading in with his walking stick. It was nice to stop for a chat, and when he had moved on I sat a while on the wall and watched the water go by.

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You basically follow the river on a little path all the way to the bridge.  This has been one of my favourite days on the trail so far.

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After crossing the bridge,  it’s time to go the 3k uphill to Eguzon. A few hundred meters from the bridge there is a beautiful Auberge which I HIGHLY recommend stopping at to recharge with a coffee or whatever.  This hill is heinous.  You climb till you think it’s the top, then you go up some more. And then some more. And cars are whizzing by you the whole time.  Just trust me and take a break when you can.

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Eguzon is not the most beautiful town in the world, but it has character 🙂 I decided the pilgrim hostel could go to hell and I checked into the hotel in the center of the village, and stuffed myself full of coq au vin and warm pear tart covered in melted chocolate.  Heaven. The town hall is also surprisingly interesting. It’s in a medieval fortress and has a museum for the historic crafts of the region. Totally worth the 3 euro admission!  The lady working there was so happy I was interested she took me up to the historic classroom and pulled out some old primers for me to look through.  Sweet.

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I really had a great trip this time, which I absolutely needed after the muddy trail of pain I had in spring. I definitely Bourbon and Berry two thumbs up! 🙂 Can’t wait to get back in the trail again next year!

Cluis to Gargilesse: October 2nd

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Today the countryside was incredible.  When you leave Cluis you get to walk the massive historic viaduct that connects it with the next village.  The views at dawn are breathtaking. Also,  for the adrenaline junkies,  you can bungee jump from it if you book ahead.

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So. Cool.
After that it rained a bit but just enough to make the forest fresh and cool. Pommiers had a teeny cafe, so after a quick stop there it was back on the road.  From this point on you start to get proper woods and streams and things got more stunning as the day went on.

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Now if you want a sure meal, the restaurant in Dampierre is your last chance before going down to Gargilesse.  If you want anything,  get it there. Just after the village the decent into the valley begins and it is awesome.

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Gargilesse has been named one of the most beautiful villages in France, and it really is.  The hostel is up in the fortress ramparts,  with a view of the tree-blanketed valley and a musical little river below.  The houses are right out of a storybook.

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God it is boring though.  I mean,  ok, it’s a village of 300 or so, but the hotel is for sale (closed), the restaurant is being renovated (closed), the cafe and George Sand museum  are closed from end of September,  the soap maker,  regional specialty seller and sculptors open when they feel like it (closed all the time), the villagers hate the tourists, and the tourists are cranky because there’s nowhere to get even some water. What I’m saying is, if you have it in you to pound out the 11 k extra to Eguzon, stop here to admire and sleep there instead. If you don’t,  buy EVERYTHING you might possibly need in Cluis.  At any rate I am totally happy I came the long way instead of heading directly to Crozant!  One last thought: how completely mortified would George Sand be to find out she’s become a bourgeois tourist attraction! !!!

Neuvy St Sepulchre to Cluis: October 1st

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Today I am taking it easy to give my body a rest. For the last few days my feet have finally decided that I can go F&$k myself, and from tomorrow the countryside gets pretty hardcore so I decided to stop the day in Cluis.
Totally worth it.  Cluis has a medieval fortress you can play in, a medieval city hall, a 16th century drinking hall, AND is a cozy village to top it off!
Here’s what the way there looked like:

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The fortress is amazing.  You pretty much round a corner and there it is. I headed up to look around before going into town.

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And the town is just as great:

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Cluis is also the snail capital of France, apparently. ..

But the best part is my b&b. It’s a room in a 5 story, fully renovated mansion owned by the loveliest couple ever and their 4 cats. I’ve been fed to the gills with home cooked food and had hours of good conversation.  I’d post pictures but it is their home so you’ll just have to visit it yourself 🙂 Am now totally ready for the hike to Gargilesse tomorrow!

La Chatre to Neuvy St Sepulchre: September 30th

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Some time over night summer turned into autumn.   The air is fresh and smells like fall, and some leaves have even started turning.

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When the zombie apocalypse happens, this house will be my fortress

The road led through a perfect mix of tiny villages and mellow countryside until I hit my first stop for the day.

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Sarzay has a castle, one of the most incredible I’ve ever seen.  You can even pay a small entrance fee and tour the castle and chapel,  so I did!

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This is one of the highlights of my whole pilgrimage.  Absolutely worth seeing.   After that I had a quick break at the beautiful cafe an headed on to Neuvy St Sepulchre.  The owner was great and came out with an apple and banana for me to eat on the road 🙂

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After a pleasant walk I got to Neuvy at about 13:30 checked into the refuge, had a shower,  and set off to explore.   The thing, the only thing, to see in the city is the church, which is modeled after St Sepulchre in Jerusalem and is a  UNESCO heritage site. Other than that it’s a good place to eat and drink and stock up on supplies.

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The refuge is great, with a full kitchen and dining area and a courtyard to hang out in. And now, time for sleep 🙂

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Chateaumeillant to La Chatre: September 29th

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Headed out early and was in a pretty serious mood. I mean I was really not into walking at all.  And then this happened:

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Ever get the feeling you're being watched?

A full on cow posse. I walked by and they raced ahead, regrouped,  and again with the stare:

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And again.

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This one is mid-stalking

The whole thing was so completely ridiculous I could not stop giggling. This went on the entire length of their pasture.  Cows, if you’re reading this (and I somehow wouldn’t be surprised if you were) thank you.
The first village I hit was Neret, which is really a pretty place, it also has TONS of picnic tables and benches which makes it perfect for a tiny break.

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After Neret though, I have to admit the landscape is dull as hell. I mean it’s nice but hours of nothing is a bit much.

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I checked my map and saw a foresty area just to the south with a village in it and decided to detour via Montlevicq. Best. decision. ever. Montlevicq is so incredibly perfect I can’t believe I almost missed it! I mean, LOOK.

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And then just outside of the village I noticed a castle gleaming over the fields.

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After that was a refreshing walk through a little wood, and,  soon after,  the town of Lacs.

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Now Lacs has two things going for it.  One is that the first thing I saw there was an elderly gentleman strolling out of the woods in full traditional hunting tweeds, a duck hunting rifle tucked under his arm, and a big hello for me.  The second thing is the creperie/cafe that plays blues music and is even open on Sundays. I stuffed myself with a butter crepe and a coffee and headed towards La Chatre.

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La Chatre is epic. You get the full medieval village with castle on a hill view just as you round the corner.

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My photos do not do this town justice,  so please,  visit it and see for yourself.

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After checking in to my gorgeous apartment for the evening and a quick nap to rest my poor feet, my first stop was the George Sand museum (George Sand has now replaced Joan of Arc for all the tourist stuff. She visited this town often).  The museum rules.  It’s got stuffed birds, it’s got medieval stained glass, it’s got George Sand stuff, it’s got Roman pots, it’s got 19th century art.  So much awesome random stuff all together under one roof.  Totally worth a visit.

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After that I toured around the rest of the town before grabbing a beer, eating the best crepe of all time (paysan, which means loaded with potato and bacon and onions), and heading back to my accommodation.

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The street name is "highway to hell"

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The apartment I’m in is basically over the house owner’s garage and it feels like home. It’s totally cozy and smells like wood and lavender,  and the proprietor is a rock star.  You’ll never meet a sweeter lady. Again, you need credentials to stay here so make sure you bring them. 

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All in all the villages were the stars of the show today, which is just fine by me 🙂

Le Chatelet to Chateaumeillant: September 28th

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This is going down in history as one of the best birthdays EVER. This morning I woke up and went to the breakfast room to find the owners had run out and bought me a birthday cake!  How unbelievably awesome is that?!

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The day was perfect.  Rolling countryside,  misty hills, and white horses prancing in the forest. That really happened.

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The first village I came to is Les Arches, an artist commune of potters. I am both happy and disappointed I didn’t have space in my backpack for any of the pots.

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Soon after I hit St. Jeanvrien with it’s medieval church and a public bathroom I desperately needed 🙂  The afternoon continued on until I saw the first houses of Chateaumeillant.

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I am so happy I really had time to look around today. Chateaumeillant is a beautiful medieval town with an impressive church.  After checking in to my hotel,  a quick lunch in the hotel restaurant (with another birthday cake!) I soent the afternoon wandering around and visiting the museum.

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The museum was a surprise!  It’s billed as a Gallo-Roman archaeology museum,  and it is. But it’s the medieval grounds and local art exhibition that impressed me most, actually.  Ine of the artists was chilling with the museum lady so I got to tell her how awesome she is.

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Those are just a few examples!
The hotel is also exceptional.  They offer pilgrim rates, so you basically pay 50 euro for the room and dinner and breakfast are free.  I expected a nice place, but this is so much better than I ever could have hoped for.  First off, I’m in the Arthur Rimbeaud room.  So f@$king perfect. Second, the dinner is in the fancy as hell restaurant and is a full on 5 course affair with wine included,  and a massive table of regional cheeses they wheel over for you to choose from.  I had the rose wine Chateaumeillant is famous for and finally got to try the regional goat cheese,  which is coated in charcoal. Totally.  Recommended.  They also were totally cool about me sitting there in my classiest hiking shorts snd cleanest tee shirts with their well-dressed guests and that gets them sooo many extra points. Really could not have asked for a more incredible day.  I’m even getting a thunderstorm!
Also,  I know there are tons of typos in these last posts,  blogging from a phone is not easy!

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And now to sleep!

St. Amand to Le Chatelet: September 27th

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Today I cleared out of the hotel at 7 am, hoping to beat the heat that was coming this afternoon.  The morning was great, and I spent it walking through misty forests till I reached the village of Orsinay.

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Those of you that missed my interpretive backpack dance medley to Queen’s greatest hits really missed out.

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In Orsinay I stopped for an espresso and emded up sharing  path after with a pilgrim who, no joke, talked on her phone for 4 kilometers.  I double-timed it for a while to make some space between us and, after an unplanned detour, hit Marcais an hour or so later. It was roasting at this point, so I pulled into the village bar for a cold water,  where it turns out I was quite the attraction 🙂 The rest of the afternoon was 30 degrees and the way led past farm after farm. It was beautiful but I was close to running out of water and starting to feel woozy, and wasn’t really able to appreciate it like I should have. Seriously, I was having that internal monologue of “ok, can you really not do it or do you just not want to be uncomfortable. Are you feeling sick because you just need some water or have you had a dangerous amount of sun. ” That one.

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By the time I reached Le Chatelet I was done. Luckily the hotel bar was open and I quickly got tucked into a cold beer and a water:)
The pilgrim apartment is great! I have a whole bedroom, shower and wc to myself, and a fully stocked kitchen and dining room to share with the other pilgrim.  That’s right…telephone lady! Turns out her travelling companion was injured an had to stay in town and that’s why she was on the phone so long. Turns out she’s pretty awesome. ..a kindergarten teacher from Lille. She also told me that she passed the same fisherman on the canal that I had a chat with yesterday. ..she was all “oh! YOU’RE the American pilgrim that guy said passed by”. So cool.  Tomorrow will be much shorter, only 12 k or so, I’m taking it easy on my birthday,  and the village I’m staying in is famous for their grey rose wine:) Also, I’ll be able to appreciate the world around me more without having to race the sun.

Ainay le Chateau to St Amand Montrond : September 26th

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Today began at 6:30 with the fabulous hotel owners,  which included a big bowl of coffee.  That’s right,  a bowl. The people of this region are my of my tribe 🙂 I set off at sunrise and the path immediately went off the road onto winding paths over farmland direct to my first stop in Clarenton du Cher.

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Clarenton is a nice town wuth lots of pretty bridges, but what I really cared about was the bakery. I’m sorry but there it is 🙂 It sold coffee and this bread stick thing with figs and apricots in it that I now need to have in my life.  After a short break it was off the road again, down to the Canal du Berry which goes straight to St. Amand. Pro tip: you are seriously off roading on this part.  Make sure your shoes are up for it!

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Wet feet.

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Saint Amand is ok. You will need a map as this is the kind of town that built up quickly around a medieval center with minimal street planning 🙂 I wandered in hoping to hell I would find a hotel, turned the corner, and in front of my face was a hotel sign on a beautiful building with the pilgrim shell! They not only had a room, but with credentials pilgrims pay half price. Also, my room is full-on gorgeous. Rock and Roll. After a cold beer and checking in I headed off for tourist info hoping to be as lucky for the next few reservations.  The tourist info here all deserve medals…not only did they find me rooms at pilgrim- friendly places, they also introduced me as “une jeune fille”. Stars, all of them! I wandered about a bit before settlung in at an outdoor cafe at La Place du Marche, definitely the best thing in town. It’s full of restaurants and cafes and has a shop selling specialities from Berry, where I was introduced to something that makes life worth living. Namely, a puff pastry filled with potato ,creme fraische,  and chives. Good god.  I shall be eating those as often as humanly possible before crossing into Limousin in a few days.  Another thing of note, I was just getting ready for a shower when there was a knock on my door. A pilgrim on her way from Lourdes saw me in the lobby and wanted to say hello and see if I wanted to get something to eat.  That took some serious balls in the best possible way, hats off to her!  I had already eaten and needed to get my things in order,  but hopefully we can meet for breakfast tomorrow before we head off in opposite directions. Anyhoo, that’s all for today. Another fine one!

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Best hotel in town

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Lurcy-Levis to Ainay-le-Château: September 25th

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Today was amazing.  After a quick coffee I headed out on my way. The morning went quickly over gently rolling hills, and the path finally got off the regional road for a bit.  The way led past one medieval farm after another and tons of corn fields and apple trees.  More importantly,  my head was in the right place today.

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After about 10 k I hit Valigny,  where I had a coffee at the most unfriendly cafe ever. Seriously
I’m not one of those people who needs their asses kissed, but when you stop into a place that claims to be run by pilgrims, you expect they not look at you like you kill babies for fun in your spare time (I was informed later the pilgrim thing is just a marketing ploy). The town itself is pretty enough and after raiding the bakery I set off again.

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It was a scorcher again today so I was mainly focusing on speed walking from shade to shade and drinking enough water,  but I still managed to take in the countryside 🙂

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About two k outside of Ainay,  I was fanning myself under a tree by the roadside when a lady and her son pulled over and was all “it’s goddamn hot, get in!” So I did 🙂  She dropped me off at the pilgrim refuge, and, since it was closed at the moment, I headed down the hill to see the village.  Ainay is a full on, fortified medieval village and is really spectacular.  I absolutely recommend it.  I found a restaurant just next to the 15th century clock tower that set me up with an ice cold Alsatian beer, and after a walk around town,  I headed back to the refuge.

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The refuge is wonderful. It’s new so a lot of the guide books don’t list it, but stay here.  Just do it.  It costs 10 euro or whatever, and dinner costs 9 euro or whatever. It’s owned by the loveliest couple ever, from Brittany, who also were pilgrims.  You absolutely need credentials to stay and they only speak French and Spanish,  but my crap French was more than enough. Dinner is home cooked and eaten family style with them, and it’s the full 3 hour extravaganza of regional wine, food and cheeses you wish for. After stuffing myself completely,  it’s now time to sign off for today 🙂

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