Distance: 56.7 km
Time: 2 hours 56 minutes
Average speed: 19.3 kph
Ascent: 397 m
Total distance: 330.4 km
Total time: 20 hours 44 minutes
Le Puy-en-Velay turned out to be an ideal place for a rest day. On our first evening we searched for a restaurant which served the local Puy lentils, as we thought we should try them at source, and happened upon l’Ecu d’Or, which was excellent. After a lazy morning the following day, we did what we often do in an unfamiliar French town or city – we sought out the Petit Train and had an excellent hour’s tour around the city, taking in some of the striking volcanic landscape.
In the evening the late sun enhanced the view from the window of our apartment.
What we didn’t see, surprisingly enough, were any pilgrims setting off for Santiago di Compostela (Le Puy is one of the major starting points for the walk), nor did we see any of the “scallop shell” markers along the route which we have seen in other locations. Perhaps we weren’t looking hard enough – it was our rest day, after all.
We’re fairly sure we’ve never done two consecutive days where we climbed more than one thousand metres each day before. Certainly our legs felt very heavy and the rest day was most welcome. It does get easier from here onwards though, apparently.
Our first task this morning on leaving was to visit a cycle shop, to acquire some more electrolyte tablets for our bidons – essential on hot cycling days. This achieved, we set off out of the city, the traffic diminishing, onto the “Route des Gorges de la Loire”. It was the perfect start to a very enjoyable day. We had the odd cheery wave from a passing motorist, and a dog barked out of the window of a passing van – we will assume it was a bark of encouragement.
The Loire has already increased in size – as we entered the gorge it was about the same width as the River Wharfe as it passes through Ilkley; by the end of the day it was comparable to the Ouse downstream of York. The gorges were steep sided, lined with craggy metamorphic rocks.
Our route took us back and forth across the adolescent Loire, in blazing sunshine, with our average speed hovering in the early twenties. The tandem felt smooth and comfortable and the heaviness in our legs dissipated. We stopped briefly to take a picture of the Château Lavoute Polignac, the first large château we’ve seen on the Loire.
The gradient (for most of the morning) was almost imperceptibly downhill, and a joy to ride! Again, up above were several birds of prey, eagle-sized, I’m afraid I cannot be more precise. I think there was a red kite too. Neither of us has ever seen this quantity of eagles and other birds of prey before, it is mesmerising to watch them and one has to keep reminding oneself to concentrate on the road ahead.
As lunchtime approached we crossed to the western side of the river at Retournac and set off up the first part of a stiff climb – the only one of the day – which would last for several kilometres.
Early in the climb we arrived at the centre of Retournac and decided to take lunch. The restaurant we chose offered a full meal for lunch (starter, main, dessert and optional cheese). We weren’t making that mistake again (as we did once on our journey from Calais to Spain, leaving us too full to cycle in the afternoon), so we persuaded them to allow us one course each!
The rest of the climb, after lunch, was a long grind upwards over three kilometres or so, but once we had reached the top we were rewarded with a glorious smooth and shallow descent for the subsequent six kilometres. We interrupted our descent briefly at the mediaeval village of Beauzac.
Thereafter it was a simple descent to Bas-en-Basset. We had originally planned to carry on to Le Pertuiset today, but we had difficulty in finding accommodation, so we’ve re-jigged the next couple of days to take this into account. Our destination tomorrow is Feurs, sixty-seven kilometres away.