Stage 01: From Puy-en-Velay to St Privat d’Allier on GR65 path

A good warm up

by Didier Heumann and Milena dalla Piazza

Many pilgrims and hikers start the way to Santiago in Puy-en-Velay. The first step is not a walk of health. We might wonder why novice walkers should have to face such a difficult task from the start, with a bag that is often too heavy or shoes that may not be suitable for walking? For the athlete, it’s an ordinary stage. But, are there really ordinary steps? The path changes every day, and every day is a new day.

Velay region was born from the erosion of complex volcanoes that arose in a granite basement. It’s a long story. The volcanoes exploded on a primitive granite base 1000 meters high, spilling lava on lava up to 2500 meters at least height. Then, when Vulcain and Hephaestus, it is according to, decided to stop their convulsionary vomiting, erosion settled. Every millennium left the landscape lower, less compact, with fragmented puys, abysses and precipices, gnawed by rivers. On this base of slag and volcanic ash, rivers and glaciers have slowly carried soft sediments, such as marl and lake limestone, smoothed the landscape to create vast plateaus. But, basalt is resistant like iron. Nature has little reason for its power. The small rounded hills of Puy have resisted the progressive erosion and the three famous rocks of the Puy, the rock Corneille, the rock Saint-Michel and the Mount Anis are still the visible needles of these antique volcanic chimneys. Agriculture, particularly livestock, is omnipresent. Fields and meadows of modest size succeed one another. This agricultural landscape leaves little space for the forest, although many small groves crisscross the area.

The plateau was formed by the piling up of successive large basaltic volcanic flows. Small volcanic hills sometimes rise above the plateau. They are called here “guards, covered with fertile ground with, at the top, pines or moors. Due to the presence of many volcanic craters, peat bogs have been created in Devès. The Lac de l’Oeuf, where the GR65 passes, is a striking example. Devès is dominated by agriculture and livestock. Crops are rarer. Farms are often marked by hedgerows of hazel and ash trees. The peasants have removed the troublesome blocks of stone to favor plowing, making small walls, which decorate the grove.

The villages are relatively compact, articulated around a church or a castle, organised around a place or a “couderc. Couderc, a public space, translates, as on the territory of the neighboring Margeride, a community tradition marked by the presence of a bread oven, wash houses, fountains, crafts to shoe the oxen. For the houses, the men chose the volcanic stone, the material available on the spot. The dark, dull stones give the villages an austere touch.

The route heads southwest out of Le Puy, from the Loire River Basin to the Allier River. We are on Le Devès Mountain plateau, in Velay region, where the edges are deeply cut by the River Loire in the east and by the Allier in the west. A few valleys carve horizontal lines in the landscape.The whole step is situated in Haute-Loire. We are already in landscapes typical of the Massif Central, with their little wooded mountains but also with gorges likely to be deep. Nature is pretty rugged here.

In this stage, slope variations are relatively large, but the slope is gradual and fairly bearable (+649 meters / -389 meters). Today we climb up to Le Devès Mountain. From up there, you can catch sight of Margeride, and still further Aubrac. Don’t you think it is a pretty good start on the Road to Santiago? A 23.5-km hike and a 600-meter ascent up to Le Devès Mountain. Then the slope, not always a smooth one, leads the walker down to St-Privat d’Allier.

Throughout this step, you walk more on pathways than on paved roads, which is not always the case on the Road to Santiago:

Paved road: 9.5 km
Pathways: 13.0 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

To help you recognize trees, refer to the Botanical Summary in the general introduction to the track (in the menu in French, to be developed in English).

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use. GPS watches, whether measuring barometric pressure or altimetry, are hardly more convincing than estimates based on mapped profiles.

There are very few sites on the Internet that can be used to estimate slopes from maps (up to 3). Since these programs are based on an approximation and an average around the desired point, there can be large variations from one software to another, depending on the state of the art or the variation between two points (for example a hole followed by a bump very close). Do you want an example? On the GR36 along the coast of Brittany, the altitude is rarely more than 50 meters above the sea. But the path only goes up and down. For a course of about twenty kilometres, a software will give you 800 meters of elevation gain, another 300 meters. Who says true? For having made the course several times, the legs say that the difference in altitude is closer to 800 meters! So how to proceed? We can rely on software, but, we must be careful, ignore slopes given, but only use altitudes. From there, it is only elementary mathematics to deduce the incline, considering the altitude and the distance travelled between two points whose altitude is known. It is this way of doing things that has been used in this site. Moreover, in retrospect, when one makes “in real” the course estimated on cartography, one notes that this way of doing is quite close to the truth of the ground. When one walks often, one has quite quickly the degree of slope in the eye.

We divided the course into sections to make it easier to follow. For each section, the maps give the route, the slopes found on the path and the state of the GR track. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live. For this stage, here is the link:


Click here to start the stage on the first section. Avant

If you are not interested in the course, and you only require details information about lodging, you get enter this item.


Click here for details of lodgings. Avant