Stage 02: From St Privat d’Allier to Saugues on GR65 path

Under the Eiffel Bridge flows Allier River

by Didier Hemann and Milena della Piazza

Allier Gorges are the natural border between dark basaltic Devès in the east and gray granite Margeride in the west. Today we’ll be walking in Haut-Allier, a transition country between the mountains of Velay and Margeride. Allier River is a wild stream that offers a stunning mix of magnificent sceneries of breath-taking cliffs overhanging a deep valley.

GR65 path heads southwest from St Privat d’Allier and crosses Allier basin. The whole stage is in Haute-Loire. Nature is pretty rugged here. The stage may seem short, about twenty kilometres long. It is nevertheless challenging.

Between Loire and Allier, on the slopes of Mount Devès, volcanoes have spread their lava flows modifying the river beds. They have modelled the landscape, sometimes to create deep cuts and very narrow valley bottoms, as at Monistrol-d’Allier. Allier River carved in the granite of the Margeride, the oldest rocks of the Massif Central. The complex meanders of the Haut-Allier are the result of the efforts made by the river to bypass the obstacles caused by the Devès volcanic flows coming down to block the river bed.

Thick coniferous and hardwood forests have covered the less exposed slopes of the valleys. Pine-trees and common oaks are common, sometimes willows and alders near rivers. Allier River is, in some places, almost inaccessible. On the other side of the valleys, meadows or moors of heath and broom have carpeted the basalt cliffs and the basements, forming balconies suspended over the river, allowing the men to settle down. The villages, small and isolated, hesitate between the matte basalt and the shiny granite. The railway also marks the valley. The train Paris-Marseille, called the Cévenol in 1955, crosses the Haute-Loire by the gorges of Allier River.

Before taking the road, a word of geography. Rivers are integral part of the landscape on your way? As you will follow or cross many of them, let’s get into some details. From this region of confrontation between the granite of the Massif Central and the basalt flows that the volcanoes vomited, great rivers of France were born here. It is curious to note that very large rivers of France have their sources in a region of small mountains. Loire, Lot, Allier, Truyère, all these rivers are born south of Velay and in the Cevennes Lozère, near Mende. Allier River, near which you’ll be walking today, has its source in Moure de la Gardille, then flows north, through Brioude, Issoire, Clermont-Ferrand, Moulins and Vichy, to jump into the Loire near Nevers. It should also be noted that this region is the watershed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In fact, only Ardèche River flows in the Mediterranean basin. Lot, Tarn, Allier Rivers, but also smaller rivers like Bès or Truyère have their source in Lozère. Loire River is born a little further east.

The stage is short, yet demanding, with large slope variations (+678 meters/-606 meters) for a short track. The journey starts with a slight climb to Rochegude village. Below you can look out over the impressive fault of Haut-Allier deep valley. From Rochegude, the track slopes steeply down on rocks and roots to Monistrol, where it crosses Allier River. While going down the path to Monistrol, you cannot help seeing in front of you Escluzels overhanging the cliff. And it’s true! Some argue that the short climb to get there is one of the most challenging efforts of Camino de Santiago. Beyond Escluzels, GR65 path goes on uphill to reach Montaure. Fairly soon, it flattens to enter Gevaudan, the “country of mysteries”, a Margeride region, long haunted by the terrible “Beast of Gevaudan”.

Passages on paved road or hiking trails are broadly similar:

Paved road: 10.0 km
Pathways: 9.2 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