Tag Archives: #france

Beautiful Languedoc

Carcassonne. On the photos it looks almost unreal, like a Playmobil castle. Yet when you walk towards its gates, it towers over you. An age-old behemoth, steeped in history. Once you get inside, it is even more humbling how vast the space (and bustling village) sheltered behind its ancient walls is. Apparently, it took almost 1’000 years to build the entire fortress. Imagine that…

It’s my second time visiting this historical gem. This time around, I also learned some fascinating things about the region. I had no idea, for example, that the Languedoc region has its own language: Occitan. All Occitan speakers use French as their official and cultural language, But Occitan dialects are still used for everyday purposes. And it’s an interesting dialect, curiously sounding very much as if it has both Spanish and French elements.

I also learned about the amazing culinary specialties of the Aude part of Languedoc, where Carcassonne is located…

There is Hypocras, a tasty aperitif which is made with wine, sugar, herbes, and honey. Deeeliciiious.

Le Cassoulet. Not a food in my opinion but a bomb of calories and energy!! It is a typical mountain region dish with the purpose of re-energizing hard-working outdoorsmen and women. Made of white beans, sausage, and other meats which are all cooked together for hours in a glazed terracotta casserole pot until they simply melt in your mouth… seemingly becoming more solid again on the way to your stomach… where they do re-energize you yet also sit like a stone. Fantastic!

Then, there are other things like duck thighs; crêpes with goat cheese, herbs, and honey; and a creme made from chestnuts.

Overall, this region (and France in general) is going to be my undoing. Everything (and I really mean everything) everywhere is so unbelievably delicious. And I am discovering more every day. Whenever I go into a restaurant, I want to order the entire food menu. Let’s not even start talking about wines. By the time I leave Montpellier, I’ll be a balloon. Good thing I’m walking.

Thankfully, after a huge home-made Cassoulet, exploring Carcassonne turned out to be a whole day of walking as well. I checked out all the cozy corners… climbed around on city walls and fortifications… whilst imagining the rich history of this place… the many feet who have tread on these cobblestones before me… the many people who have lived and died here. Just incredible.

Forging My Own Trail

Looking at the horizon, this is the general direction I’m heading towards at the moment. Through the Rhone valley and then the Massif de la Chartreuse to Grenoble. By now, the trails have already led me away from water again. So I must be in the area of the Massif de la Chartreuse. Can’t wait for the next lake or river (the river Drome).

It’s been cloudy these last 2 days, off and on. And, this morning, I just managed to take shelter underneath a huge oak tree before a rain storm hit. But, overall, it is still hot enough so that a swim in a cold lake will feel like heaven…

The longer I walk, the more I think I won’t follow the exact E4 trail anymore. Well, sometimes I will, sometimes I won’t… As soon as I get close to the Mediterranean Sea (which will be in about 1-2 weeks), I will forge my own trail and rather navigate by instinct and by where I want to be… instead of following that one exact route. There are so many trails, after all…

Hot Coffee After a Sleepless Night

Chanaz was an idyllic little place to come through. I stayed a few hours, sat at the river and just soaked in the beautiful scenery.

It was also a stop I sorely needed after another cold and humid night in my little tent. Wild camping can be quite stressful. Ticks are everywhere, so are millions of flies and mosquitoes. I want to thank the inventor of the mosquito net!!! Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get any sleep at all. Then there are all the noises in the forest. Seemingly romantic, but not when you are exhausted from a day of walking and really need to sleep and then there is yet another deer crashing through the underbrush just as you are finally falling asleep. I’d love to just go to designated camp sites. But so far, I’ve never seen any.

Clumsy Adventures

I’m in France! 🇫🇷

Great! Bonjour! But, oh boy, where have all the trail signs gone?

In hindsight, I realize, even when it comes to marking their hiking trails, the Swiss are meticulous. There is a sign at every fork of the road. You literally have to be braindead to get lost. And, it’s not just the signs that make life easier. Little restaurants are everywhere. Apart from painful feet, hiking on the Jura Crest Trail was insanely comfortable.

Now, I’m on another planet. Trail signs seem to be almost in the endangered species list around here… and, most of the time, I just hope for the best…

Today, I made it to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. From there, I ambitiously hoped to walk five hours to Les Plans d’Hotonnes.

However, my confusion already began in Bellegarde. No signs anywhere. After 1 hour of searching and asking people, finally the village’s little tourist office opened and I discovered I had to follow the Rue de l’Industrie to find the Grand Randonnee trail GR9.

Off I went, into the scorching heat, passing quite a few cats who disagreed with any form of movement.

At some point, I saw a couple of red and white stickers marking my way… and then… nothing. I followed the road for a while and all of a sudden ended up in a village far away from my trail. Then, I followed my nose… along roads and fields with no shade… until I realized the trails I was taking were leading me back towards Bellegarde. I tried a couple of those expensive hiking apps I had installed. Useless. Finally, I had enough reception for wireless. Et voila, good old Google maps told me I was only 30 walking minutes away from the village of Ochiaz.

I burst out laughing, because it turned out I had spent 5 hours hiking in circles. By car, Ochiaz is only 10 min away from Bellegarde.

According to my research, the GR9 is supposed to cut straight through this picturesque little village. Yet, once more, the trail signs were either well hidden or non-existent. As I was standing by the side of the road, scratching my head, a lady in a silver Mercedes stopped next to me and asked if I was lost. Oui, I definitely was.

We chatted a bit and it turned out her family has an auberge (guest house) for hikers. I wonder how many geographically handicapped idiots she picks up at the side of the road each week.

I spontaneously decided to call it a day. Once at the auberge, I was surprised by an ice-cold pool with a view (my feet loved it 🥶). But, after dipping in for just a few minutes, I got distracted by a large number of insects who had come to drink from the pool and were in the process of drowning themselves. I spent the next half hour rescuing about 50 of them out of the water.

A couple hours later, the auberge owner cooked a cheese fondue dinner 🧀 (I looove cheese fondue!!!). Seeing Mont Blanc turn first golden, then orange, then pink on the horizon made it even more delicious.

All things considered, my clumsiness seems to have led me to the right place today, after all. And France isn’t all that bad so far 😉.

Byebye Switzerland, Hello France

Here a little map (it’s not exact), to recap and get an idea of how far I’ve hiked so far, where I am now, and where I’m headed next:
Yesterday, I walked until shortly before Sainte Cergue, then took a train to Geneva, where I plan to rest a couple days and have quite a few cold beers with my old friend Jonathan.

This finishes the Swiss part of my long distance hike.
The Jura Crest Trail was something to behold. Every forest, every meadow, every little village, every town more beautiful than the last.

I started my hike in Brugg (Canton Aargau) on July 6th, 2020.
Since then, it’s been 22 days, but only 15 hiking days
(7 days rest in between).
So far, only counting walking kilometers, it’s been approximately 200 km.
The Jura Crest Trail went up and down like a yoyo…
The highest point for me was at 1’600 m above sea level.

After Geneva, I’ll cross the border into France and continue onwards through the Rhone valley and the Vercours mountains…