Have you heard of the Camino de Santiago? It is a huge network of walks that link through several different countries all leading to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. My big sister, Emmy, lives in Port-Sainte-Foy, right on one of the routes through France. So, when Marc and I visited her, we decided to wander along a part of it.
This French section of the walk is called Chemin de St Jacques de Compostelle. We only explored a teeny part of the trail, but it was so gorgeous that I’d like to share it.
We’d arrived in the South of France after a cold wet week in the UK so it was like going back in time to earlier in the autumn! Port-Sainte-Foy is right next to the Dordogne river, so it is a gorgeous area full of grape vines, rolling hills and pretty farms. There were virtually no tourists around in December, but it was still lovely, so I highly recommend visiting the Dordogne at this time of year!
We started in Port-Sainte-Foy-et-Ponchapt, which is a pretty town on the river. It’s pretty lovely even in December. It must be stunning if you see it full of grapes!
If you walk up to the top of the hill there is a ruin of a windmill, le Moulin de la Feraille. So, I learned a new French word – moulin! I actually remembered it as Mulan (like the Disney cartoon) because they sound sort of the same to me.
From up on the hill we had a fantastic view down to the Dordogne. There are views back down to Port-Sainte-Foy-et-Ponchapt on one side of the river and Sainte-Foy-la-Grande on the opposite side.
Now this was one year ago before we even knew we’d be able to move to Canada, and before we’d even started walking along the North Downs Way. Looking back has made me notice that writing a blog seems to have helped us both lose a bit of podge! I weigh the same amount so I guess all this walking and cycling (and blogging) has given me extra muscle!
This area seemed to be more like autumn than winter, with plenty of leaves still on the trees, old man’s beard on the bushes, and even persimmons on the trees!
We spent the walk wandering from moulin to moulin! Spot the moulin in the photos. It is the same windmill from different angles as we wandered closer.
This is Le Moulin de la Rouquette. As most of these moulins don’t have their windmill sails, they sort of remind me of more Disney cartoons. I can totally imagine Madam Mim popping out from this one!
The next section of the walk was along a small road, that was pretty busy with tractors! We kept having to stand on the grass as tractors zoomed past. I guess they were all getting ready for winter as everyone (apart from us) seemed busy.
We made it to a pretty crossroad with a building by the side of the road that had filled their shuttered windows with fake flowers. It really brightened up this winters day!
Now we’d made it to the official Camino de Santiago I started to love the various sign posts! They have slightly clichéd (but nice) quotes, as well as plenty of painted shells pinned on to posts. I’d love to know if the shells continue all the way to Spain!? Someone must have had to collect a whole lot of shells, especially to decorate the route up in the mountains away from the sea!
The other thing I loved about this Camino de Santiago walk, was all the farm animals! We walked through quite a few spaces where horses were relaxing in their fields. We also met a friendly donkey, loads of chattering goats, geese and chickens. The cows remained mysterious. They’d follow us with their eyes, but they couldn’t be bothered to come closer to stare (and chatter) at us like the other animals did!
There were quite a few dogs in people’s gardens as well. It seemed like French dogs didn’t really approve of random hikers. They would start to shout (well, woof) at us as soon as we’d get close to their hooman’s land. Then, they’d keep barking until we’d made it waaaay further down the road! I can’t tell if they were pleased to see us and woofing greetings, or if they were swearing at us!
Anyway, it was a really pleasant walk, especially on the quiet sections along farm tracks, rather than roads. The French countryside is truly gorgeous.
My sister started the walk with us, but didn’t want to join us the whole way. She’d kindly offered to pick us up if we ended up too far away to walk back. We’d planned to loop back around and walk along the Dordogne back to her house; So we left the Camino de Santiago and headed back toward the river. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite get close enough to the river to walk along it. And the road back to Port-Sainte-Foy-et-Ponchapt had crazily fast drivers. So in the end my sister rescued us near a village called Coutou.
There are some really lovely walks along the Dordogne; But be warned, if you go off the main Camino de Santiago route, the French countryside isn’t really set up for random walkers. You should bring a map to plan your route. And then if that fails, make friends with my sister and persuade her to come and rescue you!!
This loop heading North from Sainte-Foy-la-Grande was about 18 km, and only took around 4 hours. There were a few hills, but nothing that would make you out of breath. It is a pleasant, fun hike. We did another walk in the other direction, so I’ll write about that too when I get the chance.