This year I decided, in my annual trip to Europe, to include the ‘Voie des Plan tagenets’ from Mont Saint-Michel to Bordeaux. This route is conveniently sign posted in both directions, to Mont Saint-Michel and in the opposite direction to Santiago.
In general, waymarking was very good but I used the Rando publications guide for maps, accommodation, and information on towns and cities.
I began in Avranches, near to Mont Saint-Michel (MSM) and well-known as one of the break-through towns during the Normandy landings. This event is well remembered in the town where there is a commemorative area, complete with tank, to the American forces. My hotel, opposite, was appropriately called Hotel Patton. The town also hosts the remaining manuscripts from MSM in an impressive high-tech museum.
Wanting to walk to MSM, I took the bus to Pontaubault and from there walked the 21k to MSM, crossing the extensive mud flats and areas of samphire, as well as dodging the grazing sheep. These flats are renowned as having the second highest tide in the world but, not knowing this, I decided to take a short cut, heading directly to the Abbey rather than follow the coastal path. However, to discourage this, a fence had been constructed between the flats and the cause way. Luckily I was walking at low tide so was able to gain the causeway and join the throngs heading towards the Abbey.
Fortunately, I had booked at the Maison du Pelerin, conveniently placed as it is the last building before the steps continue up to the Abbey. There are about five single rooms, with sheets provided, for 20€ as well as a fullyequipped kitchen and lounge room. The Abbey is, of course, impressive and a bonus was the fact that the ticket collectors and guides were in dispute with management so entry and a guided tour were both free!
My second day after leaving MSM was at the town of Montours where I had booked at the gite municipal. It is worth mentioning here that booking is not only allowed but advisable, given that this route is infrequently travelled and accommodation is usually provided by the mairie so you also need to be aware of their opening hours. At Montours, the mairie insisted on driving me to the gite even though it was only about 500m away. The gite had three separate rooms, all with new beds, and an extremely well-equipped kitchen… including a fridge stocked with various drinks and much-appreciated beer.
The next day to Fougeres included some welcome stretches through the forest as the weather was unseasonally hot and close to 35 degrees by early afternoon. Accommodation here was provided by Sisters in a large religious complex, which allocated a separate flat to pilgrims. Once again, I had a large double bed to myself as well as a kitchen and lounge. Walking into Fougeres I noticed banners and crowds awaiting the Tour de France which was due the next day.
One of the hazards of lesstravelled routes is contending with back roads that lead by farms. The next day, two very aggressive dogs came barking and snarling towards me and it was only by some aggressive actions on my part that the dogs didn’t have an early snack. Later on I had arranged to stay with a family who open their home to pilgrims, to provide accommodation and food to those passing by. Once again a beautiful bedroom and dinner with the family, including a few bottles of local cider drunk out of traditional tea cups. That evening they told me they would be leaving for work early the next day, so would leave breakfast out for me and to let myself out!
The route to La Guerche was a pleasant change from what had been rather a lot of road walking, as it was an old railway line and shaded by trees along the whole length. One of the most frustrating but ultimately rewarding days was at La Rouadière where I was told that the local bar had the key to the gite, but it was closed, with a note referring me to the mairie. Looking lost in the very small town, I approached a man outside his house and asked where the mairie was. He very obligingly invited me in for a much-needed glass of water and rang the mairie for me. I was taken to the gite, a triple-storied mansion, once again all to myself. There must have been five large separate bedrooms, with new ones being discovered every time I opened another door, as well as the usual kitchen and lounge.
A few days later my latest gadget, a Samsung Galaxy Note 8, proved invaluable as, not unusually, I took a wrong turn and became hopelessly lost. Out came the Note and with GPS I found out exactly where I was, about 5kms off the way. At Le Lion D’Angers, a tranquil little town located on the Oudon river, I had to go to the local florist’s shop to pick up the key to the gite which was located at the end of a row of houses along the river. This stay produced an interesting incident: at about 11pm, I could hear someone making a serious effort to break in. I got up to find a reasonably well-dressed man standing in the doorway. Before I had time to speak, he turned around and walked out. Presumably he knew that the gite was seldom used and a good place to find a free bed! Angers was the first sizeable town since MSM and I decided to stay two nights in the Ibis hotel. These two days were spent exploring the ancient seat of the Plantagenets, including the cathedral, half-timbered houses and the magnificent castle with its impressive walls.
The following day produced a rainy afternoon, the first in several weeks, so the hotel in Brissac-Quince was a welcome sight and again I had to book to ensure the hotel would be open in the afternoon. It is common in France in small towns for hotels to close in the afternoon, another reason to call ahead even for hotels. The very impressive chateau, located across the road, was a highlight, even with the French-speaking guide who gave me a sheet with a synopsis of the tour.
The church in Le Puy Notre Dame contains a much revered relic; a few very small sections said to be from the Virgin Mary’s belt. Airvault, and the area around it, is a favourite retirement area for British expats and the gite I stayed in was run by such a couple. I mentioned that Parthenay, my next town, was further than I wanted to walk so the owner offered to pick me up after I had walked halfway then take me back to the halfway point the next day, a much-appreciated offer taken up with alacrity! Parthenay had its regular food market which seemed to stretch throughout the streets of the town, with stalls selling flowers, pot plants, food, bread, farm produce, or cheap clothing.
The following days were very hot with little opportunity to buy a cool drink along the way until reaching Champdeniers Saint Denis where, luckily, the lady running the gite was waiting for me. This was a private house where the adjoining upstairs was all mine. The lady kindly drove me to the supermarket out of town to stock up on supplies as, although the town had several pharmacies, hairdressers, real estate agents etc, there was nowhere to buy food and the bar, next door to the gite, was closed.
One problem with guide books is that they can sometimes be vague with distances. I was heading towards a town where a chambres d’hôtes was said to be. When I arrived, after a long hot day, I was told it was another 5k away and, to compound the frustration, when I arrived at the hamlet of five houses, I asked where it was and was told they were away. I then asked if they could telephone but was told that they had no phone and told me to walk another 10k. As the chambres d’hôtes was next door, I decided to see for myself and found the owners at home, who kindly showed me to my spacious room – their neighbours, they said, had some animosity towards them. Later that evening I shared their evening meal and homemade liqueur and wine ensuring a sound sleep.
My second last gite (see photo above) was most unusual as it was located in a cemetery in a suburb of Bordeaux. Presumably it would have been the care taker’s house but now hosts pilgrims, in what must be one of the quietest gites, with the rear windows having a view over the graves, a sombre place to fin ish my chemin.
This chemin was one of the most enjoyable I have embarked upon. There was a good mix between large cities and small towns and the range of accommodation was one of the most varied and went from municipal gites, chambres d’hotes and hotels. One thing that makes this chemin unique is that MSM is, of itself, a destination for pilgrims as well as a starting point for those heading towards Santiago de Compostela.