First day on the Camino: Le Puy-en-Velay to Saint-Privat-d’Allier

As much as I want to write about the adversity of getting from Lyon to Le Puy yesterday, it wasn’t nearly as horrible as it seemed at the time. I was pretty cranky from a lack of sleep and food. Looking back today, it seems kind of trivial. Short version: two different trains were canceled out from under me — including one I had already boarded — and the last leg of the trip ended up being on a bus instead. Still, I arrived in Le Puy only about 90 minutes later than anticipated.

Our Lady watches over Le Puy.

Today, on the other hand, has been a real treat, in spite of iffy weather.

I arrived at the cathedral when it was still quiet.

After what turned out to be too little breakfast at the former seminary where I spent last night, I headed to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption in Le Puy for Mass at 7 am, which was followed by a spiritual talk from a priest and a benediction of the departing pilgrims.

Our Lady of the Assumption, high over the altar.

Finally, very dramatically, a set of doors opened up in the floor of the nave of the church, allowing the pilgrims to descend directly from the statue of St. James near the altar to the beginning of the Camino from Le Puy.

Pilgrims’ first steps after the benediction.

I stuck around a while longer to pick up some spiritual items the cathedral offered, to request a pilgrim’s credential and get its first stamp, and to light a candle for the mother of a good friend. Finally, I took part in a prayer exchange, where I left an anonymous prayer intention for another pilgrim departing tomorrow or in a few days, and I took one that someone else left recently.

Onto the Camino directly from the steps of the cathedral.

After about a half-hour of walking along sidewalks and paved streets to get out of Le Puy, the trail passed through alternating pasture and forest, passing through several villages and hamlets.

La vache!

After about four hours of walking, hunger was really catching up with me. I thought back and realized I hadn’t really had what I would call a proper meal since Monday. I was in a village called Montbonnet, and although there was a snack bar where I could have gotten a sandwich, I passed a hotel-restaurant that was open and decided to give it a try.

Artisanal beer from the region around Le Puy.

I didn’t mess around. I ordered a prix fixe lunch that consisted of a charcuterie plate to start and what had to have been one of the biggest pieces of veal I’ve ever been served. Everything was supposedly locally sourced and made in house.

Not a nut nor a raisin to be found on this charcuterie plate.
Braised veal with a mushroom sauce.

With renewed energy, I pressed on toward Saint-Privat-d”Alliers, a common stopping point for pilgrims on their first night out from Le Puy.

Walking through forests.

For years, I’ve had a vision of starting off from the cathedral in Le Puy in the rain. It rained all afternoon and evening yesterday, and the forecast was for an 80% chance of rain this morning. Well, in spite of the threatening clouds, there was no rain when I left Le Puy, nor was there any rain for most of the walk. However, with about an hour left to go, the skies opened up, and by the time I reached Saint-Privat. it was a downpour.

Shared accommodations. When I checked in, the other five were still out in the rain somewhere.

The first place I stopped for a room was full, but they kindly suggested another place nearby. It’s the same price, but I think it’s nicer.

My route today, approximately 14.8 miles: