Every year in September we try to get to the Auvergne for a short walking holiday. This is the mountainous Massif Central, formerly an area of significant volcanic activity and later gouged out by glaciers. Last year, we didn’t manage it but we did go to Corsica instead. We always stay at the village of Thiézac, in the Cère Valley north of Aurillac, as we did early this week.
Nothing stays the same for ever
Thiézac is a typical Cantal village, its houses grouped around its severe but appealing church. We first visited in the early 1990s and have returned many times. A bypass has replaced the main Aurillac-Saint-Flour axis that ploughed straight through the village then. In 1990 it had six hotels; now, it has two and a chambres d’hôtes.
La crise has also wrought changes in the past two years. The Bar des Amis, where la patronne gave us a tutorial about the local Gentian aperitifs, has closed. We had been looking forward to a kir à la châtaigne – white wine with chestnut liqueur, another local speciality. Another bar-cum-pizzeria in the main street had also closed.
However, an innovation that we hadn’t seen elsewhere in France had appeared outside the pharmacie – a 24/7 serve-yourself machine, like those that sell beverages or chocolate. Only innocuous substances were on offer, like Apaisyl bite and sting cream, which probably explains why it hadn’t been vandalised. At least the village store, which sells everything from apples to underwear, and the boulangerie were still there.
On top of the world
Our first walk, as always, was to Elancèze, the peak that overlooks the village. Thiézac is at around 800 metres and the peak is 1571, so we had quite a climb. We unwittingly made things more difficult for ourselves by taking a new route via le Pas de Roc that was both longer and steeper than our normal one. It passes beneath cliffs and through a natural cleft, overlooked by precarious rock formations.
We probably did about 15 kilometres but the effort expended was more than that sounds. AND after we got past the worst bit, I discovered that my rucksack was heavier than the SF’s. A hasty redistribution of the contents ensued, especially as Monday was our wedding anniversary and divorce was starting to be an option.
Screaming calf muscles and burning lungs aside, the view from the top is incomparable. The panoramic vista makes you feel as if you are on top of the world – in all senses of the term. You can’t see the curvature of the earth’s surface but you feel you should be able to. No photos can hope to do justice to the scenery. We had our picnic overlooking the improbably green Jordanne valley to the sound of cowbells. The distant peaks of le puy Mary and le puy Griou loomed to the north.
Nature at its best
We walked all day under cloudless blue skies. The beech and chestnut trees were already turning. We saw a brown adder basking on the path. I would have taken a photo of it but was more concerned about being bitten. Fortunately, it didn’t notice us and slithered off under a clump of heather. We also heard several stags bellowing in the forests that clothe the slopes, competing as the rutting season draws on. They make an extraordinary primeval sound, like some prehistoric monster.
As we went downhill towards Thiézac, several elderly people were blackberrying along the hedges. The folk there are friendly and always want to know where you’ve been. They talked mainly about the glorious weather but we also learnt that the farmers would soon be taking the cows in from the hillsides for the winter. They went up to the pastures in early June. The summer is very short in the Cantal.
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