Shortly after my family visited me, I ventured out to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, one of six regional natural parks in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes. At this time of year, the park is a vast expanse of lush green meadows, trails bordered by bright yellow gorse and fields and woodland filled with the animal kingdom’s newest arrivals. Crêt de la Perdrix, the park’s highest peak, commands stellar views of the surrounding valleys and rolling hills – and, most importantly, is entirely do-able as a day trip from Lyon.
Having decided to hike alone, I plumped for the 08:24 from Lyon Part-Dieu; this way, there were plenty of daylight hours ahead in case of mishaps. At the moment, I never seem to be able to take a train, or a bus, without a stranger striking up a conversation with me. Sometimes I’d much rather sleep, think or watch the world go by, and not engage in a conversation, but every now and then I have a nice little chit-chat and come away with a book recommendation or a new perspective on things. I arrived into Saint-Chamond just shy of 09:00, and promptly got lost after taking the wrong exit from the station – a cracking start to a twenty-odd kilometre hike. After meandering down a couple of streets and trying to cross-reference them with my map, I headed back to the station, this time taking the other exit. It was all uphill from there – both literally and figuratively.
After following the D36 for a couple of kilometres, I arrived in Saint-Martin-en-Coailleux, at the edge of the park (as indicated by a rather chunky green line on my map). The GR7 leads all the way to the summit of Crêt de la Perdrix and is the most direct route from Saint-Chamond, though there are opportunities to deviate from this path should you fancy an alternative route. It winds slowly up into the hills, with only a moderate incline. Lush, rolling pastures and gently sloping hills dotted with woodland resulted in a landscape not dissimilar to my beloved Yorkshire Dales.
Along the path, there were piles of felled trees; numbers were sprayed on the trunks, reaching well into the six hundreds.
Sections of the trail were lined with bright yellow gorse; others were bordered by coarse clumps of grass – the sort that has a spiky tip, and isn’t all that pleasant to brush past.
Roughly two-thirds of the way to the summit, I passed through Croix du Planil, where there are stunning views down the length of the valley to the east and west. A chain of peaks stretched to the horizon, and the valley floor held a smattering of hamlets.
Crossing the road and continuing along the path, I soon began to gain height as the path looped up through the Bois du Bœuf. (Can you imagine a Beef Wood existing in England? The French take their love of food to the next level.) It was a toasty 25°C or so out in the open, so I was rather relieved to escape the heat and retreat into the shade for the steeper part of the climb. Every now and again, I came across still-frozen streams covering rocks on the trail; curiously, water flowed freely beneath the thin sheet of ice.
For most of the ascent, I barely saw a soul; then, a sharp bend in the path led me through a logging site with a handful of workers and, beyond that, a group of hikers picnicking in the sunshine. Shortly after, I reached La Jasserie, a small gite offering local dishes and lodgings, located some hundred metres below the summit of Crêt de la Perdrix. Cows grazed in a nearby field, and a couple of donkeys were ambling across the car park.
With the summit in sight, I carried on – but not before a local had come over to double-check I knew which path to take. (Is it just me or are people kinder to you when you’re alone?) The final stretch was fairly easy-going – I imagine there are lots of people who park their cars at La Jasserie and just walk the final hundred metres to the summit – and to the edges of the path were swathes of heather, which hadn’t yet burst into flower.
At the summit, the Touring Club de France had installed a table d’orientation, indicating the other summits and landmarks in the vicinity. The actual height of Crêt de la Perdrix seems to be disputable, with the Touring Club de France indicating 1,434m while the IGN map states 1,430m. Other prominent peaks lay a couple of kilometres to the east, namely Crêt de Botte (1391m) and Crêt de l’Œillon (1364m). On a clear day, you can see as far as the Volcans d’Auvergne, over to the west.
It was cold and windy at the top, so after stopping for a few photos I retraced my steps to La Jasserie. I soon spotted an adorable, and very fluffy, cat, which promptly took a liking to me and curled up beside me while I ate my lunch. (I wouldn’t mind owning a cat like this, but Laurence, for some reason unbeknownst to me, prefers cats that look like they’ve run headfirst into a wall.)
Towards 14:00, I began to make my way back down to Saint-Chamond. The descent was (perhaps unsurprisingly) quicker, though I still stopped to take photos and admire the many butterflies which fluttered across my path. As I passed through the last stretch of woodland, I even spotted a deer amongst the trees – though it soon darted off upon hearing me approach! I arrived in Saint-Chamond just in time to catch the 16:29 back to Lyon Part-Dieu – a relief, as my legs were feeling rather weary and I just wanted to be reunited with my shower as soon as possible.
- This route is covered by the IGN 2933 ET Massif du Pilat (Saint Étienne, Saint-Chamond, PNR du Pilat).
- As a rough guide, the ascent took me 3h30 and the descent 2h30, though depending on your level of fitness you may take less or more time. Aim for an early start, as this way you have the whole day ahead of you to complete the hike and plenty of time for the inevitable photo-snapping.
- Expect to pay €9.60 for a return ticket if you have a railcard (e.g. Carte Jeune, TER Illico), or €19.20 if you don’t.