Just two days after my first trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat, I found myself back in the area again, this time to hike the first twenty-six or so kilometres of the Aqueduc du Gier. (I’m not sure which part of my brain thought that two lengthy hikes in almost as many days was a good idea, for my legs certainly weren’t of the same opinion, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if I did end up horrendously sunburnt.) Once upon a time, this eighty-odd kilometre long aqueduct transported water all the way from the Vallée du Gier to Fourvière. Although much of it has crumbled away in the intervening centuries, surviving elements of it remain to be seen today.
After waking to the dulcet tones of my alarm and munching my way through a bowl of oaty clusters, I set off for Lyon Perrache . . . only to run back to the flat moments later when I realised I’d forgotten to make a sandwich! A few minutes later, I was on my way again. While I could easily have taken the metro to Perrache, it’s only a forty minute walk across town – and a forty minute walk in the sunshine beats a ten minute ride on the metro any day of the week. Just as we were about to head to the platform, Austin realised he hadn’t bought his ticket – so after a kerfuffle with the ticket machines, we raced across the station and caught the train in the nick of time.
Around an hour later, we arrived in Saint-Chamond; the train from Lyon Perrache is much slower than that from Lyon Part-Dieu, as it’s a local train which stops everywhere. A short walk towards the Massif du Pilat took us to the source of the aqueduct, a small cascade at Moulin Combat; contrary to other aqueducts of its time, the source of this aqueduct was the river itself and not the river’s mountain source.
We then passed Notre Dame de l’Hermitage, a convent which is still inhabited today – and serves rather tasty food if the whiffs we caught from their kitchens are anything to go by! Our route followed, as closely as possible, the path the ancient aqueduct took all those years ago, and took us through a few small communes before leading us out of Saint-Chamond and up into the foothills of the Monts du Lyonnais. (We detoured via Église de Saint-Chamond on the way, to pick up Sinead, who caught a later train than us.)
Picking up the GR7, we crossed the motorway and soon found ourselves wandering along country lanes, edged with poppies and cornflowers. (Olivier quizzed us all thoroughly on our floral vocabulary and I now know a few more essential words. I particularly loved une oreille de souris, which would literally translate as a mouse’s ear, but is in fact a forget-me-not.)
Fields were filled with neat rows of fruit trees, soon-to-bear apricots, cherries and apples. (I’m pleased to report that my fruit tree vocabulary is up to scratch. Broadly speaking, adding the suffix ier to the fruit will give you the desired word, e.g. abricot (apricot), plus ier, results in abricotier (apricot tree). Nice and simple, for once.)
Somewhere above La Grand-Croix – a name that befuddles me, because surely according to the Laws of Gendered Nouns it should be La Grande-Croix, but I digress – we stopped on the steps of a small, seemingly unused chapel for our picnic. As is customary, everyone brings a sandwich and then a little something to share – so out came the chorizo, goat’s cheese, strawberries and chocolate wafers. Food consumed (and some packed away for later), we continued on through woodland and orchards towards Chagnon. When we joined the road, we could see across the valley to Genilac, a hilltop village that we would pass through later on.
Shortly after, we took a little detour through some fields to see the remains of the former influx basin of a siphon. Transferring the water from open conduits into pipes meant lengthy detours into long valleys could be avoided, and the water flow could be redirected accordingly. (Aqueduct engineering is not my forte; needless to say I had never heard of the term influx basin before conducting research for the very purpose of writing this post.)
Rejoining the road, we passed through Leymieux, a village which is worthy of note solely for the facility pictured below.
While it would be terribly triste to live in a village without a boulangerie, the novelty of a baguette vending machine would probably never wear off on me. As we were making our way down the road into Chagnon, a sign promising toilets and clean drinking water caught our eyes and prompted us to take a much-needed break (and finish off the remaining strawberries and chocolate wafers). Fuelled up, we then wandered through the village to see the famous Pierre Romaine de Chagnon. Hadrian recognised the importance of keeping the water supply free of dirt, and the stone carving forbade citizens from working the land surrounding the aqueduct.
We then took a short detour to La Cave du Curé, a section of the aqueduct which is partially located underground but remains open to curious visitors and geocachers. Since the tunnel is rather narrow and low-ceilinged, we left our bags at the entrance and ventured in in pairs, guided by torchlight. It was cool to go inside the aqueduct, but also somewhat claustrophobic. From the path nearby, we had a beautiful aerial view of Chagnon.
After our little underground adventure, we continued on to Genilac, where we paused for a short rest before heading for Rive-de-Gier. Luckily for us, we arrived just in time to catch the next train to Lyon Perrache.
- It’s advisable to carry tick/ insect repellent on hikes in the Monts du Lyonnais, especially if you plan to walk through areas of dense vegetation. Signs will warn you when there is an elevated risk of ticks; after you have passed through, check for ticks on your skin and clothing.
- If you’re in need of water, keep your eyes peeled for cemeteries. According to Olivier, the expert on the region, these always have a supply of clean drinking water.