After the success of my first solo hike, I decided that another trip to the Parc Naturel Régional du Pilat was in order. With a string of sunny days on the forecast, I picked one, traced a new route onto my map in blue felt tip and set off for Lyon Part-Dieu. Although there were no huge peaks on the cards this time, the Massif du Pilat didn’t disappoint, for viewpoints were numerous and trails virtually devoid of hikers.
Leaving the Gare de Saint-Chamond behind, I took the D36 towards the Zone Industrielle du Coin, which bore more resemblance to what my family call “the sheds” (out-of-town shops such as Homebase and B&Q) than to production plants. While the GR7 was an enjoyable trail, I fancied a change this time; following the tarmacked D36 for a couple of kilometres meant I could pick up a different path. The Tour du Parc snakes across the park, taking in some of the Massif du Pilat’s most picturesque vistas and villages, and would be a multi-day hike if undertaken in its entirety.
Luckily, it wasn’t long before I passed the Bois Pourat and turned onto a single track road leading into the park. Poppies bloomed by the roadside; cicadas buzzed away in the undergrowth. A little further on, having passed a few houses and farm outbuildings, I came across a large, somewhat murky pond, the inhabitants of which were making an absolute racket. Having initially assumed there was a flock of angry geese, I was somewhat surprised to discover the noise was coming from a colony of frogs!
Continuing along the path, I skirted the edge of an apple orchard and soon left the small hamlet of Bayolle (and its many ribbiting amphibians) behind. Set against the clear blue skies, the green pastures, hillsides covered in swathes of conifers and fields edged with gorse and wildflowers looked just like the patches of English countryside I’d left behind. I felt both at home and far from it.
Before long, I reached a crossroads. I went straight ahead towards La Terrasse-sur-Dorlay; a right turn would take you to Chavanol where you can join the GR7 towards Crêt de la Perdrix.
Sandwiched in a valley and stretching along the river running through it, La Terrasse-sur-Dorlay was a quaint little village, complete with stone cottages and beautifully engraved street signs.
After crossing the Dorlay, I passed a series of cascades and a John Deere, which was strimming the long grass by the roadside. (I was quite a fan of tractors when I was little and would happily reel off their names as we drove past them on country lanes.) Several paths converged when I reached L’Orme, and the signposting was a little befuddling to say the least! (I may or may not have wandered up the driveway to someone’s house in my confusion.) I had originally planned to deviate slightly from the Tour du Parc at this point, but decided that for the sake of convenience I’d stick to the route that was better signposted.
Lunchtime came and went, but I carried on towards Croix du Mazet. It was swelteringly hot, and the thought of sitting out in the sun to eat my lunch was rather unappetising. (It was around this time that I realised my sandwich was inconveniently sitting in the fridge back at my flat. So much for preparing everything the night before.) At one point, the path crossed a small stream – though recent rainfall appeared to have swelled the stream and it was gushing all over the place.
Since it was midweek, I hadn’t seen many people on the trail – a couple of dog walkers, the odd lone hiker like myself – though as I neared Montieux, I passed a cheerful group of a dozen or so hikers (cue lots of bonjours) heading in the direction from which I had come. At this point in the route, the Tour du Parc circled the Crêt de Montieux, passed a few fields of cows (and even deer) and offered some beautiful views of the patchwork of fields which stretched over the undulating hills towards the horizon. (At least I forgot my sandwich and not my glasses, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate these views quite as well!)
At Croix du Mazet, I headed towards Crêt de Montivert, eventually picking up the Sentier Jean-Jacques Rousseau near Croix du Montvieux; there was a more direct route towards my chosen lunchtime spot, but trails are always preferable to roads, and the trail here afforded me some shade – a luxury in this part of the park. The D62, while not overly busy, does attract some lorries which like to tank it along the straight sections of road, so take care and remember to walk facing the oncoming traffic, terrifying as this may seem. Luckily, this stretch only lasts a couple of hundred metres. After leaving the road, it’s a straightforward uphill climb on the edge of the Bois de la Grand-Combe. (Another spot which defies the Laws of Gendered Nouns.)
When the path forked, I veered left towards La Grange Rouet – home to a little auberge and a terrain for pétanque. From here, I took the Sentier Béatrice de Roussillon towards Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez. I was only too pleased to escape the heat – it was around 24°C or so that day – and pass through some woodland. It was here that I encountered a trio who were walking up to Col de Pavezin without a map and hadn’t a clue whether they were headed in the right direction or not. While the French trails are fairly well marked, it’s always advisable to carry a map just in case!
After stopping to photograph some inquisitive horses in a field bordering the trail, I carried on to Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez, now a mere kilometre or so away.
When I arrived, I discovered that by pure chance I had plotted a route that passed through one of the Plus Beaux Villages de France. Pérouges is a worthy holder of that title too, so I decided to go for a little wander before collapsing on a bench to devour my sandwich-less picnic. Before long, a retiree had joined me on my bench and was chatting away about the region; he reckoned it was another ten kilometres or so to Rive-de-Gier, so with that in mind I didn’t stop for too long.
Back on the Tour du Parc, I passed fields of wildflowers and goats en route to Seyoux. Somehow, I missed the path which went down towards the reservoir (where it would perhaps have been cooler) and ended up on a higher path – though I didn’t miss out on the views!
Shortly after passing the Barrage de Couzon (Couzon Dam), I reached Richardon, on the outskirts of Rive-de-Gier – by this point, I was somewhat relieved that the end was in sight. It was all downhill from here, and I arrived at the station in the nick of time to catch the next train to Lyon Part-Dieu. Later, I totted up the distance – I should really have done this beforehand, but had thought the route would be roughly 20km so hadn’t thought anything of it. As it turned out, I’d walked 31km – and my legs were feeling every metre of it!
- Be prepared for little shade if you hike this route on a sunny day, and take at least three litres of water with you.
- If you fancy a shorter walk, the return trip from Rive-de-Gier to Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez would work out at around twenty kilometres and would give you time to explore the village a little more as well.