Geneva to Le Puy-en-Velay

Unlike the other pilgrim roads through France which have followed more or less fixed itineraries for several hundreds of years, the Via Gebennensis is a “designer route,” set up in the mid 1990s by the Association Rhône-Alpes des Amis de Saint-Jacques as a continuation of the GR 65 to enable pilgrims coming from Switzerland, Germany and Central Europe to walk to Le Puy in order to continue on to Santiago from there.  It is therefore not a historic route but a bridging service between two points, a means of walking from Geneva to Le Puy-en-Velay on quiet, waymarked forest tracks, old lanes, footpaths and minor roads.

The Route. 350 km long.  Starts in Geneva and passes through innumerable very small hamlets, some villages large enough to have banks, post offices, restaurants and shops, but no place of any size between its starting and finishing points.

The Rhone-Alpes Amis have now opened their new route down the Rhone, connecting the Geneva-Le Puy route with Arles.  This enables people to (roughly) follow the Oberstrasse (and might reduce numbers on the GR65).

Please see here for a very useful map to the various route variations (click on “Agrandissement de la carte cliquant ICI” below the map to get a zoomable and downloadable PDF version).

Waymarking. Extremely thorough throughout with small blue and yellow Council of Europe stylised scallop shells. The beginnings of a “branch line” to connect with the Arles route has now been waymarked as well [see report from Peter Robins, above].

Terrain. Very strenuous, crossing the grain of the land a lot of the time, with constant climbs and descents.  A considerable part of the route passes through forest and woodland and much of it lies between 600 and 1000 m above sea level.

When to go. Any time between April and October. Avoid trying to stay in Côte-Saint-André during August as it is very busy for the Berlioz festival.

What to see.  St Pierre Cathedral in Geneva has a stained glass window of St James as a pilgrim.  A modern sculpture of St James in Beaumont.  Various churches and chapels along the way are all worth visiting.

Lyon has a St James trail (PDF leaflet in French here), taking in the:

  • Church of St Bonaventure (chapel of St Michael used to be dedicated to St James)
  • Church of St Nizier (St James depicted as pilgrim on the altar, also a chapel of St James that was the seat of the medieval Lyons Confraternity of St James used to stand nearby)
  • Cathedral of St John (depictions of pilgrims and St James)
  • Historical Museum of Lyons (contains a carving of a pilgrim attended by a hospitaler and a painting depicting looting of items by iconoclasts, including a statue of St James)
  • Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière (depiction of St James in nave, and scenes from his life and the camino in the crypt)
  • Church of St Paul (became the home of Lyon pilgrims after the original chapel of St James was destroyed in the French Revolution)

Accommodation and facilities.  Not normally a problem.  Hotels, chambres d’hôte and some gites d’étape. Campsites in several places along the route, where it is also often possible to hire a caravan for the night.  There is also a comprehensive network of accueils jacquaires set up by the Association Rhône-Alpes, individuals who, with 24 hours notice, will provide overnight accommodation, breakfast and an evening meal for pilgrims carrying a credencial (pilgrim record) and a sleeping bag.

Features of the route.  Rather solitary route where you are not likely to meet many other pilgrims at present though people living along the way report seeing at least one every day in the period April-September.

Guide books and maps.

  • Sentier vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via le Puy-en-Velay, Paris: FFRP, 2004. ISBN: 2-7514-0029-9. A new title in the Topoguide series in their usual format with route descriptions and 1:50,000 IGN maps on facing pages.  This is presented as a (backwards) extension of the GR65 and also contains information on accommodation and services, history, local architecture, flora and fauna etc. Buy from http://www.ffrandonnee.fr
  • Chemin de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle de Genève au Puy-en-Velay/Jakobsweg Genf-Le Puy-en-Velay, A5-size bilingual (French and German) guide to accommodation and other services (shops, restaurants, tourist offices etc.), churches and places to visit.  Published by the Association Rhône-Alpes (35 Rue Ste Hélène, 69002 Lyon) and revised annually, this guide includes additional information on accommodation available only to pilgrims with credenciales (as opposed to ordinary walkers).  Currently out of stock in our online shop but available from the Association Rhône-Alpes for €10 plus €3 postage (the Yellow Guide).
  • GPS co-ordinates available from the Association Rhône-Alpes (click on “Chargement du Fichier” underneath the guide) or from https://fr.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/user.do?id=3026075.
  • No route-finding guide available at present but the recent editions of the French IGN Top 100 (Green) series maps have the route traced on them.  Only 3 are needed: No.45 (Annecy-Lausanne), 51 (Lyon-Grenoble) and 50 (St-Etienne-Le Puy-en-Velay).
  • Please note that Via Gebennensis: Geneva to Le Puy-en-Velay (Pilgrim Guides to the Roads through Europe to Santiago de Compostela #4), Confraternity of St James, 2005, is discontinued and no longer available in our Shop.

Websites

Cyclists.  Much of the walkers route is unsuitable for bikes (of any kind) though with the above maps it is easy enough to find alternative routes on minor roads.

French.  Not impossible to follow this route if you speak no French at all but pilgrims with a level where they can use the telephone will find life much less complicated.

Thanks to Alison Raju, January 2005.

Supplementary (received July 2009 and translated from the original French):

A New Way to join Arles

After developing a route from Geneva to Le Puy -en- Velay (which later became GR65) and another from Cluny to Puy-en -Velay, the Rhône -Alpes Association of Friends of Saint- Jacques offers today a path from Gillonnay (situated on from the path Geneva to Le Puy ) to Arles. The route is 330 km long  and known as the Via Rhodana . It goes through St. Anthony’s Abbey and along the right bank of the Rhone to Beaucaire to join Arles along the left bank . Fully waymarked by European shells pointing towards Santiago, it is the subject of, like all other paths created by the Rhône -Alpes Association of Friends of Saint- Jacques , a guide – the Blue Guide – where pilgrims can find all information on directions and accommodation, especially pilgrim-friendly places.

Route guide available at Rhone-Alpes Amis for €10 plus €3 postage (the Blue Guide). GPS available (click on “Chargement du Fichier” underneath the guide) or from https://fr.wikiloc.com/wikiloc/user.do?id=3026075.

This new full itinerary joins the others initiated by the Association of PACA jacquaire from Montgenevre and Menton and thus links the Swiss and Italian borders in Arles, a gathering place since the Middle Ages for pilgrims bound for Santiago by ” Via Tolosana . ”

Updated July 2017.

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