08 : Nonières to St Agrève

St Agrève, known as “The balcony of the Cévennes”






We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.

For this stage, here is the link:


It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places in France without an Internet connection. Therefore, you’ll find soon a book on Amazon that deals with this course.

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

Today, it’s a very long climb, most often in the forest, on the large plateau of St Agrève, rising to more than 1,000 meters above sea level, a rural plateau of medium mountains, with also hills. Chestnut trees rarely grow up there, and amidst beeches and spruces cows, horses and sheep graze, on the edge of forest clearings and meadows. Here, winter is quite harsh, it is said, when the “burle” blows, a cold wind.

The plateau of Saint-Agrève is a granite base that has been raised and eroded over the centuries. It belongs to the Massif Central, like its close partner, the Velay. This whole region is made of granite, but also of derived, transformed rocks, such as gneisses or schists. And since Hephaestus also played marbles here, you can also see magmatic basalts there. Opposite St Agrève, the Ardèche mountain looms on the horizon, a land of small lakes and extinct volcanoes, bordering the Haute-Loire. These nipple structures are called “sucs” (see stage 1 of the Via Podiensis; from Puy-en-Velay to St Privat d’Allier). Gerbier de Jonc Moutan, where the source of the Loire is located, you will see it appear on the horizon line throughout the stage. The other celebrity of the region is Mount Mézenc. You will not walk through these regions on the route, but many hikers go there, especially since these wonders of nature are reachable by car. Today, you are gradually approaching the end of the Ardèche, at St Agrève, also called “balcon des Cévennes”, because the Ardèche mountains on the horizon are in fact the barrier of the Cévennes, behind the ridge. But to reach the balcony, let’s be honest, the climb is sometimes quite demanding.

Here again, Via Adresca competes with GR420 track. The latter separates from the Via Adresca from the start, joins Le Chelylard. There, it goes to visit the Mountain of Ardèche. But a variant, the GR420A slopes up towards St Agrève. If you like exercise you can also follow this track to St Agrève, a much longer and more difficult track. For your part, you will stay on the Via Adresca.

Difficulty of the course: But, let’s be frank, yours is already enough leg-braking. Slope variations (+677 meters/-316 meters) are very pronounced for such a short stage. The climb above Nonières is very tough until you reach the forest of St Lager, where the route takes a little rest. This is followed by ups and downs in the woods, then a continuous climb towards Pouzat. Along this route, the slopes often exceed 10-15%. Beyond Pouzat, it’s almost holidays on the approach to the plateau of St Agrève. Finally, the holidays, it is a way of saying, because demanding slopes sometimes appear, as much uphill as downhill.


In this stage, you will walk as much on paved roads as on pathways:

  • Paved roads: 8.2 km
  • Dirt roads: 9.0 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

Section 1: Steep climb above Nonières.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: tough climb, often more than 15% up to the plateau of St Lager; then leg-breaking course in the forest.

Pay attention here, as GR420 track passes through the village. But, that is not your route today. Via Adresca, still marked with the shell, comes out on top of Nonières, and a pathway quickly rises in the meadows.
The pathway climbs steeply above the village to join the departmental road D21 which passes well above the village. In places, the slope easily exceeds 15%, in a pathway so burnt that it looks like steppe.
But, the climb is far from over, at road level. After crossing the road, the pathway climbs in the meadows, on a slope that will be said to be highly tough. Here the difficulty is also that the pathway may not be marked in the hay. It is therefore necessary to aim for the pylon under the forest. The pathway runs by. When you walk on the Camino de Santiago, you sometimes adopt the tactics of the Sioux, namely to follow the trodden grass or the footprints on the tracks.
Further up, you have to aim for the second pylon. Below, Nonières will soon disappear from view.
Soon, the slope becomes gentler and the pathway joins a small paved road in the Serre (Forest) de St Lager, on a small high plateau. Here, you are at an altitude of about 900 meters. You took almost 250 meters of elevation from Nonières, to tell you that the sweat is justified here.
The road then dozes, oscillates a little, between meadows and forest towards the few houses of St Lager.
Shortly after, a pathway takes over, which descends in a breakneck way, with oscillations, in the Serre de St Lager, a mixed forest of pines and spruces, with hardwoods, especially oaks, beeches and maples. The chestnut trees seem to have melted here, like snow in the sun.

On the way, the gaze rests on the other side of the valley. You see a succession of small winding roads, which lead to dead ends, a few houses lost in a clearing in the middle of the forests. Up there, near the wind turbines, you’ll walk there later, near Pouzat. You’ve been seeing these wind turbines for two days! You’ll end up touching them closely.

Further afield, the pathway still dawdles a little between forest and clearings to join the departmental D21, the second axis of the day, a road which connects Nonières to St Agrève.

Section 2: Steady uphill through the forest.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: continuous climb to Pouzat, with sometimes sections at more than 15%; at the Baraques, you’ll reach the highest point of the stage, at 1125 meters.

Via Adresca will climb continuously to Pouzat, often with slopes between 10% and 15%, rarely more, but also with flat areas. From here, it is then necessary to follow the road which climbs in the spruces, the pines and the large Douglas firs, pressed against each other, straight like soldiers in a parade. The forest is dense on an almost red ground.
A little up, Via Adresca leaves the road for a pathway that slopes up into the Forest of Blache. The pathway first crosses an area where the conifers have only a tuft of greenery at the top of their emaciated trunks, so much the forest no longer sees the light.
But, forests change, you never know how and why. Further up, the forest is again very beautiful, pleasant, relaxing, in the middle of the conifers.
Sometimes the pathway narrows a little on the dark brown ground. Pines and spruces lead the dance and hardwoods have little right to the chapter here.
Further up, the pathway smoothens a while and the landscape opens up again on wooded hills that go further and further. You then notice, on the horizon, for the first time, the Gerbier de Jonc, and the Mézenc, the Ardèche volcanoes, enthroned between the Velay of the Haute Loire and the Vivarais of the Ardèche. You will hardly take our eyes off them until St Agrève. Here, you even see cherry trees, wild cherry trees in fact, which must have arrived here by chance winds.
Further on, the pathway follows the ridge. The walk is still as pleasant in the conifers and the broom, even if in general, the pathway always climbs, but here you can see less of the slope.

Soon Le Pouzat appears, under the wind turbines, which you saw more than two days ago. You have to realize that the Haut Vivarais, as the crow flies, seems to be just one big plateau. But in reality, it is heavily interspersed with dales, where you only slope down and then up.

Further on, the pathway heads to a chapel and a cemetery on a small hill. The history of Ardèche is closely linked to past quarrels between Catholics and Protestants. Legends run about many chapels like this, with miraculous water sources capable of curing all ailments.
Via Adresca then joins the departmental D21 in the middle of the village, an axis that it will follow for almost a kilometer. Traffic is ridiculous here. It is not the axis that goes towards the Ardèche volcanoes, nor the axis that goes from Valence to Le Puy-en-Velay.
The road climbs up to the Baraques, the highest point of the stage, at more than 1,100 meters. There, Via Adresca leaves the D21 road which it will find back in St Agrève. It starts on a small road, the Chemin des Ambalès.
Here, the road flattens, then runs slightly downhill, in the middle of spruces, white firs and Douglas firs, all species that prefer fairly high altitudes. Chestnut trees do not like heights. A few hundred meters further, a pathway takes over, direction Les Boudouilles.

Behind the broom and the meadows, the wind turbines hum in the wind. Do these monuments of human history really spoil the landscape? In some sites, they are even sometimes elegant, like real birds that cross the sky with their blades. But, you will not go so far as to touch them, as imagined.

Section 3: Passing among the Ardèche Protestants.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without difficulty, most often in fairly light descent.

Behind the wind turbines, the pathway soon runs in front of a beautiful mansion of cut stones, then sinks back into the forest.
Here, the forest is always beautiful, the track pleasant on a ground that is almost sand, gray or ocher, in the middle of the spruces, with sometimes a small clearing..
Occasionally Douglas firs, probably planted around the middle of the last century as further along the course, and tall beeches form hedges of honor. You feel like a dwarf among these giants.
Further on, the pathway emerges into a bucolic clearing. Have the little dots that Gerbier de Jonc and Mont Mézenc make on the horizon really grown since a while ago? Not really, right?
Shortly after, the pathway gets to the end of the small plateau, runs near a place called Le Riou Frey, where the small stream of Aygueneyre flows, which you can barely guess, and climbs on a hill.
Behind the hill, the pathway joins a small road which heads towards the village of Beauvert.
Further ahead, the road arrives in St Jean-Roure, also known as Beauvert. It is a small village made of stone houses.
The sober temple speaks for a Protestant village, as there is no church here. Ardèche experienced, as in France moreover, the return to favor of Protestants, long humiliated, at the end of the XXth century. Therefore, all the temples are young. It is the first village which seems above all Protestant. How many are still attached to this confession today, when we know that today only 5% of Catholics still go to Mass?
Beyond Beauvert, Via Adresca merges with the GR420A track, so you will also see the red and white signs of the GR. A fairly bony road leaves the village, runs near the cemetery, which is most often away from the temple among Protestants, and goes into the beautiful countryside towards the forest.
At the edge of the forest, the dirt road reappears, the chestnut trees too.

Section 4 : Ups and downs between meadows and undergrowth.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: demanding course with some marked slopes.

The pathway then descends, wide, into a beautiful deciduous forest. The chestnut trees are majestic, mostly grafted, and the conifers tend to be discreet.
Further down, under tall chestnut and ash trees, the pathway crosses the stone bridge of Le Truchet over the Aygueneyre stream, where the water barely flows. Can’t we say enough about the charm of these small stone constructions thrown on the streams?
Beyond the bridge, a wide pathway slopes up on the other side of the dale, a pathway that turns into a tarred road for a while.
In Ardèche, the forests are never alike. The soil conditions the species that grow there. Here, it’s back to pines and spruces. As soon as a small pathway allows you to get out of a paved axis, you will almost certainly go there. Which is the case here.
A very stony pathway then climbs briefly in the undergrowth to find the same road above.
Further on, the road descends into a small dale to cross the Riou La Selle stream which dozes in the wild grass.
Beyond the stream, a pathway, sometimes dirt, sometimes grass, slopes up almost half a kilometer up the side of the hill.
You are still above 1,000 meters above sea level and the conifers dominate the landscape.
Sloping down the hill, Via Adresca finds the tar on a road that heads towards the few houses in the hamlet of La Roche.

On the side of the road stands a magnificent carved granite house. In this type of construction, called “à tenar”, the walls, with a width of more than one meter, are made up of two walls filled with all comers. To connect the two walls, masons use tenars, large stones 1.30 m long, which hold the two walls together. Magical!

Further afield, Via Adresca takes a pathway that runs into the undergrowth, where pines and spruces still dominate. There are sometimes water retentions on the impermeable ocher ground. Here, Aubrac cows doze in the shade of the pines.
Here, from time to time, you’ll come across very beautiful carved stone houses, in a nature where it is good to dawdle. In the region, the bedrock is granitic. It is in fact the continuation of the Velay, with granite and transformed rocks always present near the granite massifs, such as gneisses or schists.

Section 5: In St Agrève, on the plateau.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

Further on, the pathway heads to Rilhac where a very beautiful charming hotel stands under the trees. From here, no more pathways. You are getting closer to the borough and this will be the road to St Agrève.
Here, the road flattens in the meadows.

A little further, the road arrives at a crossroads, close to St Agrève. Here, you find the departmental D21 road.

D21 road soon gets to La Croix de Ribes, the suburb of St Agrève.
Shortly after, you’ll reach a crossroads where the departmental D533 road arrives, which you followed a few days ago and which goes from Valence to Le Puy-en-Velay. Here you enter the borough.
A small park, and the road arrives near the hospital center.
St Agrève (2,500 inhabitants) is the most important borough in the Vivarais. Saint-Agrève began its existence on Mont Chiniac, just above the town, in the time of the Gauls, then the Romans. At the beginning of the VIIth century, a bishop from Le Puy, named Agrève, evangelized the plateau, which later gave rise to Saint-Agrève. In the XVIth century, the Vivrais was on fire between Protestants and Catholics. The city was largely razed by the Catholics. Then, the city gradually developed below Mont Chiniac, what it is today.

Social life is concentrated on the crossroads and on the street, which crosses the whole city.

Today, Catholics and Protestants coexist. Both buildings are of recent construction. The church dates from the end of the XIXth century. The temple, very austere like all Protestant temples in general, is from the beginning of the XIXth century. Calvin did not like frills, signs of the decadence of Catholicism.
You have to climb Mont Chiniac, where the city was born. An XIth century castle occupied the site. Not much remains of it, a section of wall connecting the remains of two towers. From here, you have an exceptional circular view of the plateau, the valleys, the Velay and Vivarais mountains, and sometimes even the Alps, depending on the light. A planisphere describes the main volcanoes on the ridge line. St Agrève is often called the “Balcony of the Cévennes”. Admittedly, the bulk of the Cévennes battalion is further south, but the ridge line is close to the upper limit, the Hautes Cévennes.

Here, you face the Gerbier de Jonc, which you saw for a good part of the day. This famous volcano, where the Loire is born, is a classified site, the second most visited site in the Ardèche, after the Ardèche gorges. But, you can also see, among others, Mont Mézenc, many small volcanoes of the Puys chain, including the Dèvès, where the track runs beyond Le Puy-en-Velay. It is also here, in the middle of this chain, that the line of the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic passes.

Below the ramparts, the Ville Haute descends towards the center. It is no longer the city of the Middle Ages, but it is nonetheless very beautiful and charming in its carved stone houses.
It was in St Agrève that the immense actor and director, Louis Jouvet, born in 1887, in Crozon, in Finistère, spent his early childhood, before making his brilliant career in Paris. His father, an engineer, who led the construction of the local railways, had a serious accident here which caused his death.

The Velay Express line still exists, managed by an association. It leaves from here towards the Haute-Loire. Trains do not run every day, but mostly on Sundays.