11: St Julien-Molin-Molette to Les Sétoux

From Loire to Haute Loire in the fir forests




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 is a gradual climb from the Department of Loire to the Department of Haute-Loire, where the route comes to the end of the stage. It is a region covered with forests, where deciduous trees are very present at the start of the stage, replaced higher up by conifers. Above all, do not imagine that the tree species currently present have been present here since the dawn of time. You only see huge fir forests today, but in the past, these mountains were covered with pines, which were used in the industries of St Etienne. When agriculture ceases to be present, pine, birch and hornbeam settle spontaneously, because they are colonizing species. None of this for firs, spruces and beeches. They must be planted, and in the shade, because they hardly grow isolated in clearings. They are shade species, who like to live close together. These trees take advantage of the cover to deposit their seeds and develop. And when the pine forest dies, because they do not have a long existence, the beeches, spruces and firs take over. So, from there, everything is strategy and chance, if the man does not intervene. So here, woodcutters planted white fir trees, Douglas firs, spruces and beeches. But it is the white firs and sometimes the Douglas firs that have taken over. For how much longer?

Legend has it that the Druids of Roman Gaul made the Taillard forest a gathering place. Then, people have constantly drawn on its resources over time. There is a bit of Taillard in all the old constructions of the Monts du Pilat. The name of the forest could be a deformation of fayard, the local name for beech. The forest was first a beech forest before becoming a fir forest. You may still be on the lookout for druids as you climb into this green lung, into the fir forests, where the tall white firs and Douglas firs reach dizzying heights.

In this often demanding, but magnificent stage, you will also have the opportunity to walk near the structures of an old railway line, which once linked St Etienne to Annonay, a line which has died a beautiful death since the middle of the last century.

Difficulté du parcours: Slope variations of the day (+914 meters /-369 meters) are marked for a stage of 25 kilometers. It is a difficult stage, because there are two small passes to cross, and on these climbs, the slopes are most often close to 15%. The first climb is that of the Banchet Pass, followed by a fairly steep descent on the pebbles towards Bourg-Argental. Beyond Bourg-Argental, GR path climbs in stages, most often in the forests, to the Tracol Pass, then slopes down a little towards Les Sétoux, end of the stage, in Haute-Loire.

In the day’s stage, the pathways take the ascendancy slightly on the paved roads:

  • Paved roads: 10.9 km
  • Dirt roads: 13.1 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: Up to Banchet Pass.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: difficult slopes to leave St Julien-Molin-Molette; then descent, sometimes demanding.


GR path leaves St Julien-Molin-Molette via the Calvary climb. For a start, it’s very steep, more than 15% slope.
Quickly, you are above the village.
Here, the route runs along the wall of the Calvary.
The Calvary is made up of three artificial caves and contains the fourteen stations of a Stations of the Cross, arranged in an arc around the main cave. There are also the mysteries of the Rosary hanging on the surrounding wall, as well as a large number of statues on the lawn. This Calvary, very mysterious it must be said, was developed during the last century.
Further up, GR path leaves the little angels at the top of the Calvary and runs quickly into nature.
The pathway, sometimes rocky, climbs steeply in the meadows, which here resemble the steppe more. When we walked there, not an animal in these empty spaces, with sometimes here and there a maple, an oak or an ash that cannot hide a slope of more than 15%.
We will say so. It is not the charm that bathes this hill, along the brambles and rosehips. However, the slope decreases but nevertheless remains between 10% and 15%. Further up, the landscape opens up a little, seems less forbidding.
MBut, this is only an illusion, because the brambles along the way are again very present.
Further up, in these rather soulless meadows, a small house gives a little touch to the edge of the road. And here, the pathway climbs a little more, still just as steep.
Soon, you’ll see the top of the hill on the horizon. Many pilgrims will be happy to get there. Pilgrims are not always entitled to the exceptional. There are also landscapes where banality is the rule. But, when the space is empty and nothing happens there, it takes even longer, when the slope is present. Yet here, the landscape becomes more attractive.
LThen, the pathway flattens towards the few houses of the hamlet of La Balme. And still these beautiful stone houses so characteristic of the Haute Loire adorn these small lost hamlets.
Nearby, GR path heads to Lampony hamlet.
In the village, the fountain is beautiful, but the water hardly flows there. It has almost become a habit in the region.
Shortly after, a small road descends beyond the village, crosses the Troncon stream.
The paved road is soon replaced by a dirt road under ash trees and chestnut trees. Here, chestnut trees, probably several hundred years old, compete with the ash trees on the side of the road. However, the region is not a region rich in such trees, like the neighboring Ardèche. The older the chestnut trees, the more their majesty increases when they are grafted.
Then, the trees disappear and the stones pile up on the track, which will join D503 road, the departmental road which passes through the valley and heads towards Bourg-Argental.
You arrive now at the Banchet Pass, 678 meters above sea level.

Here, the gaze then plunges to Bourg-Argental, on the other side of the pass, at the bottom of a valley covered with dense forests.

It is necessary to count two kilometers of descent to reach the bottom of the valley, on slopes between 10% and 15%, on an often very rocky pathway. Here, it is no longer the pebbles of the Isère. They are sometimes almost scree, small angular and brittle pebbles of granite or shale, eroded by the centuries.
Vegetation is mixed in this forest. Most hardwoods are present there, maples, oaks, hornbeams and ashes. The chestnut trees have almost disappeared.
And at the bottom of the forest, the conifers take over the hardwoods and compete in elegance with spruces, pines, and even large silver firs, which are rarely encountered on the Camino de Compostela.

Section 2: Passage to Bourg-Argental, the big borough of the valley.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: dslope always very marked in the descent towards Bourg-Argental; then it’s the holidays in the bottom of the valley.


Further down, at the edge of the forest, the evergreens are almost gone, and soon only hornbeams and tall ash trees remain.
Even down, the pathway comes out of the woods.
The pathway then descends through meadows. In front of you stands the mountain with the immense forest of Tallard, on the side of which climbs GR path. At the bottom of the valley appears Bourg-Argental.
At the exit of the meadows, a small road reaches the departmental road in the valley.
Further ahead, GR path takes a few steps on the departmental road.
But quickly, it crosses the road and descends towards the large Bourg-Argental campsite by the river. From here, there are a good two kilometers to reach the city center.
Here, GR path crosses the Déôme River through lush vegetation. It is a fairly large river which has its source at Tracol Pass, where the track goes, which descends the valley towards Annonay, to empty into the Ardèche River, then further into the Rhône River.
A pathway will alternate here between clearings and undergrowth where hardwoods reign. You see poplars, hornbeams, ashes, but especially maples which will gain in importance in the following stages. The oaks are minimal in the region, and the chestnut trees are almost absent here.
Here, the walk is invigorating, peaceful, along the river.
Further on, a bridge leads to part of the borough.
Yet, GR path does not cross the river. It takes wooden stairs to reach another pathway that runs just above.
Here, in this welcoming undergrowth, the ash and maple trees use their imagination to create an alchemy of shade and sun around them. They compete in magnificence to know who will have the highest foliage. You will only be little thumbs under these giants.
The pathway then runs along a high wall. No, this is not a fortress. It is only a retaining wall of the old railway line. Further ahead, the pathway leaves the undergrowth.
A road then arrives in view of the old station. Paradoxically, this district is still called La Gare. (Th Station). But there has been no station since the middle of the last century. The great thinkers of the French Parisian administration razed nearly half of the lines of the French network during this period. Naively, all they needed was one train to go from Paris to Marseille, another for Bordeaux, and that must have satisfied all the French people. And yet there passed here, not a small line, as in many regions of central France where the tracks go. The train connected two large towns, St Etienne (500,000 inhabitants in the urban area) and Annonay (50,000 inhabitants in the urban area). Imagine today the trip by public transport to go from Bourg-Argental to St Etienne. It’s like going to the moon. Better to go on foot or on horseback. We understand the misery and discontent of the underprivileged regions of France, where there is only the car to get around.
The road then descends towards the borough.

There are still some remnants of old factories that have all disappeared from a region that once had quite a flourishing industry, especially in the field of textiles.

The road then crosses the Déôme River again to enter the suburbs of Bourg-Argental.
You’ll arrive fairly quickly in the center of the borough (3,000 inhabitants). that takes its name from Argental, from a river that crosses it.
Of the church of St André, all that remains of the old is the Romanesque portal from the XIIth century.
On leaving the suburbs, the road crosses the Argental brook hidden in the tall grass, which empties into the Déôme River nearby.

In the past, GR path followed the road, a fairly busy road, even if it is not the secondary road in the valley. Now, it runs into the grass along the Déôme River.

Section 3: In the undergrowth above Bourg-Argental.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: the slopes are often quite steep to join the old railway line near Badol; then trouble-free journey on the old railway line.

After briefly skirting the Déôme River, the pathway crosses over to the other side of the river, which cascades here.
The first part of the climb is on the road between hardwood undergrowth and clearings.
Further up, near the small Mounes hamlet, where you don’t go, GR path leaves the paved road.
A slightly stony pathway will climb for more than a kilometer in the deciduous undergrowth, with few conifers. The slope is variable, but sometimes steep, between 10% and 15%.
The pathway sometimes runs through deep undergrowth, sometimes at the edge of clearings. Here you meet many chestnut trees, thin and weak. Oaks are rare, and maples compete for space with beech and ash. Here, the hornbeams are numerous and are large trees, and no longer hornbeam shoots, as often on the way.

The slope is not always steep, the pathway often climbing in stages.

However, there is still a short passage at more than 15% incline.
Further up, the slope calms down and the pathway crosses an area of tall grass for a long time. You can still see a tunnel, a remnant of the railway line. It was not a TGV that passed through here in the last century, the slope being still steep enough to descend from here to Bourg-Argental. You also imagine that the train had to make a loop to go down to Bourg-Argental, much lower.
Further afield, the pathway joins a small paved road, probably largely built on the old train track at the level of the peasant hamlet of Badol.
GR path will follow the road for nearly two kilometers. All around are only dense forests.
Here, stunted maples and large ash trees dominate the other species. Do you want proof that you are in fact walking the railroad track? Works of art are still there, like relics of a dead past, which has little chance of resuscitating one day.
Further on, the road soon gets to Board hamlet.

Section 4: Take yourself for the train.


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

From here, the road climbs until you leave the line with an average gradient of 4%. This must have represented the average inclination of the line from St Sauveur-en-Rue, higher up, to Bourg-Argental. Is this the reason why people eliminated a train which perhaps no longer met modern standards? In addition, the train was steam. They could have modernized all this, the works of art being already present. They didn’t. Shame!
The road still crosses the deciduous woods, but the conifers are now more present.
Further on, a tunnel here emerges from oblivion at the edge of the road and you’ll soon walk over the Poulette viaduct, a structure from the end of the XIXth century, as old as the train.
Here, the gaze is lost on the conifers of the great forest of Tallard.
From one work of art to another the road passes here, under the trees. The chestnut trees are again present in number.
Further on, the road arrives at the station of St-Sauveur-en-Rue. St Sauveur-en-Rue, everyone gets off! There is still the ticket office here in a ghost station. At the time, you had to walk to reach the village, located on the other side of the valley. Have the people here kept this sad station just to be envious again?
GR path does not go to the village and continues on what is called here the Via Fluvia, in fact a cycle route, a greenway, born in 2013, with the aim of connecting the Loire River to the Rhône River via the Tracol Pass, using old railway lines, very numerous in the past in the Pilat Montain.
The leafy cohort always accompanies the walker. There are few oaks, but maples sometimes take over here.
Further on, at the exit of the forest, the road passes at a place called Le Sapet. Below, on the other side of the valley, spread out the red roofs of St Sauveur-en-Rue.
You’ll soon arrive at the end of your journey on the old railway line and its works of art.

Section 5: In the Taillard forest.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: challenging course, most often with steep slopes, but never above 20% inclination.

A few more minutes of respite on the old railway line to cross one of the many nameless tributaries that descend from the forest towards the Déôme River below. Further ahead, GR path leaves the axis, and at the same time the cycle route.
A small road leaves at a right angle and begins to climb steeply towards the forest to the place called La Chaussée, a little above.
Further up, GR path releases the tar for a very stony pathway.
The slope is steep, more than 15%, in the meadows, along the deciduous hedge until the entrance to the forest. Here, it is again limestone and the pebbles which roll under the foot, make the effort even more sustained.
The slopes will never exceed 20%, but the slope remains steep in the forest. The pebbles do not decrease either. And soon the deciduous trees will disappear in favor of the conifers. You are at nearly 900 meters, an altitude that the hardwoods do not appreciate. Here and there you can see a few spruces, a few pines, but the Taillard forest is the favorite area of the tall silver fir trees.
The walk here is quite exceptional under the tall, stick-straight trees, with their heavy branches that sometimes lie down to the ground.
Further up, the wide pathway in the forest soon arrives, after nearly half a kilometer of effort in the shelter of Aiguebelle, at an altitude of 966 meters. Near the shelter, there is a picnic spot. You still took more than 400 meters of elevation gain in the legs beyond Bourg-Argental. You will still have to climb up to 1250 meters in altitude to reach the roof of the stage.

But this shelter is not just for dining. Some very brave pilgrims who stop anywhere on the way will sometimes spend the night there sheltered from the rain, but perhaps not from the wild animals. A nice place to take a short break, right?

Beyond the shelter, the slope is slightly less tough, between 10% and 15% for almost a kilometer and a half. 10%, 15%, 20%, these are very similar figures, but your legs and your breath always make the difference.
The forest is magnificent here, let’s say it. Fortunately, the pathway has become less stony and the ground is tinged with brown, as you see in all coniferous forests. Here, the fir tree is exploited at all costs and the long barrels are arranged en masse along the track.
Further up, the slope fades and the pathway almost flattens for a few hundred meters. Moss creeps along the way. It must be humid around here often. You will not have time, unfortunately, to check if there are chanterelles.
In this wood where the magic operates, there are only silver fir trees, white fir trees. They have stifled the desires of other species. They are like beauty queens who compete in beauty and elegance, who raise their heads to try to capture a few rays of light. They thrive when they have room, but stuck in the forest they are sometimes just a few empty barrels, with a little tuft of greenery on the top..
Further on, on a short section, the pathway picks up a slope, at more than 15%.

You’ll now arrive at 1090 meters above sea level, having climbed only about 150 meters over 2.8 kilometers beyind Aiguebelle shelter. Reasonable, right? Here you are 900 meters away to the Tracol Pass.

Section 6: A long bump between Tracol Pass and the Sétoux, for fun.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: challenging course, most often with steep slopes, but never above 20% inclination.

At this point of the route, you are a little above Tracol Pass, and the pathway descends towards the pass.

The forest is almost divine around here, especially when the weather is nice like today.

The pathway quickly comes to a fork where it finds another hiking track, GR7 path, which comes back to it from the pass and continues together with GR65 path for a few hundred meters. Watch out here! GR65 path does not go to the pass. It is above all, just above, that you have to take the right track. GR7 path goes left towards the Cévennes. GR65 path, the Compostela track, goes to the right in the direction of Montfaucon. You can’t get lost, the sign indicating the Sétoux gîte, la Riboule.
You naively think that having arrived at the level of a pass, the pathway should slope down immediately. Mistake! Here, the pathway continues to climb along the fir trees, taking another 100 meters in altitude. Sometimes on the pathway where large stones outcrop, at nearly 15% slope.
Further up, the slope decreases and the pathway almost flattens or slightly smoothens uphill.
At a place called Roc du Tronc, you are almost at the end of the climb.
Shortly after, the pathway leaves the woods and begins the descent to Les Sétoux.
The descent is not long, but the slope is steep, between 10% and 15%. You may find with pleasure also the meadows and the countryside.
Further down, GR path reaches the top of the village on the tar.
Les Sétoux is almost an obligatory stop, as the accommodations are a bare minimum in the region. In this small stone village, there is a large gîte and you can eat at the village inn.

On the village square, at the foot of the chapel, a stele is erected here in memory of an American bomber crew operating during the war in 1944. An engine on fire, the aircraft crashed near the hamlet. The crew (10 men) parachuted out and found themselves unscathed, with the exception of a gunner whose parachute did not open. The commemoration monument was inaugurated in 1995 in the presence of some crew members. The square bears the name of the missing sergeant.



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Next stage : Stage 12: From  Les Sétoux to La Papeterie
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