12: Les Sétoux to La Papeterie

From one forest to another




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.

The stage consists of two very distinct portions. The first part is a real gymkhana in the wooded hills of Haute-Loire. The second takes place on much less rugged terrain. But the whole route takes place from one forest to another, from a fir plantation to a deciduous forest where maples and ash trees reign here. Along the roads, paved or dirt, and in the pastures, you’ll see rows of ash and sycamore maples. They undeniably contribute to the beauty of the landscapes in the region. But, if they were planted, it is also for another reason. The foliage and the fruits of the ash trees allow at the end of the summer, when the grass runs out, to bring additional freshness to the livestock. Maple trees too. When they look like large baobabs, their shade protects livestock from the sun. But the leaves are also used as livestock bedding or even fodder in dry years. Obviously, the use of ash and maple trees for livestock has waned over the years, with corn replacing all of this. All that remains of these very decorative trees today is for carpentry and cabinetmaking. There are only very brief passages in the real countryside, which is only represented here by meadows. The crops are really thin, with rarely a little corn.

This whole region of Pilat that you’ll cross was still in the last century a real industrial region, where textiles were king. A story that began as early as François I. The milling was established in Pilat at the end of the XVIth century. The driving force behind all this activity is the cascading river. On old wheat or oil mills, water wheels are installed. At the start of the XIXth century, there were a thousand companies in the large region around St Etienne. Breeding silkworms came first, and later weaving. Sericulture, milling, weaving, ribbon making, all these activities have been the flagship of the region. Small steam train lines were developed everywhere. Today only the modest Velay tourist train remains throughout Pilat. Then the activities gradually declined. Towards the middle of the last century, the arrival of synthetic yarns and the loss of the French colonial markets caused the first massacre. The oil shocks at the end of the last century gave the final blow. There is nothing left of the textile industry in Pilat. Today, quality textiles are said to flourish again in France. Yes, maybe, but they won’t be running the mills again.

A remark must be made here about the signage for long-distance hiking trails (GR). When there is only one in the area, it’s easy. But when there are two, or even three, it’s a rat race. The red/white GR signs will rarely tell you which GR you are walking on. So, you can take unnecessary detours sometimes. There is only one solution, picking the right one at first, but it is not always easy. So here, you will have the great pleasure of getting to know GR430 track, a great source of confusion for pilgrims to Compostela.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+578 meters/-888 meters) are today marked, but the stage is quite long. Here, you walk down more than you go up, all day. The first part is difficult, with three successive bumps, each with more than 100 meters of elevation gain. And sometimes, but quite rarely, the pathways are stony, sometimes rocky in the extreme. In rainy weather here, it’s a real treat. This gymkhana lasts until you reach Montfaucon-en-Velay. Beyond Montfaucon, the undulations are light, and sometimes are not even noticeable when you have known the difficulties of the first part of the course.

Today, the dirt roads are clearly in advantage over the paved roads, which is rare on the French Way of St. James:

  • Paved roads: 4.7 km
  • Dirt roads: 20.7 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: Descent into the forest.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: light descent at first, then slopes of more than 15% over two good kilometers.

A wide dirt road leaves Les Sétoux, winding down through the meadows.
Sloping gently, it heads towards the forest. Here, the Montbéliarde cows have room to express themselves.
The pathway continues a little further along the forest…
…before returning with pleasure to the immense forest of Taillard, with its tall firs as slender as endless days.
For almost a kilometer, the wide pathway flattens into the forest. There are only fir trees here, ranged like soldiers in the moss.
Further down, the slope increases, to more than 10% decline.
The pathway soon leaves the forest and finds a fork where you can reach an arboretum nearby. GR path takes the direction of Lhermet. There are directions marked here by planes on the trees. These are the signs of the pilgrimage route that connects the points of impact of the bomber plane and the landing sites of the paratroopers in danger. Instead, follow the shells of the Camino de Santiago
The pathway then passes quickly to Lhermet hamlet, with its magnificent stone houses and its wash house where fresh water flows.
Further down, the pathway descends to the edge of the meadows along an undergrowth overgrown with tall grass. Here you find ash trees, maples and hornbeam, and there are no chestnuts or oaks present. The conifers are momentarily gone, but they will come back, it is written.
The slope is tough in the descent of the dale, sometimes more than 15%. Gradually the firs and spruces come back, emerging from the tall ferns.

Section 2: A nice gymkhana in the forests.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: very challenging course, with steep slopes, both uphill and downhill.

Further down, the slope is very steep in the wood at the bottom of the dale.
At the bottom, the pathway crosses the Clavarine brook in overflowing vegetation and finds a small road that slopes up beyond the bridge, which the GR path follows. The slopes are very marked here, almost 20% incline.
Shortly after, a pathway separates from the road and slopes up into the woods. You can just as easily follow the road, the pathway joining the road above. The undergrowth is mixed here, with still large pectin firs, but also pines and spruces. Hardwoods also gain in volume.
Then, GR path finds the road back, which winds up in the fir trees of the Bois des Ailes.
It follows the road for a moment under the large white firs.
Shortly after, GR path leaves the main road for a pathway which continues to climb, but in a less steep way, passing close to the isolated farms of Pommier hamlet.
But, you are not yet at the end of the effort. Not much, because the slope gets steeper again in the firs and spruces.
The pathway then leaves the forest and climbs through the meadows, with a mess of cattle, sometimes a few isolated conifers or ash trees.
Further up, the slope softens and the pathway reaches the top of the ridge. You are at the end of the first bump. You still took nearly a hundred meters of altitude beyond crossing the bridge over the Clavarine brook.
GR path then descends gently through wheat and meadows on a section of boneless tar towards Coirolles hamlet.
Coirolles is a few beautiful stone houses by the side of a small road. Some pilgrims will stop here, because there is a gîte in the hamlet.
Further down, a pathway descends steadily through meadows under ash and maple trees alongside broom, ferns, bushes and weeds. A few sheep take a break under a huge multi-century maple tree.

There are magnificent ash trees here, the age of which cannot be determined.

At the bottom of the dale is hidden under the tall grass a tributary of the Clavarine book. In front of you stretches the Bois de Monsieur where the pathway will climb.
The pathway will climb steeply on the other side of the dale in the forest of white fir trees.
The section on the steep slope is not long, and calm quickly returns. In these forests, when the fir trees huddle together to keep warm, they lose their beautiful foliage. It is only at the edge of the woods that they compete in elegance
The pathway then runs through a clearing, dawdling along the wood. In front of you is the large farm of La Flachère. Here, a herd of young cows is greatly excited as we pass. There are so few people passing through here, that we understand their desire to play.
AAt the end of the clearing, the pathway heads to the large stone farmhouse of La Flachère, lost in the middle of nowhere.

Section 3: The gymkhana is even more striking near the Saint-Bonnette stream.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: very challenging course, with steep slopes, both uphill and downhill.

Beyond La Flachère farm, a road climbs steeply through the fir trees, with some scattered leafy trees.
Then, at a clearing, GR path leaves the road for a pathway that climbs more than 20% in the forest. But, the climb is short-lived.
Further up, the slope is reduced again in the middle of the tall fir trees, until you find a new gap in the forest. Here, you are at more than 1,000 meters above sea level, at the top of the second course, which will be described as a “hollow/hump”. Here, again, we took more than 100 meters in altitude beyond the Clavarine tributary. You still have one last similar course to complete before Montfaucon. This shows, in truth, the tormented geography, in successive dales and hills, of this part of the Haute-Loire, in the middle of gigantic forests.
Then follows a nice route resting under the fir trees. In season you can linger picking blueberries.
The slope is again steep to leave the forest. You’ll slope down into the meadows to the level of a small road where GR430 track, the Chemin de St Régis, also runs here. Here, the signposts are confusing. There is GR65 path, the one you have to follow. But, the GR430 sign is pretty silly, we’ll put it that way, because the GR430 goes both ways, depending on which direction you’re following. What is people going to do, for example, who come back from St Jean Bonnet-le-Froid to continue? Do they all know that they have to continue on GR65 path to reach Montfaucon?

A remark should be made here about the signposting of the long-distance hiking trails (GR). When there’s only one in the area, it’s butter. But when there are two, or even three, it’s a rat race. The red/white GR signs will rarely tell you which GR you are walking on. So, you can take unnecessary detours sometimes. There is only one solution, to choose the right one, at the start, but it is not always easy. Here, the message is not very clear. GR65 path goes to Montfaucon, but also GR430 path, even if the latter goes first to Dunières, then returns to Montfaucon. And then, in Montfaucon, you will see later, the situation is even more complex, because GR430 track returns to cross Montfaucon on the route of GR65 path, which goes in the other direction. Simple, my dear Watson, right?


ASo, we’re going to take you by the hand to help you. At the intersection, turn right on the dirt road. So here, the two GR will follow the same route until crossing the Saint-Bonnette brook below. They run a little on the dirt road, then branch off again in the meadows at the edge of the undergrowth.
The slope is quite steep, between 10% and 15% until you reach the small paved road that runs along the bottom of the valley along the brook.
A small passage on the road and the GRs arrive at Pont de Rochesac, a complex bridge on the Saint-Bonnette brook.
In fact, there are two streams that meet here. The passage on the first does not pose any difficulty. The second is another question. You have to practice balancing on two narrow strips of concrete thrown over the stream. In rainy weather, it’s a real nightmare. Be careful not to fall into the water, because the stream is deep here.
A bad pathway, a real field of pebbles and roots in fact, then slopes up into the woods where the small maples, the stunted oaks, the frail ash trees, the hornbeam and the bushes in abundance are happy. And then it starts to rain. Sometimes you may slip back almost as much as you go forward.

A little above in a bend of the pathway, is the fork of the two GR. Take GR65 path, and not GR430 path, which heads to Dunières.

Beyond the fork, a pathway completely boned, ravined, climbs to more than 15% slope for more than 500 meters in the forest, where you’ll find large white fir trees in the middle of hornbeam sprouts. Luckily, the pebbles will gradually disappear.
Furtherr up, the slope is reduced, between 10% and 15%. The ground is almost black here, humidity is everywhere and tall ferns carpet the ground.

Section 4: In the forests of Montfaucon-en-Velay.


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

You are now out of the third “hollow/bump” section. A wide pathway then flattens under the fir trees aligned like poles. In rainy weather, the impermeable floor hardly absorbs water and large puddles are here to stay for a long time.
The ground is relatively smooth, almost clay, but sometimes there are a few pebbles on the way.
The pathway crosses the forest of white fir trees for quite a long time.
A little further, it finds a small paved road, but the pathway only crosses it. Here, the humidity is everywhere and the ferns are growing high.
The pathway remains still a bit in the forest…
… before finding, near a beautiful granite cross, a clearing with a fenced park.
Why these fences? Because pigs are raised free here.
Here, near the pig farm, GR path crosses a small departmental road, remains a little under the fir trees, before gradually leaving the compact forest.
Further on, it runs from clearing to clearing, along large islands of white fir trees.
Sometimes the sheep and the cows frolic in the meadows.
Then, the pathway abandons the fir trees, crosses a small road again, and flattens in the grass, under the maples.
It crosses the countryside, sometimes in meadows, sometimes in cereal fields. Today, the land is so flooded with rain that the puddles are visibly getting bigger on the sodden track.
On the way, near a stone farmhouse, there is a fork marked with a shell to follow the Camino de Santiago, but the pathway was so flooded that we followed GR65 path. But why do the planners complicate the tracks for nothing?
On GR path, you’ll reach a small paved road which here makes a loop to the hamlet of Suchets.
Beyond the loop, GR path and Camino de Santiago are again common in the outskirts of Montfaucon. Far from us the idea of reproaching the Friends of Compostela who have remarkably staked out this delicate route. But, when there is a track lined with the shell, and two GR like here, it is often difficult to find the way, at the risk of getting lost, at the slightest moment of inattention. Pilgrims don’t spend every minute watching for the signs on the way.

Section 5: Montfaucon-en-Velay and its suburbs.


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

The road then leads you to the entrance of Montfaucon.
At the entrance to the village, here is again GR430 track, the Chemin de St Régis, a great source of confusion for pilgrims to Compostela in the region. GR430 path, which you followed earlier in conjunction with GR65 path near Rochesac Bridge, went for a turn towards Dunières, then Raucoules, and arrives here. Our track remains GR65 path which crosses the village, in the opposite direction to GR430 path. Go and understand how the tracks are sometimes complicated, especially since the Chemin de Régis also goes to Puy-en-Velay, even if it makes more detours in the volcanoes to get there.
The road, therefore GR65 path in one direction and GR430 in the opposite direction, heads to the top of the borough, near the monument dedicated to the heroes of the two wars, and slopes down the main street. You can see the church in front of you.

But, it is now raining cats and dogs, so that no image can be made on the camera. So, let’s resume the course here, done on another occasion, in bright sunshine.

The road passes in front of the St Pierre church, in neo-Romanesque style, built in the XIXth century. You open the door, and you suddenly have the feeling that you are in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Here there is a collection of extraordinary paintings. You think you may recognize Breughel’s touch at first sight. But the 12 paintings were painted by Abel Grimmer, a contemporary of Brueghel, who never set foot here. The presence of these works here is special. This collection belonged to a marquis of the region, ambassador in Brussels. Nobody knows how this collection appeared here, but it was found during the revolution in the outbuildings of the church. Even the Dutch visit Montfaucon. You understand why.
The road leaves Montfaucon, and then crosses the greenway on the road leading to Raucoules. It is still the Via Fluvia, this cycle track that we met the day before in St Sauveur-en-Rue, before climbing to Les Sétoux.
Yet, GR path does not enter the greenway, it follows the road for a while under the large maple trees, before finding a dirt road in the meadows.
Soon, the dirt road joins a small paved road.

Here you’ll reach a place called Croix des Lardons, near a large and beautiful stone cross. This is where GR65 path momentarily says goodbye to GR430 path. GR430 heads to Montfaucon, GR65 path goes into the undergrowth. Phew, there is a clear signpost here! It must be said, it is always with great pleasure that you see this type of explicit signage, with directions and kilometers to go. For today, GR430 path will stop bothering us. But that’s only a postponement. You’ll find it back tomorrow.

The pathway will then alternate between clearings and undergrowth in the middle of ash trees, maples, and still large white fir trees, lined up tightly like sardines. From here, the course will alternate constantly between tarmac and dirt.
Shortly after, GR path joins a road where the Velay Express was still passing until recently.

If you have ever taken the Gillonay variant, you have walked to St Agrève, the other end of the train in Ardèche. On this side, the line went to Dunières, a little to the north, where GR432 runs. This last section was closed in 2015, and the train stops a little below here, at Raucoules-Brossette. It’s just a small tourist train line.

Further afield, GR path takes a short turn on a paved road under the maples, before taking again a dirt road that heads to the forest.
The wide dirt road runs along the meadows and the corn under the big ash trees. There are a few cattle around here. We haven’t seen many of them in the past few days.
The pathway then enters the forest. The slope is steady on the descent into the woods. The forest is so dense that the beautiful white fir trees are nothing more than zombies.
But, in places, in the dense fir trees, you’ll see small clearings where the maples are majestic, making fun of the tall white firs.
Then, the slope eases at the bottom of the small basin where the pathway dawdles a little….
… before climbing on the other side, gently sloping, in the open meadows.

Section 6: Undulations from one forest to another.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without problem, with sometimes some slightly more marked slopes.

Further ahead, you are ready for a long straight course in the meadows, sloping up slightly on a fairly stony pathway. .
The pathway swings from the hill to the peasant village of Les Olmes and its carved stone houses..
At the exit of the village, GR path crosses a large departmental road, which allows you to reach the axis that goes towards St Etienne, and heads towards a grove of fir trees.
Here, the pathway again crosses the Greenway, which crisscrosses the country, but does not follow it. These greenways are often traps for pilgrims who find them so charming that it encourages them to follow them. No, here the pathway then heads back into the forest.
On the Camino de Compostela, fir trees are rare. Above all, it is spruces that you’ll encounter. But you will never get tired of these rows of tall fir trees, glued to each other, intertwined, inseparable, sometimes so tight that light barely penetrates them. Sometimes it almost feels like night has already fallen.

But sometimes, when the light reappears, a majestic maple looms, which has grown there for hundreds of years, by chance.

Then, the pathway plays out a little, passing alternately from the fir forest to the clearing along the forest in the broom.
Further on, the pathway comes out of the woods. Here, in a large clearing, the peasants have cleared the woods to plant some corn and cereals. This is almost the first cultivated field that we crossed today.
Then, the pathway returns again in the wood of ash and maple trees, in a more sustained descent heading to Brossette.
Another of these beautiful hamlets, uniform, with its beautiful limestone houses.
Beyond the hamlet, the pathway continues to descend, on a steep slope, under hedges made up of beautiful maple trees.
At the bottom of the descent flows the Brossette stream. All the charm is gathered here, the disused mill, the moss, and the freshness of the stream under the tall trees.
Throughout this stage, you never have the feeling that you are leaving the forest. You walk from one to the other, often without great transition. Beyond the stream, the pathway climbs up a fairly steady slope in a wood of deciduous trees, maples, ashes and especially hornbeams. Now the fir trees have almost disappeared. In all these forests, wood is exploited.
Here, an isolated house, which you probably reach by the dirt road, because there is no road that runs through here, and the pathway smoothens back into the forest.
Further ahead, it is again a deciduous undergrowth, then further, the clearing with its maples and its ash trees. Oaks are largely absent from this region. Here you will also see some pine trees. The fir trees have disappeared, but they are not far away. On the horizon, you still see large islands of fir trees.
As you approach a new forest of fir trees, here is a bend that should not be missed. GR path, marked by the shells of the Camino de Compostela, leaves to the right. See how you always have to be on the lookout on these Haute-Loire tracks. You don’t see the shell and you go left. Of course, it’s charming because the small Velay steam railway is a stone’s throw away, heading for Roucoules-Brosettes station, the terminus today. But, if you go there, it’s back to Montfaucon! In fact, in Haute Loire, it is always better to have maps of the region with you, whether guides or the Internet, so as not to get lost.
Then, the pathway returns, without much surprise, into the deciduous forest.

Section 7: An old and famous mill and a beautiful river.


General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without problem, with sometimes some slightly more marked slopes.

Then, the pathway slopes up a little in the deciduous trees, the maples in particular. This is perhaps the region of France where you’ll find the most trees of this species on the track.
Quickly, the pathway emerges from the woods and heads to the village of La Brosse. Here again, the village has retained, like all the hamlets in the region, its character of yesteryear, with its beautiful massive stone houses.
The pathway crosses the village, then follows a small stretch of asphalt.
Yet, quickly GR path finds the dirt again, passes in front of a magnificent granite cross. .
Further afield, it is the return of the charm of these large maples planted at the edge of a pathway that wanders through the meadows.
Shortly after, the pathway descends a little steeper, under the trees, in the middle of broom and ferns.
It soon reaches Mounas hamlet, with slightly newer houses than in the other hamlets in the region.
Out of the hamlet, the pathway slopes down again in the undergrowth. The slope is almost 15% in hardwood undergrowth, with some conifers.
At the bottom of the descent the pathway reaches the Papeterie.

The old Papeterie mill is a magnificent and large two-storey stone building. The building has a great story. You can consult, if you are interested, on the Internet the genealogies of people who have succeeded one another here since the XVIIth century. The factory was created by the Montgolfiers, the ancestors of the creators of the hot air balloon. It was the Number 1 paper factory in France, with its waterwheels drawing water from the Basset stream, which flows empties in the Lignon River just a stone’s throw away. It will be transformed into a silk mill between the XIXth and XXth centuries, rebuilt on the foundations of the old paper mill. Tence, which also owned other spinning factories, was renowned for its silks and felts. Then it all died a beautiful death. La Papeterie will first become a summer camp, then a gîte with guest rooms, very popular during the high season. A stone’s throw away flows the Lignon, which you’ll see tomorrow by walking to Tence. There is plenty of room at the gîte, but in case of crowds or closure, you will have to go to Tence, 3 kilometers further to find accommodation. We cannot stress enough to book your accommodations on Via Gebennensis, not to be surprised.


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Next stage : Stage 13: From La Papeterie to Queyrières
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