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Day 30: from CONQUES to St-Chély- d’Aubrac , 75 km

Even our dear neighbor Eric was up early today, so I could get the bikes ready on time that we had been allowed to store in his garage, in order to leave promptly. Eric and his spouse live in Louviers between Evreux and Rouen in Normandy. They've been able to purchase a beautiful second home here near the abbey church of Conques. Rightly so, he calls it his piece of paradise, being so close to that unique abbey church. At 7 o'clock sharp, we leave our street heading towards the départementale road that takes us to Sénergues.

The Compostelle de Conques, our neighbour Eric and Bruno checking his bike

The day begins with a 10 km uphill ride to an elevation of 600 meters. After Sénergues, we head towards Espeyrac, where we ride up to the plateau at 700 meters, occasionally encountering small additional slopes. Ultimately, it became an exhausting and hot day with temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celsius around 2 PM, because after passing St Côme d’Olt past Espalion, we have to climb up to the plateau d’Aubrac at an elevation of 1000 meters before descending to reach St Chély-d’Aubrac.

Let's rewind a bit. From Conques, we first reached Sénergues with a beautiful church dedicated to St. Martin. Next to it, the remains of a splendid castle stand. Close to the church, we meet Christian who's watering his flowers. We ask him for directions, and he confirms what Bruno thought of doing, which is to follow the Via Podiensis by going up to the Eysperac plateau at 700 meters. From there, we have a nice view of the Gorges du Lot, running to our left in the distance. At the end of this plateau, we turn left and descend to reach the charming town of Estaing. There are signs regularly reminding drivers that they are on the Via Podiensis and inviting them to drive carefully.

The castle of Sénergues and Christian watering his flowerst

At the end of this plateau, we turn left and descend to reach the charming town of Estaing. There are signs regularly reminding drivers that they are on the Via Podiensis and inviting them to drive carefully.

We enter the heart of the old town by crossing the old Late Gothic 16th-century bridge. From a distance, we see the town lying before us with its beautiful fortified castle and its church.

Estaing: the castle, the bridge and the church

It belongs to Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, a former French president, and other members of his family. The castle consists of buildings of varying heights organized around a terrace. Most of them are from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries and surround an old square keep whose top is adorned with five turrets and a lantern-shaped roof. There's also a terrace with an excellent view of the Lot river. Not far away stands the Saint Fleuret church dating back to the 15th century, built on the site of an older monastery church. The interior is solemn thanks to the modern stained glass windows from 1975 and various beautiful statues.

Estaing: Interior of the church and some of the beautiful old houses in town

We stop for a coffee but have to pay in cash; credit cards are not accepted. Bruno looks for an ATM, but it's out of order. The bistro owner ends up offering us two free coffees and invites us to come back next time to have coffee with money. Bruno figures out that it's best for us to ride along the "voie verte" (greenway) from Estaing to Espalion since there's less traffic there. After 10 km, we're already in Espalion. It's not a very attractive town, with a 19th-century church and the former St Jean church from the 15th century, now serving as a museum.

Espalion: église St. Jean and église de Perse

The important buildings are all made from local red sandstone. While Bruno searches for a few (lost) cords for his Mac, I bike a bit outside the town to where the 11th-century Romanesque église de Perse is located. The southern portal with the Pentecost scene is particularly beautiful. A bit like in Vézelay, but simpler. On the lintel, the beam under the portal, is the Last Judgment. Inside, there are beautiful, robust Romanesque columns with adorned capitals.

Espalion: église de Perse: Pentecost tympanum and interior of the church with robust romanesque colums

Bruno joins me there, and from there, we head to St Côme d’Olt where we'll start the ascent to the plateau d’Aubrac, aiming to reach our final destination, St Chély d’Aubrac, on the Via Podiensis. We decide not to do any shopping as the heat keeps rising by the hour, and we're already struggling with the heat. This final climb of 15 kilometers up to an elevation of 1000 meters is quite a challenge. We're forced to stop for water and shade after each kilometer. Our hearts are racing in our chests. A car even stops to ask if we're alright and if we need any help.

Cycling up and on the plateau d'Aubrac,

Three kilometers before the top, we find a tap with cold water, and we literally shower by pouring our empty water bottles over our heads and upper bodies. Right next to the tap is a little church, and even in the scorching heat, I can't resist going in briefly and taking some photos. Another three kilometers of climbing with fresh water in our bottles help make it more bearable.

After the ascent, we turn right towards our village, St Chély d’Aubrac, situated in a valley below. This will be a steep descent of 4 kilometers. As we ride downhill, I'm already thinking about the fact that tomorrow morning, we'll have to ride those five kilometers back uphill... We'll see.

Saint Chély-d'Aubrac: View on the city, the Pilgims' bridge with double cross

Saint-Chély-d'Aubrac is located on the GR 65 hiking route, along the Via Podiensis, one of the four mythical routes to get to Santiago de Compostela. Besides pilgrims, many hiking tourists also visit this town. The Aubrac plateau is known for its natural beauty. The town's architectural heritage consists of two significant buildings: the church of Notre-Dame-des-Pauvres and the Pilgrims' Bridge. The ND church is particularly interesting due to its large balcony allowing many pilgrims to participate in services. The Pilgrims' Bridge is an old 14th-century structure with a beautiful old double cross on it.

St.Chély-d'Aubrac: the town and the church

We're warmly welcomed, but the couple running the two hotels in the village, along with a kind of eatery for hikers and pilgrims, are in a bit of a predicament. They've been without internet for several hours, and electronic payments can't be processed either. The ATM isn't working either. We can't order a cold beer, but the kind owner immediately brings us a bottle of ice-cold water with two glasses. We haven't done any shopping, and we can't use our cards to buy things in the épicerie (grocery store), so we decide to have dinner at our hotel. The €23 menu looks appealing, and the owners are friendly. Hopefully, the internet and all electronics will be back later in the day when we want to pay. We quickly get our room with two separate beds, which is great for Bruno. Our bikes are in a storage area, and mine is charging. There's also a fan in the room that Bruno immediately turns on next to him. We talk about our climbs for a while. We're glad to be able to rest a bit now, take a shower, and then have dinner at 7 PM.

St. Chély d'Aubrac: our hotel and our dinner

The dinner is delicious: a cold carrot cream soup, and for the main course, veal with fried potatoes and zucchini, with a mustard and tarragon sauce. Dessert is strawberry ice cream with whipped cream and chocolate mousse. After eating store-bought pasta dishes for the past eight days, this tastes wonderful, and it's also very tasty.

Tomorrow, we're heading to the Aubrac plateau through Nasbinals and Aumont-Aubrac to Saint Alban sur Limagnole. We hope to experience the rugged and beautiful Aubrac. One thing is certain: we'll start the day with a 700-meter climb over about 12 kilometers. We've done it every day for the past few days... hopefully, we'll manage it again this time.

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