04: Culoz to Yenne

Between Rhône and the beautiful vineyards of Savoie

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

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:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-randonnee/culoz-auvergne-rhone-alpes-france-34059011

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

Pilgrims use the Camino de Santiago throughout the year, some even in winter. Each season has its particular charm. So, let’s now take a few steps in the fall, when the morning fog sometimes envelops the plain, when the light is autumnal or when the paths are strewn with leaves or chestnut hulls.

Today’s stage begins with a long walk along the Rhône River, sometimes in the moor to reach Chanaz, a charming village, also known as the Little Venice of Savoy, because it is from here that the beautiful canal of Savières starts towards Lake Bourget. It will then be a long transition under the side of the mountain to reach the heart of the beautiful vineyards of Savoie, where grape varieties grow unknown to many wine lovers, including Altesse, Marchestel or Mondeuse, but which are not lacking no originality and flavor. Autumn is also an extraordinary season to spend in the vines, when the colors turn gold. You will always have in front of you on the horizon the jaws of the Dent du Chat, overlooking the Lac du Bourget on the other side of the mountain. Here is a strange story. In the past, a fisherman made a living from his fishing on the shores of Lac du Bourget. One day, no fish came to bite his line. The unfortunate man implored the sky and swore to put back in the water the first fish caught by way of thanks. The miracle took place. But the fish was so big that the fisherman forgot his promise, and did not put the fish back in the water. He did the same for the second fish. At the third fish, it was a black cat that he found at the end of his line. Unfortunately, you will not see Lac du Bourget on the other side of the mountain, and you will end the stage in Yenne, along the Rhône, in a cul-de-sac, under the Dent du Chat.

Difficulty of the course: Slope variations (+433 meters /-441 meters) are very reasonable. The course flattens flat until Chanaz and the climb to the vineyards is not difficult, except for a steep, but short embankment, at the exit of Chanaz. The slopes are quite steep in the vineyard, both downhill and uphill, but hardly exceed the 15% incline, except during the steep climb to Jongieux-le-Haut. In fact, the most strenuous part of the stage is the dizzying and demanding descent from the hill of St Romain on the Rhône plain at the end of the stage.

 

In this stage, the passages on pathways are a little more numerous than those on road, but not by much:

  • Paved roads: 10.7 km
  • Dirt roads: 14.0 km

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

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

Section 1: On the cycle path, near the Rhône River.

 

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

 

Whether you spent the night in Culoz or not, you have to walk back to Pont de la Loi over the Rhône River.
Beyond the bridge, a pathway runs along the banks of the river a little, but no longer runs towards the Vion Islands, as in the past. But why are they here always trying to avoid crossing the banks of the river? Unless it has become very dangerous, who knows? But, it is also that in recent years a cycle path has been built here and that it is good to share it with walkers as well. The pathway then leaves a little in the moor and gravel.
Then, it returns to the D921 road at the crossroads of La Loi.
You therefore have the privilege of passing on the cycle path, where, in the early hours of the morning, cyclists are in no hurry.
Quickly, bikers and walkers cross the departmental road, in the middle of the corn, in the low sun.
The small road runs between hardwoods and corn. The corn fields are happy here a stone’s throw from the river.
The paved road arrives a little further on at the hamlet of Mollard, with its stone houses.

Section 2: In the moor, on the banks of the Rhône River.

 

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

 

Beyond Le Mollard, the road flattens in the hardwoods.
After passing under the cliffs, the road arrives at L’Étang Bleu site.
The Blue Pond is a private fishing reserve. The water came here by seeping from the river and the water was blue. Today, the pond has lost its color due to lack of water renewal.

This is where the Lyon-Geneva railway line crosses the Rhône River.

It is also here that GR path finally begins on the bank of the river, on a fairly rocky pathway, in a sort of grandiose steppe for nearly 3 kilometers.

If you walk here in the spring, you’ll see sheep frolic on all sides. But, the dung, too. A small canal also borders the path on the other side of the Rhône River.

It is a moment of grace and fullness in this incredible universe, out of the world.

Approaching Chanaz, directional signs tell canoeists or other pleasure boats to turn off if they intend to reach Lac du Bourget (Bourget Lake).
This morning, the mist plays with the moor and the river flows peacefully, almost absent.
Yet there almost always comes a time when the magic disappears and you have to go back to ordinary life. A grid marks the end of the waking dream.
GR path then leaves the steppe to head towards a small arm of the Rhône River where the lock and the port of the Canal de Savières are hidden, which connects the river to Bourget Lake. The canal, four kilometers long, has a dual function. It serves as a natural outlet for water from Lac du Bourget to the Rhône River and vice versa when the river is in flood. The dam has the effect of suppressing low water levels in the lake, maintaining an optimum level and making the canal navigable all year round. The lock allows pleasure boats to pass from Bourget Lake to the Rhône River. More than 2,500 passages are recorded here per year, especially in summer. When you pass by here, you have the feeling of being very far south. Since the XIXth century, major works have facilitated river navigation. In the 1980s, a dam and a lock were installed at the end of the canal.
In the harbor, between the Rhône River and the canal, there are many pleasure boats and cruise ships here. The Canal de Savières thus makes it possible to reach Bourget Lake and Aix-les-Bains. In addition to boaters, small cruise ships operate on a circuit that is very popular with tourists, especially in summer. Here, the waters are calm and tranquil, rarely disturbed by the passage of boats. The canal has been a natural means of transport since the Neolithic era. Chanaz once had a land and water toll, a salt toll, and a customs post.
GR path crosses the canal on a beautiful footbridge. The footbridge that spans the canal dates from 1989. You could imagine yourself here in an amusement park or in a Japanese garden.

Tidy terraces, where local specialties are served “feet in the water”, along the canal attract tourists, but GR path prefers to take you into the village.
Chanaz is a picturesque village, full of charm, with its sloping alleys, its illuminations and its ensigns, its beautiful and old houses sometimes dating back to the XVI-XVIIth century.

If you pass here and the Maison de Boigne is open, pay a visit to this large square house, built in stone, with its distinctive windows and faded tiles. Here, the bread oven, which still works, was once used by all the families of the village.

Section 3: On the way to the vineyards of Savoy.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: successions of ups and downs, with fairly reasonable slopes, not exceeding 15%, except at the start where it is even steeper. But, some would say that 15% slope is not negligible. With reason.

Leaving Chanaz, a small road climbs very sharply towards a mill.
There were three mills here since the XIXth century. Only one remains, resurrected after more than 50 years. It still works with its trough wheel which turns the stone grinding wheel with its wooden gear. You may find the door open there, if you are within opening hours. Today it produces flour and walnut oil.
Beyond the mill, a small narrow lane toughly climbs, with more than 20% slope, in the undergrowth.
Fortunately, on such a slope, the steep climb is not long, and the pathway reaches a small road for about a hundred meters, then sets out again on a more reasonable slope in the undergrowth.
Higher up, GR path joins the paved road to Praille hamlet.
Then, the road continues to climb towards Poisat village. There are already a few vines around here.

Turning around, you have plenty of time to admire the Grand Colombier, above Culoz. This mountain is often the delight of Tour de France cyclists, but also of amateur cycle tourists.

Beyond Le Poisat, the paved road climbs up to the foothills of Mount Landard.
Higher up, the dirt replaces the tar and the pathway sometimes runs through undergrowth. The cows here are often of the Taurine breed, all brown cows, one of the breeds at the base of Reblochon along with Abondance and Montbéliarde, although here you are no longer in the AOP Reblochon production area.
The road then crosses Orgeval chapel, a small oratory dedicated to the Virgin Mary for protection against the plague, erected in 1845 and renovated in 2005.
Beyond the chapel, the somewhat stony dirt road will climb for a long time on the slopes of Mount Landard. You are undoubtedly on a moraine formed by the glaciers of the Rhône in the Quaternary Era. The pathway is wide, pleasant, gently sloping. Here you’ll probably not meet anyone. The landscape is quite bare, with the presence of a few hardwoods hanging out on the slope.
A little up, the slope softens in the middle of the meadows where the cattle run about. You can see the first vines of Savoy.
The pathway even slopes down a little, to reach the locality known as La Rodière.

Section 4: In the first vineyards of Savoy.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: the descent above all, most often reasonable.

 

Then, a very stony lane climbs a little more steeply in the undergrowth until it joins a tarmac road shortly before Vétrier.
At the top of the climb, the road arrives in Vétrier.
Vétrier is a few houses along the road on a promontory overlooking the Rhône valley.
A protective Christ peers over the vines. From now on, you still need more than 3 hours to reach Yenne.

From here, the view over the Rhône valley and Île aux Oiseaux is breathtaking. It is also true that autumn often beautifies landscapes. It is also true that this allows you to verify that you have climbed well above the Rhone Valley.

Below the village, GR path slopes down a little into the grass, then for a short time on the road, heading towards the vineyard.

The Savoie vineyard is more extensive than one might think. It actually runs all along the Rhône valley and its foothills from Frangy. In this region of Savoy, the route crosses two regions, one grouped around Lucey, the other that of Marestel and Jongieux. The vines date back here to the XVIth century, but it was not until the 1990s that the winegrowers undertook the redevelopment of the hillsides here, to facilitate work and access to the vines. These regions currently have controlled appellations Crus de Savoie.

The first large vineyard that you’ll meet is that of Montagnin.
From Vétrier to Vraisin, all these hamlets are part of the municipality of Lucey, below in the plain. You will never tire of these landscapes when the vines are blazing. Obviously, it is in autumn and in good weather that the charm works best, when each grape gives its leaves a different and warm hue in the grazing light of the sun. The stony pathway descends into the vines.

On the horizon, you can see the mountain of Dent du Chat.

If you look closely at the vines after the harvest, you will see that the dried bunches remain attached to the vines. This is where winegowers have to make great use of the harvesting machines. This type of machine performs all operations in a single operation. It straddles the row of vines with its gathering and shaking arms, and drops the grains into buckets. A vacuum cleaner blows the crop to remove leaves and branches that have fallen during shaking. Warning! Not all PDO grape varieties allow this kind of approach. For some, the bunch must be brought intact to the press. On the other hand, they need vineyards developed to allow access for machines.

At the bottom of the vineyard, GR path crosses Montagnin village.
It is a small village of solid stone houses that must be shared by winegrowers and peasants, perhaps often the same in these small countries, where the surfaces are not gigantic.
A small road leaves the village and leads to Cremon hamlet, a stone’s throw away. Quickly the path returns on dirt in the woods.
It crosses a small stream and descends in the meadows towards an undergrowth.
The undergrowth is quite spooky, with moss and lichens growing on the scrawny shrubs. It takes a lot of humidity to create this type of masterpiece simmered by nature in its exuberance.
At the exit of the grove, GR path finds the paved road again, sloping down a little to find two ponds at the edge of the road. You get soon in the relatively new hamlet of Les Puthod / Les Greffiers.
The road descends quite steeply through the fairly extensive village.
The road then descends towards Vraisin. Along the way, a direction is given for Lucey, its vineyards and its castle. You can also take this axis, avoid Vraisin, and find GR path further down.
If you stay on the road, you will find the vines at the entrance to Vraisin. In autumn, the leaves turn gold or orange. It is around this time that photosynthesis stops and the chlorophyll vanishes. Then the anthocyanins, which are pigments, are expressed giving nuances of gold for the white grape varieties, and often orange-red for the red grape varieties.
The cul-de-sac road crosses the village. Vraisin is a sort of promontory plateau with an extensive view over the Rhône plain.
A pathway descends below the village.
Further down, in the undergrowth, you’ll find back the pathway indicated above which heads to Lucey.
But, GR path does not go to Lucey. It goes back to the vineyard below Vraisin.
The pathway then descends into the Marestel-Jongieux vineyard, from which you can see the entire estate. In the distance, points to the church of Jongieux. The vineyard is planted on clay-limestone soils and on limestone scree. Here, for the white grape varieties, winegrowers use Altesse, Jacquère, the most common of the local grape varieties, but also Chardonnay or Velteliner. Among the red grape varieties, Mondeuse is the first choice, but there is also Gamay or Pinot Noir. Seeing the color of the leaves, it seems that the vineyard is quite composite, but reading the leaves is not an exact science, as anthocyanins are in fact only one molecule, which is blue or red depending on the acidity of the medium.

Section 5: From the vineyards to the St Romain chapel.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: on the course, there is the climb to Jongieux-le-Haut in the vineyards, where the slope grazes and exceeds 15%.

 

Further down, at the bottom of the descent in the vineyards, the paved road hangs over the dirt road.
The road then passes to Barcotian, in front of the Château de La Mar estate, producer, among others, of Marestel.
The Marestel owes its name to Claude Mareste, who imported the Altesse grape variety from Cyprus in the XIVth century. He would have offered it to Anne de Lusignan, daughter of the King of Cyprus, who became Duchess of Savoy. But another version claims that it is Furmint, the Hungarian Tokaj wine, once reserved for the great dignitaries of Austria-Hungary, hence its name of “altesse”. This white wine, also called Roussette de Savoie, is present only in Savoie where it represents 8% of production.
Right next door, the road runs through Jongieux / Amavigne, the main village in the region, with the city hall and the church.
The road crosses the village and climbs towards the church.
There, a vineyard path hangs over the relay, which climbs through the vines.
The pathway climbs steeply, let’s say it this way, towards Jongieux-le-Haut, crossing the road which winds up towards the village.

Turning around, you have an extensive view of the route traveled in this magnificent vineyard clinging to the slope, with the Grand Colonbier mountain still in the background, under which you set out this morning.

For many pilgrims, arriving at Jongieux-le-Haut will allow them to catch their breath.
The road crosses a village of winegrowers. Aimavigne, Jongieux-le-Haut, don’t these names embellish happiness? In any case, that is what is written on the owners’ signs, who proudly announce the names of the wines that grow here. The cellars are sometimes open, but the pilgrim hardly stops. Wrongly, perhaps. Sometimes a little pick-me-up is good, but you still have to find the cellar open.
The road gradually leaves the village.
GR path then follows the road to the top of the hill where it passes to a place named Le Noyer, where a dirt track leads to St Romain Chapel, which can be clearly seen at the top of another hill. But, you will see that the chapel is not so close as it looks.

From here, the Grand Colombier mountain can still be seen looming on the horizon.

The dirt road will then undulate in the last vines.
The chapel is approaching. Soon, the tar replaces the dirt and the slope becomes more pronounced. From here on, for you, the Savoy vines are over.
The climb to the chapel on clay is quite pronounced.

The St Romain chapel dates from 1995, unadorned, enthroned on the hill, solitary. It succeeds a primitive chapel which dates from the VIth century.

Here, an astonishing landscape is revealed before your eyes. You can admire the meanders of the Rhône River in the plain of Yenne and in the distance the mountain of Dent du Chat above Yenne, a divine and breathtaking spectacle.
The descent to the Rhône plain is no easy task. Many pilgrims still cite the descent to Roncesvalles in rainy weather as the must for the difficulties of the Camino de Santiago. But here too, in rainy weather, it can be a big nightmare, almost hell for the less experienced

At the start, the hiker is warned of certain precautions to be taken. It is also written in German for German and Swiss pilgrims who take the Via Gebennensis, the most numerous, it is true.

And for good reason. If you lean over the edge of the cliff you will see Lagneux village below. It’s more than 200 meters of vertical drop over 1 kilometer, sometimes with slopes of more than 35%.

Section 6: A vertiginous descent, before joining the banks of the Rhône river.

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: quite difficult descent. The slopes here are up to 35% in a bad lane. Then, the holidays …

 

At the start, it’s not that bad and the lane nods a bit on the ridge before plunging into the valley. But, it gradually sinks into the brush and stunted hardwoods.
The pathway rarely approaches the cliff. It is a narrow lane that winds its way in zigzags through the deciduous trees covered with ivy and moss. We passed here once in rainy weather, and had the greatest difficulty not hitting the slope. It was necessary to cling to the beech and small chestnut shoots, the step slipping with each meter on the wet leaves.
On the most difficult slopes, logs, worn with age and inclement weather, which hold the soil, prevent the foot from slipping too much. It helps, for sure.
Further down, towards the end of the descent, the slope becomes less steep, under the cliffs, in the humid and exuberant vegetation.

Whatever the weather conditions, you are happy for the knees and the joints, especially if they belong to the elderly, to reach the bottom of the descent, at the place named Cotonnière.

Beyond this point, the pathway undulates a little in the undergrowth before returning to the open air and to D921 road, at the exit of the forest.

GR path then makes a few hundred meters on the departmental road and branches off again towards the cliff. From here, at the level of effort, it’s the holidays, flattening to Yenne.
A small road leads to Petit Lagneux village and its few stone houses. You have the Massif du Chat mountain far ahead.
But here again, as often on the Camino de Santiago, it is a detour to avoid the departmental road, where traffic is not maddening. Then, the road emerges from the hamlet and returns to the D921 road.
GR path crosses the D921 road, then a dirt and grass track run through the corn towards the Rhône River and the undergrowth that runs alongside it. It is as sad here as on all the plains where crops grow.
The pathway then crosses the dreary plain where only corn fond of water grows …
… before crossing the Lône stream, which you can barely guess, and returning to the majestic Rhône River. Here, you’ll find the trees of the banks of the river, large oaks, maples, ash trees, birches, beeches and hornbeam shoots.
GR path follows the bank of the river for a while. You will not complain about finally being able to take a few steps along this river which is often forbidden to walkers.
Then, it deviates from the river to the place called L’Île, because here two arms of the river surround a small island.
Shortly after, the pathway returns to the river. You will not always see the river with such a resplendent blue. In prolonged rain, the river is adorned with gray and brown, and carries wood. So, the roads get pretty bogged down.
If you walk here in the spring, all along the river, you will find acres of wild garlic. There are so many that their subtle aroma almost penetrates into the clothes.
When the pathway leaves the bank, at the entrance to Yenne, it crosses the Lône stream.
A campsite and a pleasant park adjoin the river, and a tunnel allows you to cross the large, very busy departmental road.
Yenne is a quiet little town of 3,000 inhabitants in a cul de sac at the bottom of the valley. The symbol of the city is the Dent du Chat, this large jaw which dominates the city. An exit is through a tunnel under the Dent du Chat towards Le Bourget and Chambéry. The other is along the Rhône River.
If you arrive here on a Monday you will find a city almost dead. Only the two pharmacies and the eternal PMU bar are open, the last bistro bastion of small French towns which are slowly dying, one after the other.

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