All you need to know about the Geneva Way
Have you heard about the Geneva Way or the Via Gebennensis from Geneva to Le Puy-en-Velay? No? Don’t worry, this article provides all the important information. Get inspired!
The names of pilgrimage routes can be confusing, as every path that ultimately leads to Santiago de Compostela is in general a “Camino de Santiago”, or in English “St James Way”. To help us distinguish the different routes that lead through all of Europe, they each have individual names as well. The route of the Geneva Way is for example named after its starting point, the city of Geneva, and sometimes also called Via Gebennensis. Did you know that this town’s Latin name is Comitatus Gebennensis? So, Via Gebennensis basically means “The road of Geneva”.
Historically, a pilgrim’s route started at his front door and usually followed the main roads because they had the best infrastructure. Today, the focus is more on recreation and reconnecting with nature. That’s why the Geneva Way now leads through the peaceful countryside and omits bigger cities like Lyon. It was revived and designed in the 1990s by the organization Amis de St-Jacques By and, while modified to suit the modern-day hiker, still mainly follows historical pilgrim paths.
The Geneva Way is about a 350km long section of the St James way network. It connects the Swiss St Jacob’s way with the Via Podiensis in France. As Geneva lies at the border with France, you will only walk through the French countryside even though the route starts in Switzerland. In doing so, the route uses reliable long-distance routes like the GR 9. Because of that, the route features convenient, hiker-friendly infrastructure like comfortable accommodation and the possibility of luggage transfer. If you want to get your pilgrimage certified, you can do so in every town.
The whole way is marked with the famous blue and yellow Scallop Shell. Large sections also have the red-white markings of the GR 9. Orientation and staying on the right path should not be a problem.
After leaving Geneva, you follow the river Rhône and its beautiful valley. During the first bit, you cross some of the last alpine foothills. Later you walk through a more flat landscape that developed in the last ice age. The villages and towns you pass through may be younger than that but they nevertheless provide an interesting insight into France’s history. The cosy villages invite you to visit their little churches, admire their architecture and catch a glimpse of the locals’ daily lives.
This route is only sparsely peopled. You can expect to walk alone and in tranquillity most of the time – good conditions to truly reconnect with nature. Hiking through this rural, beautiful landscape, you might easily achieve a relaxed, meditative state. You will encounter green, lush meadows and forests as well as vineyards and crop fields. After leaving the Rhône-Valley you enter the French Massif Central, a picturesque area which includes some hilly sections. Don’t hesitate to climb them, they will reward you with gorgeous views. Finally, the stunning region of Le Puy-en-Velay is characterised by its extinct volcanoes and basalt formations.
Towns along the way
Set on the western shore of Lake Leman, the “Peace Capital” Geneva is not only home to the UN but also the world’s tallest fountain, Jet d’Eau. It is a global city, an important financial centre and the location of the headquarters of many international organizations. Geneva offers something for everyone: If you fancy diving into the bustling, modern atmosphere, you can do so by visiting contemporary museums and exquisite restaurants. But also the cosy old town waits to be explored! A visit to the 800-year-old Cathédrale Saint-Pierre is a great way to get your mindset for the upcoming pilgrimage. From its tower, you can enjoy a great view of the city. After a day of roaming, indulge in some fondue or fish freshly caught from the lake.
When you arrive in the little town of Chanaz, you will see why its nickname is little Venice! Stretched along a branch of the Rhône, picturesque houses are lined up along the riverside promenade. Lean back in one of the small pleasure boats and explore the area from a new perspective. The old mill is also worth a visit. Witness how nuts are processed with a traditional technique that makes use of a still functional water wheel and a big stone grinder. In the attached shop you can stock up on their produce: Healthy snacks and exquisite oils made from nuts.
It is a lovely example of France’s cute historical towns, and La Côte-Saint-André is also the birthplace of Hector Berlioz. The great classical composer, who was born there on 11 December 1803, wrote beautiful orchestral pieces like the Symphonie Fantastique as well as a variety of operas. His house is now an informative museum. Every year at the end of August, the town hosts the “Festival Berlioz” in honour of its famous citizen. As one of the few symphonic music festivals in France, it presents big symphonic concerts in the court of Château Louis XI. During these two weeks, there are also many smaller concerts and activities happening in the whole town. Then, La Côte-Saint-André vibrates to the beat of street performances, lectures, exhibitions, workshops and other festivities.
Le Puy-en-Velay may be the last stop of this walking holiday but that doesn’t mean your trip has to end already! Nestled between rolling green hills and its two iconic basalt columns, this town offers a lot to see and do. Apart from visiting the beautiful Cathedral of Notre-Dame-du-Puy, absolutely climb the 268 steps to the Chapel of Saint Michel d’Aiguilhe and enjoy the stunning view over the city.
Celebrate your finished hike and treat yourself to a big portion of the famous Le Puy lentils. Right next to the cathedral L’Ame des Poètes there is a vegetarian restaurant offering creative lentil variations – especially the lentils lasagna is amazing! If you happen to be in Le Puy on August 15 (Assumption Day), prepare for crowds and a big celebration. On this day, around 15 000 people hold a huge procession to celebrate St. Mary; truly impressive to witness. Events like these are a remnant of the town’s bright past as an important hub for pilgrims.
- Although the villages along the way mostly know about their pilgrim-route status, this route is not as well equipped as, for example, the Camino Frances. Avoid getting hangry and exhausted, pack enough snacks for the day.
- If you learned some French in school or always wanted to try out another language, now is the time. While it is always a good idea to know a bit of the local language when travelling, it is quite important on the Via Gebennensis. In the French countryside, you shouldn’t rely on people speaking English. A few phrases to be able to ask for directions or buy food are always a good idea.
- Keep in mind that Switzerland is not part of the EU. This should not be a problem but still, check in advance if you have everything you need to be able to enter Switzerland.
- Carry some cash (Euros, and on the first section Swiss Francs) with you. Not all shops might accept cards and not every village has an ATM.
As much as I write about Geneva Way, it is like every destination or activity: You have to experience it yourself. Be it a taster to try out a walking holiday, a short getaway for nature lovers or a welcome alternative for experienced pilgrims who look for routes off the beaten path – this route has something to offer for everyone. Did you get inspired? Check out our products, learn more about the Camino de Santiago or have a look at some other walking holidays!