From mountains to a magnificent gorge
From the summit of Crêt de la Perdrix, the sky stretched out with peaks scratching gently at its underside.
On Rugby World’s recent stint in Saint-Étienne for the Rugby World Cup, we had the opportunity to get out of the city and commune with nature. Of course, the almost-farcical thing here is that while we are at the highest point of the Pilat natural park, stretching 1,432m above sea-level, we are just under 40 minute’s drive from the centre, not far outside Saint-Étienne.
Having been expertly guided upwards by Florian Olivier – an exceptional ultra trail runner who thankfully takes us a ambling pace – you can see for miles. On a favourable day, Olivier tells us, Mont Blanc is clearly visible. Not that it’s needed to take the breath away. You can feel small up here, which makes it all the more incredible that less than an hour ago we were in the pumping heart of the city of Saint-Étienne.
After a hike over to Cret de la Chèvre (altitude of 1,429m), its then back down the mountainside for the important business of an ice cold beer and some tarte aux myrtilles – the blueberry pie that is a specialty of Auberge de la Jasserie, the eatery nestled into the picturesque slope where old sky jumps glint in the summer sun and the panorama demands you get your phone out and snap.
Out on the water and not even outside Saint-Étienne
That experience was 40 minutes from town, but it’s not the only option. Your sense of escape is easily discovered again, and not even outside Saint-Étienne, when you head for the gorges de la Loire, just over 20 minutes away from the centre.
Talked of as somewhere locals can flee to when they want to relax and get out on the water, you can see why. Framed by rocky walls of shrubbed climbs, the water of the Loire snakes slowly ahead from you. Nothing feels rushed here.
As you splash out ahead, you might notice little details of old bridges or once-used tunnels – remnants of the coal industry working hard through Saint-Étienne. But this is a place of recreation now.
Jetskis, dinghies, sails… There are even pedalos available. The key is to just get out there. Then turn your head to the view. It can whoosh past you, right enough, if you are willing to up the pace or dive in. But just as easily you can let it float by as the sun reflects off the water.
Before a local dam was built, the peaks here were higher, but now you can paddle past a pair of castles as you head further into the gorge.
It’s another prime example of being able to flit out of the city and find something spectacular right there.
Of course, in the heart of Saint-Étienne, culture and culinary options abound too. Look out for our piece on that. And find out more about this destination on the official Saint-Étienne tourism page.