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They spent seven days living in Faycelles, a village on one of the ravines of the Lot valley in France.
The streets of Faycelles at rush hour (All photos belong to Matías Callone)
Faycelles wasn’t in my travel plans. He came from walking 112 kilometers following the Via Podiensis in France (the most famous Way of St. James in French territory). Faycelles is a passing village, it is neither the end nor the beginning of a stage (in the 29 stages of this path). In my case it will be a break (one week). My feet were already somewhat “broken” from so much naively walking (that is, not preventing blisters with products for such an adventure). The objective of this new stage of my journey: to live in a village, and therefore to live in a different way from what I am used to in medium-sized or large cities.
Faycelles was therefore my pause, my rented house (by chance) in an absolutely unknown village on my way and in my travel plans. An experience that included questions about how I was going to feed myself in a place where I didn’t know if something similar to a market or a store or something similar to a restaurant worked. In my fears I would be a ghost town, in my dreams, a place to spend relaxed days (lying on a bed recovering my feet).
My last 10 kilometers walking from Figeac made my two backpacks feel with all their overload (weight and days walking). And then I arrive at Faycelles, a street that introduces me to a handful of picturesque houses that remind me of the charming villages of my previous trip to the Lot (or Dordogne). The first thing I think is that this town looks like everything beautiful that my imaginary pettiness couldn’t anticipate. I had walked for several days, I had also passed through some incredibly beautiful villages. But in the last days the villages were not up to the standards of the previous ones: they were feeding my fears of spending seven days in an almost ghost town.
The signs on the path indicate to me that I have to enter the village by a staircase surrounded by gardens and flowers, something that seems to be the access to the Eden of deep France. My wish granted: at the end of the staircase there is a rare avis from the French gastronomic sector: a café that serves as the community centre of the village, a café, a meeting point, an antiques exhibition, a petanque courtyard, a tiny market and a pause for pilgrims (I would say more hikers than pilgrims). It’s called La Petite Pause.
The path GR65 (or via Podiensis) is farther away from a path of devout pilgrims, it seems more like an opportunity to walk, connect with nature, overcome personal goals and raise our satisfaction in overcoming challenges. Also an opportunity to connect with people, experience ephemeral friendships, share tables with strangers, breathe cordiality. Reaching Santiago many times is not the goal but the north that orients the route.
Faycelles at first glance appears to be a sleepy village in the hunt for urban opportunities for its young inhabitants, a phenomenon that is repeated in almost every village in Europe. These populations are aging in slow motion. On the other hand, it is not difficult to notice that this one as other towns that are on the road, remain more alive and animated.
My host is the son of Spanish emigrants in post-civil war times of the twentieth century. Paco is one more Frenchman who speaks a Spanish that he seems to be forgetting. But above all he is an inhabitant of Faycelles who seems more than rooted to his place in the world. He is the one who opens the door for me to know more about the people, their lives and their people.
La Petite Pause.
My temporary house is 30 metres from the village café (La Petite Pause), opposite the church which is the geographical and conceptual epicentre of the village.
My temporary home (my host tells me) was bought not so long ago from a deceased lady. After rehabilitating and renovating it, your child helps you open an AIRBNB account to host guests (more than two days’ stay). The house is small, two floors in an old but renovated building: enough space for two people (and little more), a balcony overlooking the church almost facing the Mairie (the town hall). To make matters worse, La Mairie’s building looks like one of those buildings from a fairy tale.
Seven days of extended afternoons until after ten o’clock (almost night) when it was easy for the ear to buzz in a quasi-ghostly silence. The traffic was in the morning: not of cars, but of settlers who walk daily to pilgrimage for their baguette available at the Petite Pause. The eternal return with the baguette under your arm. The traffic also reached its “rush hour” around 9.30 a.m. and extended until 11 a.m.: hikers from Via Podiensis with their loaded backpacks (and their heavy breathing) coming from Figeac after hours of walking. Some only passed without stopping at Faycelles, others stopped at La Petite Pause. Around 12 noon, total calm returned. The day seemed over.
Evidently my host was working hard for something more than providing accommodation under a contractual and temporary status. Somehow it would make me feel more like someone from the village. He invites me to several coffees over the course of the days.
On my first day, the house included some welcome provisions: some food for the first few days, a homemade sweet for breakfast, bread, eggs “from the chickens in your house”, a pâté and even a wine to brighten up the sunsets from the balcony. He is the one who tells me about the jobs and life of the local people: in general those of working age don’t work there. There are large companies and industries especially in the vicinity of Figeac. That includes a company that works for large aeronautical companies that employs thousands of people throughout the area. Faycelles would then be a dormitory village. But as the days go by I become more and more informed: In deep France in general many villages lose inhabitants.
Faycelles, on the other hand, is receiving more and more residents (and is therefore a rare demographic exception): French “outsiders” (retired) fleeing cities in search of a quieter life, or some young couples buying a house to restore and live in a quiet place to raise their children. The empty houses in Faycelles are sold and new owners are found. It resembles a success story in contrast to other impotent emptying villages as their diminishing inhabitants watch the windows being covered.
With the days I walk around. I can take regional transport buses that pass by a route just beside the village. My mechanics in the walks is to get to some point of the surroundings to return walking to Faycelles, enjoying the rural landscape. For example, one day I got off at Larroque-Toirac , a village that my host had recommended me to see for its castle.
I walk through it and notice that most of the houses have closed windows for a long time. It’s a beautiful corner but inevitably I’m struck by its ghostly atmosphere. It is evident that it does not have the same “success as Faycelles”.
If there is a way to measure how vital an inland village is in France, a good indication is to start by checking whether bread is sold in that village. If there is no open boulangerie, it is likely that the town is immersed in an unstoppable process of loss of inhabitants. For example Larroque-Toirac does not have Boulangerie, just as it does not have many houses with their windows open. Living in a village without boulangerie means much more than not having a morning pilgrimage site. Without boulangerie, the pulse of the people is not sustained.
Living seven days in “the quietest town in the world”, to the surprise of some, doesn’t have boring moments. I enjoy my breaks, my rest, an excellent internet connection that I use to work and write on my blog. And when the spring weather resembles spring, I enjoy my excursions to the surroundings. One day to Figeac, another day down to the banks of the river Lot. My last day allowed me to walk 22 kilometers with my feet recovered. I can get to know Cajarc, another city that is part of a stage on the Camino de Santiago. Some evenings I go to the cafe, I have some more talks with my temporary friendship of that calm and ephemeral dream. In my memories will remain scenes of a coffee table, accompanied by villagers who play petanque in a small square next to the outside tables. Petanca is the second great devotion that animates the town, an activity that in those days women do not participate (maybe other days yes, but it was not the case). Petanque, they explain to me, summons every afternoon from Monday to Monday. The café may be closed, but the game of petanque never has a break.
Not all peoples can afford to grow and summon. Faycelles manages to be a life choice for some exiles from the urban republic, or for those who think that living in cities is the wrong way to live. Much of what we might miss about a city Faycelles has it within ten minutes drive in Figeac: the supermarket, the permanent cultural activities, the shops and products indeclinables even for the inhabitants of Feycelles. In short, urban abstinence (or citadine) is solved in ten minutes and according to my host, not much is missed.
My last day, I say goodbye looking at some old pictures of the village (in black and white and with some dated up to 90 years ago). The village looks the same in many ways: their houses are the same as today, but they look more rustic. There are chickens or even sheep on the streets in some photos. People seem to lead an austere and rustic life, very probably linked to the rural world. No doubt that today’s times seem better, the village is impeccably preserved and restored, they removed the cables that shaved the views, people do not perform tasks so hard or rustic. The gardens are embellished with flowers and ornamental plants. The jobs are farther away and largely disconnected from the rural world. Driving 15 minutes to work is much less than the average trip in any big city.
Before leaving I show my temporary friend some photos of my city in Argentina (where you can see the crowded beaches in summer). He tells me that he doesn’t understand it, and that something similar happens in France: “here too they are crowded all year round in Paris, and in summer they are crowded on the beaches”. He tells me that he would not move, nor would he change his life in Faycelles: “there are days when I go down to fish in the river, I have a boat moored on the shore”. I dare not say that life in Faycelles is for everyone. But it does seem to be the best possible life for my host, and for many of the relaxed villagers. By the way, the houses in these villages are sold at infinitely cheaper prices than any house in a big French city. Sometimes they say that supply and demand (the market) are right. Inside me, Faycelles denies that rule.
Seven days pass soon, even in Faycelles.
Practical information to visit Faycelles.
It is located about ten minutes by car from Figeac (about seven and a half kilometres), or one hour (70 kilometres from Cahors). If you travel through the Lot valley, you can join Cahors and Figeac via Faycelles, as well as beautiful villages such as Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Where to stay: in Faycelles, being a passing village on the Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago (Via Podiensis) there are several Chambres d’hotes (accommodations with rooms for pilgrims quite cheap, although usual to stay a night, you can ask to stay more days). In fact the same coffee La Petite Pause offers rooms for about 23 to 35 euros. Other Chambres d´hotes would be the Bleus-Lumiere, or La Caselle, between 40 and 90 euros a night. You can also see these accommodation options in the surroundings (which include a curious minimum house with spa included).
My apartment accommodation in Faycelles. is available for more than two nights stay. You can consult the profile of your accommodation on this link. And if you stay there they tell you that they go on behalf of Matías and from my blog (I was their first host 🙂 . If you are using Airbnb for the first time you can take advantage of this discount of up to 31 euros for your first booking.
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