Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lyon to Albi: The beast of Gévaudan

Not wanting another 8-9 hour slog to reach home, or indeed just another day cruising down highways, I’ve found a little hotel outside of Albi to aim for tonight. The satnav has been set to avoid tollways, so we’ve got a more-or-less directly southwest bearing to follow from Lyon. I’ve really no idea what we might see along the way, but am conscious of the opportunity to divert through the large Cevènnes National Park if we have time. Our two days of warm sunshine in Leon have been washed away, so expectations aren’t high.2010-10-30 Wolf park - Albi-3

The first thing that really catches my eye is in Le Puy-en-Velay, a town in the Auvergne where a small red figure atop a mount suggested another hill that prays, and then there was a second mount with a church – the 12th century Cathèdrale Notre-Dame de Puy – keeping it company. There is extensive Christian mythology associated with the area, as a place of pilgrimage, and now as a starting point for the pilgrimage to  Santiago de Compostela.

A puy is a volcanic hill of a type common in the Auvergne (or Auckland!): a cinder cone. The word comes from the same Latin root as podium. The Gersois village of St Puy was once the Roman fortified camp Summer Podium.2010-10-30 Wolf park - Albi-2

Like yesterday in Lyon, my day started getting a bit wolfy, with numerous lupine icons popping up along the road, such as shown at St Privat d’Allier (top right & bottom left), and then the outskirts of Saugues. I’m not sure where the wolf vs bear figure was located, but I remember twice circling a roundabout to see it properly.

Pays de Saugues

Note the image for Auvers in the local map above, with a monument of a wolf being speared mid-leap. This is la Bête du Gévaudan, based on stories of wolf-like creatures terrorising the region in the 1760s. It is the subject of my favourite pre-revolutionary martial arts film The Brotherhood of the Wolf.

PA300717  PA300721

The terrain was quite fantastic: the gorges of the Allier in autumn colours, orange marching through the trees like a Christo installation. With the roads sweeping to over 1000m altitude around St Albans, drifts of snow were visible in the mountain pastures and at the roadside, sadly none big or accessible enough for Munson to experience fully.

A sign on the highway caught my eye: Parc à loups du Gévaudan. A wolf-park!  This is the second time I’ve lucked onto something  like this in France. Last time it was the sighting of the Parc du chien polaire between Pontarlier and Geneva when Bondi and I were making our final loup-de-loop of the continent. The Hypnowolf sign also commanded me to drive off the highway to his parc.

Hypnowolf is watching you

PA300739There was hardly anyone else out side the reception area/cafe when I arrived. I set off on the path past the number of enclosures for different varieties of wolf, many of which look like a malamute slumber party. By imitating Munson’s “hey I’m a friend” whimper I was able to entice some of them out of hiding down to the wire fences. Crouching down a bit also made them a bit more comfortable that even if I wasn’t a bizarre wolf, at least I was polite.

The small rapport was destroyed just before the end of my circuit when  a party of impatient visitors brandishing large cameras and tripods came striding down the path, making a lot of noise and scaring the wolves back into the undergrowth.

Wolf vocal communication primer

While loading up at the gift shop I overheard a new visitor tell the proprietor that there was a wolf in one of the cars in the parking lot. Fortunately I’d warned him that I had a malamute passenger only a few minutes before, although I later regretted missing out on a team going to investigate Munson’s presence.

2010-10-30 Wolf park - Albi1-2

Albi was our last stop for the day before bedding down for the night in Realmont. Students of European history may be aware of the city’s connection with the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathars in the early 13th century, a forerunner of the Inquisition.  Albi’s dominating feature is the cathedral Saint-Cecile, the world’s largest in the red-brick Gothic style I’d seen in the Baltic states. Unlike the cathedral at Chartres, walking past the fat towers at some corners you indeed feel that this is a do-able DIY cathedral-project, although it does apparently have an extremely ornate interior.

Right next to the cathedral in the old bishop’s palace is a museum honouring one of Albi’s most famous sons, the artist Toulouse Lautrec. It has all his famous posters and many works by contemporaries such as Rodin, Matisse and Degas. It was a bit late for a visit today, especially with Munson needing some post-touring entertainment, so I’ve bookmarked it for a later return journey.

PA300852-858_stitch Albi- square beside cathedral


PA300861-865_stitch Albi

Lyon to Albi

I noticed belatedly that our route had taken us very close to the famous Millau Viaduct, the world’s tallest bridge and subject of an episode of Extreme Engineering. I probably would have been a little sick at the thought of driving across it, but viewing it from a distance may have been OK.


  1. That was WAY cool!

    We loved the visuals of a Malamute slumber party!

    Thanks for sharing the visit to Hypnowolf World!

  2. Down on the coast (about 6 hours from here), the government is working hard to re-introduce the red wolf into the wild (the grey wolf re-introduction went terribly here in the mountains because they all caught parvo-virus and died). There is a red wolf exhibit from some of the breeding wolves who can not make it in the wild on their own.

    The habitat is large, so you can see them if there are crowds. But on cool winter days, you can go sit quietly and watch. They will come out and you can take some great pictures of them. If only people understood that quiet and patience is how you entice nature to interact with you.


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