To mark her sixth decade, travel writer L. Peat O’Neil decided to walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, across France through the Pyrenees. She chose a path parallel to the more well-known Spanish Santiago de Compostela pilgrim route, but she trekked with an inspired mindfulness, looking for adventure and personal spiritual markers.
She found both—from a broken wrist and snarling dogs to quiet moments of sketching, all recorded in this book, which is an appealing blend of practical tips—the gites d’etapes inns that accommodate hikers and the weight trade-offs between books and water when you’re packing—to atmospheric and historical observations on nature and place—including Basque politics and mornings scented with mint and blackberries.
The history sprinkled throughout—from the Cathars to the mysterious standing stones called menhirs—anchor O’Neil’s route and give each hill and turn its geographical, cultural or historic place. The text is marked by photos and watercolor sketches she made along the way.
But her journey wasn’t just about solitude. Her encounters with fellow travelers and locals often come at the table where they share meals, stories, and advice. For cooks, there are recipes, some inspired by the likes of Elizabeth David and others gathered en route. In her choices, O’Neil tries to capture local flavors, as in a garbure, the hearty vegetable soup served all along the Pyreenes, each village and home with its own version. Other flavors she interprets, recreating the Beouf a la Bourguignonne served at La Bastide in Camps-sur-l’Agly.
O’Neil’s trek, through villages as old as stones, encounters with people who would never think of leaving, and the bowls of soup they shared, was her personal journey, a search for inner compass readings, but it is one that carries us along, through her musings and wanderings.