The weather forecast was on a red alert for storms, which made it difficult to plan.
It was far too hot to walk – most of the footpaths in the Gorges du Verdon have no shade whatsoever and the white limestone reflects the sunlight and heat straight back at you. We found one shady route, the Sentier des Pêcheurs – The Fishermen’s Trail, which led down to the part of the gorge where we paddled our SUPs the other day. Although it also offered an opportunity for a cooling swim for people and pooches, we had driven the Route des Crêtes that morning. Time was getting on – and the gorges are not the place to be caught out in a thunderstorm.
By accident, we arrived in Provence at the best time to see lavender, right in the middle of the short season (between mid-June and mid-to-late July, depending on the year and the weather.) I really wanted to see the lavender fields. Our onward route would take us over the plateau of Valensole, which is just beyond the beautiful village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, which we visited the other day. Nevertheless, we decided to go and have a proper look without the caravan in tow and oh boy. What an assault on the senses it was!
If you drive on the UK’s A303, you summit a rise near Amesbury and there is Stonehenge. It is a little underwhelming at first; in the distance, it looks small, dwarfed by the vastness of Salisbury plain. I remember my thoughts the first time I saw it, en route to visit a new customer in the South West,
“Is that Stonehenge? The world-famous ancient monument, just there by the side of the road? It can’t be…”
Then I realised; it is the real thing. It was an ‘Oh Wow!’ moment.
The road to Valensole was similar. We just topped a rise and suddenly, our entire vista was filled with rippling waves of the richest shade of purple. The road cut straight through two magnificent fields of lavender, with hazy blue mountains as the backdrop on one side and a conveniently located, Provençale farmhouse, built from golden stone to the other. We pulled over on the roadside and walked through neat rows of pillow-like lavender plants. The field was alive with white butterflies and the buzzing of bees. The scent was heavenly.
The route onward to Puimoisson was jaw dropping, with a barrage of constantly changing vistas and scents. Pink fields of clary sage smelled to me like someone sweating in a nylon shirt. The fresher aromas of aniseedy fennel and stands of pine trees were welcome, while rows of curry plants transported me back to Saturday nights in Brick Lane, close to where I worked as a beer-taster at Truman’s Brewery, in the mean streets of East London that were formerly the territory of Jack the Ripper. (If you’ve never tried an authentic curry on Brick Lane, you’ve never lived! I was delighted and not surprised when The India Cottage, our favourite curry house in Ringwood, Hampshire told me that their chefs come from Brick Lane.)
Fields of sunflowers smiled and bobbed their heads in front of a purple backdrop near Valensole. The town of Valensole was not the loveliest in Provence, although the centre did have quite a nice street with cafés and a fountain. We completed our circular route via the Roman town of Riez (doesn’t that mean ‘you all laugh’?), which took us through an entirely different landscape of bucolic, emerald fields and trees.
For some reason the hairpins above the gorges on the way back from Moustiers st Marie seemed much scarier than when we drove them the other day. Perhaps because there were more cars and quite a few were driving too fast. The views of the gorge were still magnificent and the colours of the lake, Sainte Croix, stunning.
Some stormy clouds surrounded us on the horizon, but never seemed to materialise. We stopped in the well-stocked minimarket in our home village of Palud-sur-Verdon for some ham and salad, then paid up at our campsite so that we could get an early start the following day. Our onward route requires us to drive the scary Moustiers section of road with the caravan. Although it is only about three hours to our next stop near Avignon, we would rather do the dodgy bit when the road is quiet!
But what was it that Shakespeare said about the best laid plans of mice and men? Usually we have no plan, so nothing can go wrong. Unfortunately, we HAD to get to Avignon the following day in time for long-standing and difficult-to-arrange post-lockdown appointments and Brexit-proofing. First, a vet would provide outstanding vaccinations and French puppy passports, then a dentist would deal with my three-month-old cavity, which conveniently came into existence the day after we were locked down in a deserted mountain village in Italy.
The gods were rubbing their hands.
Join us next time as we plan and the gods laugh! If you want to be updated automatically, follow my blog by clicking ‘follow’ or entering your email address. No spam guaranteed and you can unsubscribe at any time.
Walks in the Gorges du Verdon
We found Le Sentier du Pêcheur trail in the book that we bought ‘Canyon du Verdon – The Most Beautiful Hikes’, but the itinerary is online here and here. Evidently, we made a good decision, since the Castellane Tourist Office website states that the walk is currently closed until further notice!
There is a selection of hikes and mountain bike routes in the regional parks of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur on the website CheminsDesParcs. It is available in English and includes the classic, 12.7km one-way Blanc Martel Trail. To do this in its entirity, you will need proper footwear, a torch and fleece for the tunnels and a taxi or high season Navetta bus to return you to the start. Take plenty of water when walking – the recommended amount is three litres per person.