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Explore Western Provence with a Cicerone guidebook - Introduction

Cover of Walking in Provence - West
Availability
Published
Published
3 Nov 2014
ISBN
9781852846169
Edition
First
Size
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.8cm
Weight
300g
Pages
272
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Walking in Provence - West

Drôme Provençal, Vaucluse, Var

by Janette Norton
Book published by Cicerone Press

Guidebook to 30 varied day walks in the west of Provence in the Drôme Provençale, the Vaucluse and the Var, with practical information for the walker. Walks span from the Baronnies in the north to the Ste-Baume ridge in the south and can be tackled from charming bases such as Nyons, Apt and Aix-en-Provence.

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Description

Provence’s sunshine and Mediterranean charm attract many visitors to its coast, yet the area also has much more to offer the walker. The countryside inland boasts a range of scenery from remote mountaintops to spectacular gorges. History is everywhere, in medieval villages, arcaded streets, abbeys, churches and castles. 

This guide covers the western regions, with its companion volume, Walking in Provence: East, covering the rest of this fascinating and historic landscape. The walking is incredibly diverse; from the green waves of the Barronies hills in Drôme Provençale, to the unforgettable silhouette of Mont Ventoux giving way to limestone plateaux cut with ravines in the Vauclause. Further south lies Var, containing rock and wood-strewn hills inland, and a coast full of knarled inlets and hidden beaches.

Suitable for all walkers of average fitness levels, the walks range from 4 to 21 kilometres, and are graded for difficulty from short, easy routes to more challenging walks that can include precipitous sections, but no special equipment is needed.

  • 30 day walks in the Drôme Provençal, Vaucluse and Var in the sunny south-east corner of France
  • walks illustrated with clear sketch maps and height profiles, as well as inspiring photographs

  • all the practical information required for a perfect trip from public transport to maps and market days
  • Seasons
    most of the walks are not high and can be made at any time of the year, especially near the coast; the most pleasant seasons are spring and autumn.
  • Centres
    Nyons and Buis-les-Baronnies (Drôme Provençale); Vaison-la-Romaine and Apt (Vaucluse); St-Maximin-la-Ste-Baume and Aix-en-Provence (Var)
  • Difficulty
    circular day walks, suitable for averagely fit people and graded Easy, Medium or Difficult, depending on length, total ascent and terrain; easy walks are short, while difficult ones take up to eight hours and may include sections that are precipitous or difficult to navigate; no special equipment is needed
  • Must See
    dramatic mountain ridges and deep river gorges; perched medieval villages, arcaded streets, fountains, ruined castles, abbeys and churches; from the Baronnies in the north to the Ste-Baume ridge in the south
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Contents

Contents
Introduction
A short history of Provence
Provençal writers and artists
Plants and flowers
Wildlife
Regional specialities
Markets
Travelling to Provence
When to go
Accommodation
Clothing and equipment
Using this guide
Drôme Provençale
Location of Walks
Walk 1 Nyons Olive Walk
Walk 2 Ferme de la Lance
Walk 3 The Cougoir
Walk 4 Serre de Crema
Walk 5 Rocher de Bramard
Walk 6 Gorges de Léoux
Walk 7 Grande Javonière
Walk 8 Château d’Ubrieux
Walk 9 Around the Rocher de St-Julien
Walk 10 Gorges de Toulourenc
Walk 11 Lavender Walk from Aulan
Vaucluse
Location of Walks
Walk 12 Vaison-la-Romaine to Crestet
Walk 13 The Gambade from Gigondas
Walk 14 Dentelles de Montmirail
Walk 15 Le Barroux to La Roque-Alric
Walk 16 Gorges du Curnier
Walk 17 Gorges de la Nesque
Walk 18 Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and the Wall of the Plague
Walk 19 Abbaye de Sénanque
Walk 20 Colorado Provençal
Walk 21 Fort de Buoux
Walk 22 Mourre Nègre
Var
Location of Walks
Walk 23 Montagne Ste-Victoire
Walk 24 Marcel Pagnol Country
Walk 25 Mont Olympe
Walk 26 Montagne de la Ste-Baume
Walk 27 Ste-Croix from Nans-les-Pins
Walk 28 Old village and castle of Rougiers
Walk 29 Mourre d’Agnis
Walk 30 Circuit de Latay
 
 
Appendix A Route summary table
Appendix B Maps
Appendix C Tourist information
Appendix D Market days
Appendix E Glossary of Provençal words

Introduction

Le Barroux from the Chapelle St-Christophe (Walk 15)

As you drive south through France on the aptly named Autoroute du Soleil (motorway of the sun), just after Montélimar you will notice that there is a large granite sculpture of the sun on the right side of the road, and soon after a sign saying Vous êtes en Provence (You are in Provence). At this point the landscape starts to alter and the light changes. Everything suddenly looks clearer, the sun is brighter, the sky bluer. The little red-roofed villages stand out on the hillsides, each with its distinctive iron-trellised church tower; the roads are lined by tall cypresses and pines; at the sides are stony vineyards, rows of purple lavender, groves of olive trees and yellow-flowering broom.

You feel a certain indolence take hold; things that were stressful and important become trivial; the air is warm and smells of pine trees and herbs; the people on the motorway péages (toll booths) actually smile! It could all be imagination, or just the Mediterranean magic that has seduced thousands of tourists as they enter Provence.

Provence is in the south-eastern corner of France, and extends from the River Rhône in the west to the Italian border in the east, with the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It includes the five administrative departments of Vaucluse, Var, Alpes Maritimes, Alpes de Haute-Provence and Bouches-du-Rhône. This guide has largely excluded the Bouches-du-Rhône and has instead included the Drôme Provençale, which is actually part of the department of the Drôme but, as its name suggests, has all the characteristics of Provence.

Rocher de St-Julien above Buis-les-Baronnies (Walk 9)

Originally published in one volume, the walks have now been split into two books, with two new regions added, the Drôme Provençale and the Mercantour.

Walking in Provence: West

  • Drôme Provençale
  • Vaucluse
  • Var

Walking in Provence: East

  • Alpes Maritimes
  • Alpes de Haute-Provence
  • Mercantour

The three regions covered in Provence West offer a variety of landscapes and walks, mostly at a lower altitude than in Provence East. The Drôme Provençale, the northernmost region, is a sunny land of vineyards, lavender fields and rolling tree-covered hills. The walks here vary from the olive groves of Nyons to the rocky crests and gorges of the Baronnies where vultures soar overhead. The Vaucluse further south is a frequently visited region of old towns and castles, well known for its wine. The walks here often have a historic interest, some along rivers or through gorges, others on high plateaux or around rocky peaks, with the white-capped Mont Ventoux always visible. The Var borders on the Mediterranean, yet behind the coast are fertile valleys and low hills, dominated by the long craggy ridge of the Sainte-Baume massif. Some of the walks here are lower, around small villages, while others are up peaks with spectacular views over the distant sea.

However, it should be pointed out that walking in Provence is often a lonely activity. While the towns, especially on the coast, are thronged with people, the hills are often devoid of anyone apart from sheep, and there is rarely a cosy mountain refuge just around the corner or a handy walker to ask directions from. Walking for pleasure is not a pastime of the average Provençal, who would rather sit under a tree and drink a pastis.

But the walking is magical and full of discovery – a hilltop village, a medieval abbey or castle, a shrine or chapel, an old borie or mill – this is a countryside with a past, and when walking in it, you stumble on history. The attraction of Provence is its diversity: one day you can be walking on a remote plateau or up a rocky peak, the next down a leafy gorge or along an old canal. There are so many interesting diversions that walks often take longer than anticipated, but the air is warm and fragrant with herbs – time takes on a new meaning.

And when you finally arrive back, there is hopefully that glass of rosé waiting for you in a little café under shady trees in the main square of the village.

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