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Explore Western Provence with a Cicerone guidebook - Sample Route

Cover of Walking in Provence - West
3 Nov 2014
17.2 x 11.6 x 1.8cm
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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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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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A short history of Provence
Provençal writers and artists
Plants and flowers
Regional specialities
Travelling to Provence
When to go
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
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
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

Sample Route

Dentelles de Montmirail
Start/FinishThe Col du Cayron above Gigondas, 370m
Distance10.8km; shorter route: 8.0km
Total Ascent500m; shorter route: 370m
Time4hrs 45mins; shorter route: 3hrs 30mins
MapIGN 3040 ET Carpentras 1:25,000
AccessFrom Vaison-la-Romaine, take the D977 signposted Avignon and after 9km turn left on the D7 towards Gigondas, passing the village of Sablet. Turn left again on the D79 signposted Gigondas 1km/Dentelles de Montmirail/Hotel Les Florets. At a crossroads turn left (Gigondas is straight on) and then again almost immediately following the signs to Dentelles de Montmirail/Hotel Les Florets. Continue up this road for 2km past the Hotel Florets and then on a rougher road to the Col du Cayron, 396m, an open space with a car park. There are two information boards.
SignpostingGood except when you really need one! Blue and then yellow splashes

This is a truly delightful walk with splendid views of these curious peaks. The Dentelles de Montmirail are a dramatic row of white limestone peaks which stick out like a lacy border over the surrounding Vaucluse plain and are the foothills of the nearby Mont Ventoux. They were caused by the folding of the earth’s crust which forced the limestone upwards. Centuries of wind and erosion have shaped them into needle-like peaks and ridges. They are a lovely sight at any time of the year but more so in May and June when the lower slopes are covered with yellow-flowering broom.

The Dentelles have attracted many artists and walkers – the area is very popular and can be crowded in high season.

From the car park, go up behind the yellow signpost to an information board about the Col du Cayron and wooden signpost indicating ‘Sentier d’accés au Dentelles’. Following blue splashes, head up this clear sunken path with some wide man-made steps going steeply up through pines and boxwood towards the serrated crests of the Dentelles Sarrasines.

Down on the left is an attractive valley of vineyards with a television mast beyond on top of the Crête de St-Amand. The path goes up fairly steeply, getting rocky as it gains height, until it reaches a signpost at a T-junction [1]. Take care: this signpost is not easy to see as the signs have disappeared and the only one left indicates Col du Cayron, the path you came up! There are blue splashes indicating right and left here which is confusing (15mins).

The left path at the T-junction is a more difficult ascent and goes right over the cliffs and directly down to the Col d’Alsau. It should only be attempted by experienced people who can cope with a vertiginous scramble and has not been done by the author. It shortens the walk by about 30mins.

Turn right and continue on this narrow rocky path, following the intermittent blue splashes carefully. There are two short rocky scrambles as the path nears the sheer cliffs of the Dentelles Sarrasines (40mins).

When you are right under the cliffs, take a short detour up left to a crest between two rocks. There is a magnificent view over the vine-covered valley below and another range of serrated rocks beyond, Le Grand Montmirail, with the white crest of Mont Ventoux on the horizon north; it is the perfect place for a picnic.

Continue below these incredible rock formations on the main path which eventually reaches the end at a tall cliff. Beyond the cliff the path bears right (blue splash) and goes through thick boxwood. It is important here to follow the blue markings carefully and go straight. If you bear down right you could find yourself on a nasty scree slope. There are lovely open views of the plain dotted with villages as you make your way down to meet the unpaved road at a clearing with pines called the Rocher du Midi (1hr 10mins).

It is worth following the sign right to the Belvédère Rocher du Midi (belvédère means viewpoint), through pines and then up man-made steps to a lookout site and an orientation table. Straight ahead below you is the village of Gigondas, to the right Sablet with a tower at the top of the huddle of houses, and further right Séguret. Retrace your steps to the road and go right.

The track curls round the end of the Dentelles (heading south west). Do not turn down right towards Gigondas (there are blue markings here also) but continue to the Col d’Alsau where there is a signpost indicating where the steep shortcut joins the road. At the col there is a parking area with a new wall to the left [2] (1hr 30mins).

Landscape near the Dentelles de Montmirail

Continue past the parking area following sign for Tour Sarrasine to another signpost saying Col d’Alsau 445m just after a right-hand corner. Turn up left on an equally wide road for a few minutes. Where the road goes left through the gates of a domaine called Clos Bois de Menge, continue straight on a narrow path up steps, marked by blue dots and yellow splashes, steeply uphill through stunted trees and bushes and later over patches of scree. There is a charming vine-covered valley down on the left with the Dentelles Sarrasines behind so the route has done a complete loop – the jagged peaks of Grand Montmirail are looming ahead with Mont Ventoux on the skyline behind.

Be careful to keep to the path with the blue dot and yellow splashes. Ignore a path down right and continue straight. At a fork bear up right following the blue dots (you are now out in the open). At subsequent forks bear up right (blue dots) as the left paths descend into the valley. The path starts to descend to what looks like a low bushy pass just below a high rocky crag, to reach a T-junction [3] (1hr 50mins). Here there is a shorter route option which goes north of the ridge ahead and down into the Vallat de l’Aiguille before joining the main route on the road to the Domaine de Cassan.

Shorter route via the Vallat de l’Aiguille

Go left at the T-junction. Then go right (yellow arrow on tree) and follow intermittent yellow splashes. Do not take any paths up left clearly marked by yellow crosses. The rocky path takes you scrambling round the end of the Grand Montmirail ridge and across some patches of scree before going along the flank of the slope, gently and then sometimes steeply downwards towards the valley below. Again follow the intermittent yellow splashes carefully as they are easy to miss. By a cairn turn down left and continue to reach a T-junction [3a] at a dry riverbed with yellow splashes indicating left and right (2hrs 30mins).

Go left and continue along the path which contours the riverbed down in a narrow ravine right and then goes gently down to reach a small stream at the side of vineyards. Cross the stream and go right along a narrow path (no splash here) which climbs fairly steeply out of the valley to a T-junction where you turn right and continue up to reach the road from Lafare at [6]. Turn left towards Cassan, rejoining the main route.

At the T-junction continue down, ignoring a path up left with blue dots/yellow splashes. There are occasional yellow splashes as the bushy path winds quite steeply down, reaching a narrow road just below a small clearing where there is a noticeboard. Here there are no blue splashes (2hrs 15mins).

Turn left down the road. This is a beautiful unspoilt valley with the wooded slopes and the rocky crags of the Dentelles to the left and rows and rows of vineyards. Passing a large house to the right, the road continues gently down through occasional pine-woods.

Rocky spires of the Dentelles de Montmirail

Take the second smaller road up to the left [4], opposite a low cliff over on the right. There is a blue cross, yellow splash, and a round sign saying 8T. This is the last blue marking to be seen for a while – continue following yellow splashes (blue markings appear later but the yellow are more frequent).

At a fork turn down right and cross over a ford to reach the larger road again (you can go up left but this is a longer way round and not really worth it). Turn left and cross the Salatte River into the village of Lafare, passing a hotel on the right.

Lafare is a typical Provençal hamlet with its huddle of houses and steep narrow streets. Home to 100 inhabitants, it also has a couple of places where refreshment is available, one of them a smart hotel.

Turn up left (yellow splashes) at a road junction with a sign for Dentelles de Montmirail (3hrs 15mins). This is a lesser paved road (heading north) which crosses the Salatte river again. After the bridge across the river, watch for an orange splash left indicating a shortcut avoiding part of the road. Go up left at the first intersection (right reaches the road earlier). Rejoin the road and continue upwards with the Grand Montmirail over on the left. The Chapelle St-Christophe is visible high above on a rocky knoll. Continue till you reach a hairpin bend to the left by a ravine [5] (3hrs 30mins).

Look carefully for a narrow path marked with blue and yellow splashes bearing right; to the left is a miniature gully which you should avoid. Follow the blue dots carefully on a path up through bushes (one short climb over a rock) and over patches of scree. At a junction keep left to rejoin the road beside a telephone pole, just before a small parking area (3hrs 50mins). If you go right at the junction you will rejoin the road earlier and should then walk up round a left hairpin. You are now near the Chapelle St-Christophe.

To visit the Chapelle St-Christophe, cross the road and go up the fairly steep path for about 5mins. The chapel has been partially restored and is not normally locked. There is a crude altar inside but a dirt floor and it does not look as though it is used for worship. There is a lovely view of Le Grand Montmirail range and the valley with the village of Lafare. Retrace your steps to the road and turn right.

Walk gently up the paved road (heading north-west), past [6] where the shorter route via the Vallat de l’Aiguille rejoins from the left. Continue through vineyards towards the large buildings of the Domaine de Cassan, suppliers of Gigondas and Beaumes de Venise wines. This is a good opportunity to indulge in some dégustation gratuit (free tasting) – the wines are highly recommended and it is worth tucking the odd bottle into your rucksack!

A few minutes later bear to the left towards Col du Cayron (4hrs 15mins) where the road deteriorates. You are entering a valley (heading west) with the rocky peaks of the Dentelles Sarrasines on the left. Initially there are vineyards both sides of the road and then woods with a cleared area (probably for another car park) as the road goes steadily up to the large parking area and the start of the walk at the Col du Cayron (4hrs 45mins).

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