Armed with both new volumes of Walking in Provence, courtesy of Cicerone's New for Old scheme and a clutch of IGN maps, we visited the small market town of Buis-les-Baronnies tucked away in the Ouvèze valley for a great week's walking in Drôme Provençale, and have returned numerous times...
Drôme Provençale and Haute Provence – the pleasures of l’automne
Armed with both new volumes of Walking in Provence, courtesy of Cicerone’s “new guides for old” discount scheme and a clutch of IGN maps, the pleasures of autumn walking in Provence were re-visited by these Cicerone enthusiasts.
We first visited the small market town of Buis-les-Baronnies tucked away in the Ouvèze valley in the spring of 2009 and, after a great week’s walking in Drôme Provençale, have returned numerous times including bailing out from a washed-out snowshoeing trip in Morzine last December.
Autumn comes much later than the UK so October and November is actually a great time to be in Provence to enjoy the colours and peaceful walking in the limestone hills in what is usually T-shirt weather.
There is little recently published in English on mountain walking in Provence: Michael Peyron’s 1998 West Col guide describes plenty of good outings in both Drôme Provençal and south across Provence; Thomas Rettstatt’s 2000 Rother guide to walks in Provence keeps to the south of Mt Ventoux. Both are worth having, supplemented by some of the French guidebooks as there is plenty to do!
Descending from Col d-Ambonne to Le Poët-Sigillat
It was therefore good to learn that Cicerone’s Provence guidebook had been enlarged to two volumes to include both Drôme Provençale and the Mercantour. It was very sad to hear that the author Janette Norton had died before their completion.
Armed with both new volumes courtesy of Cicerone’s “new guides for old” discount scheme and a clutch of IGN maps, we took our campervan to France and headed for Digne-les-Bains in the Alpes de Haute Provence. We completed an ascent of the Cousson, the delightful Gorges de Trèvans circuit and the round of the Rochers des Mées as Janette described. Further west, waterproofs were needed for the Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and the Wall of the Plague walk.
We can confirm that even the most newbie, incompetent or navigationally-challenged walker should have no difficulty in following the detailed descriptions provided and avoid overshooting the generous timings allowed.
In the shoulder seasons, the Provence hills are relatively quiet even at the weekends. In the Fall, the summer flowers and intense sunshine are exchanged for rich autumnal colour with a greater chance of cloud or showers – think of being in the Lakes on a nice sunny September day without the crowds! The yellow leaved willows lining the riverbanks glow (you might even see a beaver) and the still-retained foliage in the beech and oak forests contrast with the colours in the garrigue-covered rocky slopes and surprising grassy summer pastures recently abandoned by sheep and cows. Less atmospheric haze means better clarity of views to the snow-dusted peaks to the distant east.
In addition to Janette’s excellent walks there are many, many more: flocks of griffon vultures twenty at a time soar over the village of Remuzat to the east of Nyons and you can see eye-to-eye with these “flying ironing boards” from a perch on the summit of the Rocher du Caire attained by an easy walk (or a mild via ferrata); the ascent to the summit of the shapely La Vanige peak attainable by various routes; climb to the site of the Fort de Mévouillon raised to the ground on the orders of Richelieu, before a long scramble along the Montagne de Bouvrége ridge; and the round of the Montagne de Chamouse ridges from Somecure. These four are but a small selection of classics that would thronged if they were in the UK.
P.S. Just don’t tell everyone!