I visualise walking in Provence and I think of rolling green hills, neat fields, tree-lined paths and stone farmhouses with red tile roofs.
I know ‘rolling’ is a bit of a cliché but if I was to scour thesaurus just to find a more original word sitting on its own waiting to be picked, I’d be deceiving myself and anyone who reads this. Surveying the Provence countryside, the phrase that popped into my head was ‘rolling hills’ because that’s what they do. They roll into the distance like gentle waves seeking a beach to lap.
Gentle – it’s another word I associate with the Provence countryside. There are some destinations where I feel like Aragorn (I wish), battling ascents that could give you nose bleeds as well as a landscape that looks ready for a scrap – handsome, dramatic terrain that leaves you breathless with its looks and demanding nature.
Where some landscapes can make you feel like a warrior on a quest, Provence makes you feel as though you should have an easel under your arm. It is a land for artists and poets.
Having negotiated plunging ravines in Gran Canaria and La Gomera and tackled the Pyrenees over the course of the year, walking in Provence was like enjoying a light dessert after a hearty meal. A soft, pleasing sorbet after a mountain of meat.
One route took us from the oddity of Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire to Rellainne in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. Calling Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire an oddity is a bit unfair. It is the very image of a typically charming Provence town, apart from the shiny futuristic (in a 1960s sci-fi movie sort of way) domes of nearby observatories.
Our route undulated across field and dale, passing farmhouses, magical plane tree avenues, white horses and a modernistic tree house until we reached, still feeling fresh and perky, the wonderful Auberge de Rellainne outside of Rellainne.
We weren’t staying at the Auberge as it was full, so a tour of what were missing – hammocks strung between trees, cosy communal rooms, artistic bedrooms – was a bit cruel. We were there to have a chat with Monique Balmand who, when she doesn’t act as a hostess for dreamy travellers, spends her time in Nepal taking evocative photographs of a fascinating country.
Another route took us from Rellainne on a circular tour of the surrounding countryside. Getting out of Rellaine proved a bit more difficult than we imagined thanks in part to a mix up with directions, a distraction caused by a classic car rally and a helpful local who insisted on map reading for us before claiming he knew a far better route than ours… in a totally different direction from where we were heading.
Even when we escaped helpful locals and departed Rellainne, we were distracted once again by witty iron sculptures decorating an anonymous field. What did I say? A land of artists and poets. It’s one of the things about walking in Provence. It might not have you grunting with effort, but it has you sighing appreciatively at its curios and heart-warming beauty.
This route took us through more artistic lands, that have no doubt been captured on many a canvas, to an ancient priory. The Prieuré de Carluc is hidden amongst the trees in a spot of inspirational loveliness beside a twinkling brook. A picnic table was the cherry on the cake from which to chew reflectively on a couple of baguettes accompanied by creamy French goats’ cheese. Dappled sunlight, golden grass, trickling water, historic ruins and us. Perfect… almost. It was a moment that cried out for a bottle of red wine and all we had was water.
The trail back to Rellaine took us through quiet farmlands; some fields were home to sunflowers whose time had gone, others to bulbous pumpkins in their prime.
At Rellainne we plonked ourselves in the picturesque square (it’s Provence, there’s always a picturesque square) for the ubiquitous nectar-coloured reward whilst locals chattered animatedly beside a barbecue whose meaty contents emitted enticing aromas. A sun-kissed post-walk beer in a lively Provence bar overlooking an historic plaza has an off the scale feel good factor.
On both days the routes were about seventeen kilometres long. They didn’t feel seventeen kilometres. They felt more like a decent stroll through a captivating countryside in the sunshine.
Earlier I mentioned that walking in Provence was like having a sorbet compared to more challenging walking destinations. It’s true, but that doesn’t mean the Provence countryside doesn’t posses as many flavours.
Walking in Provence leaves you feeling sated and satisfied but not stuffed.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+