Friday, October 10, 2008

The Walking Tour


Some years ago we (self, Antonia & our daughter & son) went on a 5 day walking tour of Tuscany in Italy. We are hopeless at leisure holidays like lying on the beach in Mauritius but we all really enjoyed the Tuscany holiday so we did the same thing here. There are several companies who run these holidays; we used ATG of Oxford in England ( They run several different types of trips but the ones we used are the Footloose ones where you are given a guide book describing the trip down to each turn so you can’t get lost. They book you into the hotels & have a person who meets you on the morning of the first day then takes your suitcases to the next hotel each day so all you carry is your picnic lunch, camera, guidebook and something to drink. The guidebook has a map opposite the instructions on each page & includes notes about the places you pass through & things of interest. ATG aims upmarket so they only use good hotels and recommend decent restaurants (supper not part of hotel accommodation). We chose the 3 day trip (there is also a 5 day one) which ends in Lourmarin – the Malans came from a village nearby called Merindol. The trips have a fitness level rating & it was higher than we would have liked but I wanted to go to Provence so was prepared to give it a go. I am 64 while Sarah is 67 but fitter than me – if we had trouble then we would ask our tour manager to pick us up when he collected our suitcases & take us to the next place. The second day is 22km which had me worried because the 18km day in Italy had left me very moeg (tired) & that was several years ago when I was a lot fitter because I surfed. The guidebook said it should take 6,5 hours but it took us about 9 but we made it ok.

We flew to Avignon which is circled in blue on the map then took a bus and taxi across to Gordes at ! at the start of the green track of our walk. Day 1 ended at 2 = Roussillon, day 2 ended at an isolated inn (called an auberge in French) near Buoux and the final day 3 ended in Lourmarin. We took two bus rides to get back to Avignon. Merindol, the Malans origin, is circled in blue.

Here are some pictures of the paths we walked.

White limestone path next to a vineyard with Gordes on the hill behind from where we had just set out after meeting the ‘route manager’ who took care of our luggage each day.

Sarah on the left, Antonia on the right. We had to walk across the plain from Gordes to Roussilon where we spent the night. It was a short 10km day and easy walking as this photo shows. Those are local oak trees; we only saw 1 really big one. I don’t know why that is. These oaks are growing quite happily in a climate very similar to ours in the Cape. I wonder why the Dutch did not try these oaks or the Italian ones (or the Turkish ones for that matter) here in the Cape when they found that the English oaks grew quickly but the center of the trunk rotted away so they were useless for timber; which is what they desperately needed. These ones all looked perfectly healthy. Certainly the Italian ones grow into usefully big trees.

Past a vineyard with Columbine creeper in flower. Notice that the ground is white; that is the limestone that makes up most of southern France it seems.

On the ascent to Roussillon the path is small and in forest.

Day 2 was the long day; 22 km with an estimated time of 6,5 hours but we took it easy & completed it in 9 hours. Here are our familiar pine trees.

Notice the yellow mark on the tree. France has a VERY extensive network of paths like this and a government agency that administers them. We had a guidebook for our route from ATG but the government agency puts out similar route descriptions for all these routes and marks them with discrete different colour markers. The population density of England is 3,4 times that of France but what is really noticeable when in France is how many forests they have; there are these patches of forest everywhere and it is through these that the public trails go. Here in South Africa we have the Otter trail etc which form an almost continuous trail around the country. Well in France there is a massive web of trails through the forests and country lanes. South Africa is 2,2 times as big as France but the population density [people per square km] is only 34% of that of France. Yet France has all this public open space available to all; very different to what we have.

Notice the yellow cross on the tree. This marks a path that is not on the yellow route.

Notice the bits of forest in the plain below and that the Luberon hills in the background are entirely forested. That is where the paths go mostly. Day 2 we walked over the hill at Roussillon, across the plain to the Luberon hills and deep into those hills.

Here we are crossing the plain. In South Africa this would be a private farm road but in France this is a public path. Having a guidebook so you know that you are on public roads is very reassuring.

Here we are starting to go up the Luberon hills. The Malans came from a village on the far side called Merindol. Our route was to end at a village nearby called Lourmarin the next day.

Some older oak trees but not very big.

We went down this tarred road for a short bit but had to get right over the bit of the Luberon hill in the background.

Here we are over the top but now have to get down to the bottom of the valley on the left. Notice the white limestone.

This is actually quite a steep descent into the valley but it does not show on a photograph. Sarah & I found the descent worse than the ascent. My thigh muscles were pretty tired when we finished this days 22 km walk. Those are a different kind of oak tree; the Holme oak which does not grow big.

Day 3 was only 13km which was a pleasant relief after day two’s 22km. Here we are on the top of Le Grand Luberon hills. My forefathers came from the next door Le Petit Luberon.

Going down towards Lourmarin.

This last bit of the track needs some looking after and repair. This was the only bit like this. All these paths are also open to mountain bikers but because there are so many of them we walked completely alone just about all the time. When we got to our hotel in Lormarin we found that the restaurant was fully booked for supper. We were about 3km outside town & did not want to have to walk back in the dark. Antonia went by herself to Lourmarin to get some food for supper because Sarah & I were really too tired so Antonia walked 18km this day (6 more than us).


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