Hiking in the Alpes de Haute Provence

Christina/ August 21, 2022/ The daily grind, Culture

I am surprised how many hiking trails are around Puimoisson. Twelve years ago at my last visit to the region I did not pay much attention to that fact. I was too much focused on my mountainbike at that time. This year however, I fell in love with two things. Firstly with a property, secondly with a fox that visited us every day. And above all I loved the calmness and seclusion of the place. The “Savoir Vivre” which only comes to you in a moment of total happiness and awareness. I was lucky to witness such moments again and again during this holiday. And I am thankful for it. Once again one fact becomes clear: Hiking is meditation to me.

The long way to Moustiers Sainte-Marie
It’s a matter of common knowledge that first day’s hike should not be too challenging. Well, that did not apply for this time. It is hot in these august days. Very hot. The morning hours between eight and ten o’clock are nice though on the terrace. But as soon as the sun reached the place you will burn.

At about 9:30 I start my “forced march”. But I do not know at this moment how long and challenging it will really be. The sun is already hot. There is hardly any shadow. I ask a mountainbiker passing by whether I am on the right track to Moustiers Sainte-Marie. He nods. He gives me directions then. I enquire for the distance to Moustiers. He tells me that it is about 15 kilometres. But he also tells me that at the end of the day I will literally walk down to the village from the mountain. That sounds so interesting to me that I neglect the circumstances. I thank the biker for the information. He moves on wishing me “bonne courage”. And that’s indeed what I needed today.

Working in a coal mine
During my long walk in the sun over the plateau I wondered many times whether I should give up. Again and again I had to ask for directions as the signposting ended in the middle of nowhere and I kind of got lost. I am sure that I walked detours and thus prolongued my hike involuntarily. However the image in my mind to walk down from the mountains to one of the most beautiful villages of France and thus catch different glimpses of it, kept my motivation up somehow. Three hours later I come across another signpost to Moustiers. Wow, I almost made it. Just another five kilometres to go. I walk on siiceous scree by now. After all this hustle the scenery gets beautiful by now. I have the Lac Saint Croix on the left side and the first houses of Moustiers on the right. I feel goose pimples crawling up my body. I almost made it. Wow! About 45 minutes later I reach the outskirts of Moustiers. I see that the parking lots are packed. It’s sunday and as well as tourists from France and other countries are sieging the place like grashoppers. Hm, that is not fun to me.

Quinch my thirst
No matter what, I have to quinch my thirst and make a plan for my way back. Both requirements are not easy to fulfill. On a sunday supermarkets are closed in the village respectively opens in the afternoon. It is midday however. I buy some expensive soft drink in a tourist shop and sit down on a bench under a tree. I enjoy my drink and take a look around. I discover that the tourist office opens at 2 o’clock. I hope that they can give me directions for my way home. Well the lady behind the counter tells me that there are 14 hiking tours around Moustiers. That’s good to know. However, my enquiry is not about the village but how to go back from there to Puimoisson. Well, there are only two options. Take the long way over the plateau or walk alongside the motorway. “You can also try to return by auto stop”, she adds. Well, hitch-hiking is not really an option to me. The plateau is out of the question. Another four and half hour on my feet? No. My guess is that walking back alongside the motorway will take me three hours.

I am walking …
I buy more water to prepare myself for the way back. The sun is hotter than evere and the street is a long haul. Like a Fata Morgana I spot a bakery in the middle of nowhere after two hours. I replenish my stock of water and bread, take a short break at teh place and then embark on the last five kilometres. After eight hours and about 30 kilometres I return to our holiday home. I am exhausted but happy at the same time that I made it. Here are my good news: After this crucial test the remaining hiking paths are easier. These are my hiking recommendations for the region:

Pas de la Faille
Three days later we try the Pas de la Faille. The path is not difficult and is partly shady. It starts at the Maison Forrestière du Serre (forrester’s lodge) on an altitude of 1100 metres. The way is well signposted. The difference in altitude between the starting point and the pass is about 500 metres. However the outlook on the top of the pass is worth the effort.

Saint Jurs
From Puimoisson to Saint Jurs is about 12 kilometres. The path is quite easy and partly shady. It is possible to walk even with hot weather. At Saint Jurs itself there are only limited resources to buy drinks and food. It is also good to know that wednesday is the day off for the local restaurant. The restaurant is also the place where you can buy food and drinks. The village itself is nice, calm and pittoresque. Saint Jurs is dominated by its former fortress and Sankt Georges church. The village is also a good starting point for hike to the peak of L’Agra and Montdenier.

Sentier Blanc-Martel
The Sentier Blanc-Martel traversing the Gorges du Verdon is allegedly the most walked on trail in the Haute Provence. The hike is described as difficult. No fear of heights and sound standing ist supposed to be vital. Well my experience is that the trail should not be a problem for anybody who is used to hiking in the mountains. You need proper shoes and a lot of water, that’s for sure. And yes, the heat is a challenge as well. Besides the way back from the end of the trail is the real problem. There in no public transportation. I am sure that there are not many hikers who go forth and back as one way is about 14 kilometres. We hitch-hiked from Chalet de la Maline back to La Palud sur Verdon. Is it acutally ot difficult to find somebody to take you back. I guess locals know that there is no other way to return.

Haute Baties de Cousson
The most beautiful hike in my mind is the Hautes Baties de Cousson. 700 metres in difference in altitude have to be managed. However the trail and the outlooks are so magnificent that you will not mind the effort. The village Entranges is the starting point of the hike. The path is well signposted, you can’t go wrong. The highlight of the tour is definitely the Capelle Saint-Michel de Cousson. It is not the building itself that is so facinating. It is definitely its location. I is overwhelming. I am sure that every real wanderer will love the roundtrip. The ascent from Entranges to the pass itself is dreamlike. Slowly you shoot up the winding path whereas the village departs form the hiker’s eyes. That might be why this hike belongs to the “Chemins de Soleil”!

Gorges de Trèvans
Another recommendation is the hike through the Gorges de Trèvans. The gorge is the “little sister” of the Gorges du Verdon. The mountain gorge is located close to Estoublon. The place is not also known for hiking but also for bathing and picnicing. The river Estoublaisse passes through the gorge and formed natural swimming pools over the time. This gorge is definitely fun for the whole family.

Within the gorge there are different pathes, all of them are signposted. Whoever is not afraid of ascents and liks adventure (just like me) can enjoy the ascent to the ruins of the church Saint André and the Roman bridge. The trail to the bridge is quite narrow and partly destroyed.

Crête de Géruen
A real challenge is the round trip to the Crête de Géruen, above the Colle de Fontbelle. The way to get there already is an adventure. The motorway follows the Route du Temps in the end. On the pass which belongs to the UNESCO geopark Alpes de Haute Provence is a nice picnic place. However we are here for hiking not for eating. The path to the Crête is well signposted. However it is not an easy walk. The path is partly very narrow and close up. One has to watch one steps. Having reached the tightrope you can enjoy a great view. If you want to you can continue to the peak. We did not do that as a heavy thunder storm was approaching us from the west. That’s why we preferred the descent. As a substitute for that we drive to the village Thoard that catched my eye on our way to the Pas de Fontbelle. Thoard is situated on a hill surrounded by a nice environment.

The Provençal Colorado
It is also known as the Grand Canyon of the Provence the Provençal Colorado with its ochre coloured rock formations. In order to explore the terrain in detail we decided on a roundtrip. The hike is called “Le Desert Blanc – La Doa Runde from Rustrel”. However this friday is not only hot but humid. Just the ascent onto the hill above Rustrel makes us sweat. As the ocres are at the end of the hike we loose our motivation after a while, especially as we cannot buy any water on our way. In the end however it is worth the effort as you can see from the pictures. Whoever decides on this trail saves the entrance fee for the ochre quarries. In my opinion this round trip is the perfect ending of our holidays. On our way back we stop at the village “Viens” and experience once more one of those picturesque mountain villages of France which left me delighted.

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