Walking in Haute Provence

Walking in Haute Provence information and booking

from
$1320
  • Duration
    8 days
    Days
  • Group size
    1-8
    Persons
  • Difficulty
    moderate - challenging
Check prices & availability

Schedule Details

Summary
  • 7 nights hotel/guesthouse/B&B's

Highlights

  • Southern Alps to Classic Provence
  • Walking in the Canyon du Verdon
  • From Mountains to Lavender Fields
  • Historic 'Aix en Provence'

Tour description provided by World Expeditions

Haute Provence is a beautiful area of mountains and craggy limestone dissected by deep gorges. The area’s wondrous scenery, be it natural, agricultural or architectural, has appeared in numerous films such as ‘Manon des Sources’, and of course the Stella Artois adverts!Much of our walking route follows the GR4 (Grande Randonnee) long distance trail fairly closely, which crosses France from the Cote d'Azur to the Atlantic. Our first day’s walk from St. Andre Les Alpes (not on the GR4) traverses the hills high above the Lac de Castillon. Our second night is spent in Castellane, a remote town with echoes of Napoleon's march on Paris, as well as battles between maquisards and retreating German occupiers in 1944. From here we follow an old Roman route, which now links remote and picturesque hamlets high up on the north side of the Verdon valley, to reach the ancient village Rougon, suspended above the river Verdon. This is across from the limestone Jaws that mark the entrance to the famous Verdon Gorge. It is only a short, but steep drop down from here to Point Sublime and its great viewpoint into the abyss of the gorge!The following day is spent exploring and following the best part of the magnificent Grand Canyon (or Gorges) du Verdon - France's most ‘gorgeous’ scenery, with 1500-foot high limestone cliffs, towering above the river. This is a fascinating but strenuous day: There is a tunneled section and some safe ladders to negotiate, as you wander from meander to meander and cliff to cliff: It is rocky underfoot. At each twist and turn a new aspect of the gorge will open itself to you – vistas of water, rock, forest and sky. There is a final steep climb up to a point called La Maline and its excellent general view down into and across the latter part of the gorge, where instead of looking like jaws, the gorge looks more like a fissure in a high plateau. You can then either take a taxi or walk the final road section into La Palud, a picturesque village that boasts a fine Romanesque style church. There is an alternative walk should the gorge be closed for maintenance, an easier walk above the gorge to the ‘Belvedere de Rancoumas,’ a beautiful view point overlooking the gorge which nevertheless involves some 500 metres of ascent. The fifth day takes you up through the pine, oak and beach forest to about 1380 metres to a magnificent airy picnic spot overlooking Lac de Ste.Croix. Then you descend along a magnificent forested rocky ridge to the historic pottery town of Moustiers Ste. Marie. Here the hotel, indeed the whole town, is built straddling a ravine with waterfalls. Beyond Moustiers, the scenery abruptly changes; you are suddenly out of the Alps. Across the Plateau de Valensole, you walk through fields of lavender, cereals, apple orchards, vineyards and truffle forests. Our next night is spent in a ancient town house in the historic town of Riez, where you can admire the group of fine Roman Columns. You are now in Provence proper, the Roman Provincia. From Riez, you will be collected by taxi and taken to the railway station at the mediaeval town of Manosque, from where it is a short train ride to Aix en Provence (which is conveniently located on the way to Marseilles). This old Roman city, originally established because of its thermal baths, has many old features including the house of Cezanne the famous Provencal Painter, the open air flower market, many old churches, some fountains famous for their sculptures and the baths themselves. With an after breakfast departure to Aix, you will have the best part of a day to look around, before your last night of the tour there. What better way to end than sipping a glass of the finest ‘Bandol’ sitting on the Cours Mirabeau! An Extra night in Aix is also recommended!

What's included

  • 7 breakfasts, 4 dinners
  • 7 nights accommodation on a twin share basis with ensuite facilities where available
  • Luggage transfer except between riez and aix en provence
  • Information pack including route notes & maps
  • Emergency hotline

Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive St Andre-les-Alpes
Travel to St. Andre-Les-Alpes. Arrive Nice. Transfer from airport to Chemin de Fer de Provence narrow gauge railway station and thence by train along spectacular alpine valleys to St. Andre, a small village set between forested hills and the Lac de Castillon. If you arrive early afternoon, it will be more convenient to take a bus from Nice Airport to St. Andre instead Taking the train option. If you arrive early enough it is recommended that you take an early train and stop at the beautiful historic town of Entrevaux and then catch the later train to St. Andre. (Train approx 14 Euros and bus 14 Euros, not included in tour price) Accommodation: St Andre-les-Alpes. A delightful Alpine village on the famous’ Ligne des Pignes’ narrow gauge railway that links Digne and Nice. A centre for parascending. Our accommdation is in a 2 star hotel or in a gite-hotel offering simple rooms with ensuite facilities situated above the village, in the heart of a wide valley with a beautiful view towards Lac de Castillon and the surrounding mountains. (Dinner included).
Day 2 St. Andre to Castellane
We follow narrow trails over the hills high above the western side of the Lac de Castillon. Along the way the intense yellow flowers (at least in Spring) and honeyed scent of wild Broom and Rosemary, contrast with the deep green shades and resinous air of the pine forest. You are finally greeted by the stunning out crop of Notre Dame de Roche above Castellane; and you should have plenty of time before dinner to climb up to the little chapel there and take in the sunset. 15km/6hrs Accommodation: Castellane - Our 2* hotel overlooks the main square of the historic mountain town, right on the ‘Route Napoleon’, all rooms have en suite facilities, T.V. Telephone. There is a fine Provencal large windowed restaurant serving fine evening meals, and many people eat out on the terrace here . (Bed and Breakfast only)
Day 3 Castellane to Point Sublime (Rougon)
The well waymarked GR4 long distance trail from Castellane follows an ancient Roman route high up on the side of the deep winding Verdon valley. Ancient villages, with their tightly clustered ochre-walled houses, seem to grow naturally out of the rugged landscape. There is a tiny village called Chasteuil, which maybe a good place for a picnic, before heading off over the high limestone moors (compass useful here) and pastures before dropping down to Rougon and thence to Point Sublime. 18km/6hrs Accommodation: Point Sublime. This is the only hotel in the area, a rather neo Victorian establishment, situated on its terrace above the Verdon and across from the vertical cleft in the limestone plateau that marks the entrance to the gorge. Good rustic food is the norm, there is a nice terrace bar and there is a pleasing old-fashioned air about the place. During the high season it may be necessary to spend the night in La Palud as tomorrow and to do the gorge walk with a taxi transfer back to point Sublime which will be included if this is the case (Dinner is included). Please note that the hotel’s restaurant is closed on Wednesday evenings. If you happen to be at the hotel on a Wednesday, we will organize for a “cold plate” meal to be left for you in the lounge.
Day 4 Point Sublime to La Palud via the Sentier Martel
Today we tackle the traverse of the famous Gorges du Verdon, France's Grand Canyon. High up on the towering red and grey limestone walls of the gorge you may even spot rock climbers pitting their skill against the force of gravity. The gorge is quite challenging for hikers too, as there are a number of metal ladders to negotiate along the way. The walking is not as daunting as it may sound and only a modest head for heights and an ability to walk on rocky paths is required. Halfway along is a delightful spot to picnic by the river. Then there is a steep, sweaty climb up to La Maline, where from the balcony of the gite there you can in season, enjoy an overview of the gorge over a cold drink, before debating whether or not to walk the last section on road to La Palud, or take a taxi. 14km/6hrs (Point Sublime to Maline); 22km/8hrs (Point Sublime to La Palud). In case the gorge is closed there is another walk you can do to the beautiful viewpoint at Rancoumas, overlooking the gorge and the surrounding mountains. The return walk takes between 3 to 5 hours (returning to Point Sublime). Ascent gain around 500 metres, 9 kms. distance. In that case you will be collected at a certain time after your walk and transferred with your baggage to la Palud. Accommodation: La Palud - Our preferred, welcoming, modern hotel inside the ancient centre of the village well deserves its 2 star classification in the Logis de France guide. Its 20 spacious rooms have full ensuite facilities, TV etc. The cuisine is usually of a high standard – their buffet, when available, is particularly good. Breakfast is a buffet style as well and may include yoghurt with honey, a variety of fresh fruit, freshly baked bread and croissants. (Dinner included).
Day 5 La Palud to Moustiers
After a stiff ascent above La Palud through some interesting limestone scenery and shady forests, this walk follows a high forested ridge overlooking the turquoise-blue Lac de Ste. Croix, before making a steep descent and gradual reascent to the little town of Moustiers Ste. Marie. This is clustered at the foot of towering crags and long famous for its ceramics and waters. The walking is dramatic, wild and beautiful and on the descent, you wind through giant limestone crags and rock towers. 16km/6.5hrs Accommodation: Moustiers-Ste-Marie. Our comfortable and sensitively modernised small hotel was originally a mediaeval building centrally situated in this popular village overlooking a series of waterfalls. It has an outside restaurant terrace where you can take your time over dinner (Dinner is included).
Day 6 Moustiers to Riez
We walk abruptly up over the scarp slope and out of the Provencal Alps and into a new landscape: the broad vistas and immense arching skies of the Plateau de Valensole. There are views of the whale-backed peak of Mont Ventoux, familiar to Tour de France Cyclists. The plateau is cultivated for cereals, lavender (at its best in July) and truffles (hidden underground between rows of specially planted Downey Oaks). We descend to the village of Roumoules, perhaps have your picnic in the square under the plane trees. Next there is a gentle climb along a woody ridge and then a short steepish descent down to the town of Riez, where the columns of a Roman temple remind us of its historic past. After a Pastis (definitely not included), head into the town centre to your Chambre d’hote in a quiet location within the town walls . It is a superb place to unwind. 20km/6 hrs. Accommodation: Near Riez. We stay in the middle of the mediaeval town in an ancient town house. The place has a rustic elegance, there is a mixture of old and new features and the rooms are much commented on. The location is very handy for restaurants, lavender oil shops and for visiting the Roman columns (Bed and breakfast only).
Day 7 Riez, transfer to Aix en Provence
After breakfast you will be transported to Manosque (included) to take a late morning train to Aix en Provence. The train takes about 50 mins and costs approx 12 Euros (not included). This is a beautiful artistic city with a profusion of fountains, cafes spilling onto the streets, interesting architecture including St. Sauveur’s Cathedral with its beautiful triptych of ‘The Burning Bush’ by Nicholas Fromant (1476) and nearby there is the Cezanne museum. It is an easy city to walk around and the flower and fruit markets on Saturdays are exceptional. Excellent restaurants can be found in the maze of backstreets, representing Provence, France and its colonial backwash. Accommodation: We offer a modern town hotel near the center of Aix en Provence. It is situated 15 minutes walk away from the coach /bus station for Nice or Marseilles. It is also a useful springboard for visiting the rest of the mediaeval town. (Bed and breakfast only).
Day 8 End of tour
Depart Aix when ready: Bus or train from Aix perhaps to Marseille and its airport or back to Nice. Marseilles is only 40 minutes away. Nice about 3 hours. Some people have preferred to return to Nice by train to Digne and then the Ligne des Pignes to Nice.