Much of this excellent route follows fairly closely the GR4, a long distance trail which crosses France from the Cote d'Azur to the Atlantic. As you walk from the rugged Alpine terrain around the Gorges du Verdon to the more open cultivated landscape of the Plateau de Valensole, you follow the steps of the ancient Roman legionaries. They marched this way between the Alpine passes on the frontier with Italy and the opulent centres of Lower Provence. A full day is spent traversing the best section of the Gorges du Verdon - France's most spectacular gorge, with 1500 feet cliffs towering above the river. Beyond Moustiers, where the whole town is built on the edge of a ravine, the scenery abruptly changes. Across the Plateau de Valensole, you walk through fields of lavender and truffle oak plantations. Visit the beautiful old market town of Aix en Provence, famous for its flower market, its fountains and The Cezanne Museum. Throughout the tour you will be amazed at the contrast between the narrow streets and tall densely clustered houses of the Provencal villages and the virtually uninhabited landscape.
(grade 4) This is a very subjective matter on this tour. Sherpa walking grades presume a certain standard common to similar tours and an individual’s perception of their own fitness in relation to a grading will vary. The walking on this tour is variously: moderate (Grade 4) and quite challenging. A reasonable level of fitness, a reasonable head for heights and an ability to cope on rocky paths is required for the gorge and several other days. You need good boots throughout the tour: The trails are generally good, but on occasion there are steep or winding sections of loose limestone shingle. Carry plenty of drinking water and adequate protection against the sun, including a sun hat. There are steep ascents/descents sometimes in hot weather. You will need to take care walking on this tour. Day stages: In the region of 14km to 20km per day with average altitude gains of 550m. 5 to 8 hours walking per day for most people. Slow walkers will take longer.
Make your way to St. Andre-Les-Alpes, a small village set between forested hills and the Lac de Castillon. There are a couple of narrow streets to explore and the Church displays some plaques remembering Resistance fighters from the area. There are a couple of bars to relax and enjoy a cool drink. Parapente (paragliding) is quite popular in this area, they jump off the ridges around the town and land on a flat area by the lake. The centre of the old village is worth exploring; there is a small street market on Saturday mornings.
Accommodation:Our accommodation is in a 2 star hotel or gite-hotel offering simple rooms with ensuite facilities situated above the village.
Follow narrow trails over the hills high above the western side of the Lac de Castillon. Along the way, in Spring, the intense yellow flowers and honeyed scent of wild Broom and Rosemary, contrast with the deep green shades and resinous air of the pine forest. You are 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. Approx ascent: 600m /descent:750m
Accommodation: Our 2* hotel overlooks the main square of the historic mountain town, right on the ‘Route Napoleon’, all rooms are ensuite. There is a fine Provencal large windowed restaurant serving good evening meals, and many people eat out on the terrace.
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 and pastures before dropping down to Rougon and thence to Point Sublime.
Approx ascent: 650m /descent:500m
Accommodation: 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 two nights in La Palud and do the gorge walk with a taxi transfer back to point Sublime. Please note that the hotels 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.
Today you 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 before debating whether or not to walk the last section on road to La Palud, or take a taxi. Approx ascent: 750m /descent: 630m
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 500m. 9 km/5.5 miles. In that case you will be collected after your walk and transferred with your baggage to la Palud.
Accommodation: Our 2 star modern hotel sits inside the ancient centre of the village. Its 20 spacious rooms have full ensuite facilities. The cuisine is usually of a high standard – their buffet is particularly good.
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 climb 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.
Approx ascent: 550m /descent: 800m
Accommodation: Our comfortable 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 relax over dinner.
This morning you walk abruptly up over the scarp slope and out of the Provencal Alps 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). 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 you of its historic past. After a Pastis, 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. Approx ascent: 400m /descent: 550m
Accommodation: Ancient town house maison d'hotes in the village. 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 handy for restaurants, lavender oil shops and for visiting the Roman columns.
After breakfast you will be transported to Manosque (included) to take a late morning train to Aix en Provence. The train takes about 50 minutes 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 centre of Aix en Provence.
Tour ends after breakfast. The hotel is situated a 15 minute walk from the coach /bus station for Nice or Marseilles.
This walk takes you through some extraordinary landscapes, it is challenging in some parts which makes it all so much more worthwhile. We would recommend it most highly.
C. Allen, Sydney, Australia, 10 Oct 2016
Per Person, Twin Share