Friday, 15 June 2007
Distance 18 km
Duration 3 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 144 m, descent 243 m
Map 60 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Because the sky was thick with clouds, we overslept and only woke up at 7am. After a quick bowl of muesli (improved by the cherries we had stolen yesterday) at the deserted café tables, we set off at 7:45.
Our plan was to weave our way over to the GR6 on small roads, and then decide whether to go to Saint-Saturnin, which would involve back-tracking afterwards, or just go to the hilltop town of Villars and straight down to Apt. In the event the decision was made for us by the weather.
It began with fine drizzle and a murmur of thunder, which increased to a rumble, then a roar, at which point we stopped and put on our plastic capes. As we came to the top of a gentle rise, the storm hit us with tropical ferocity.
Rain fell in torrents on a lashing wind, and lightning bolts exploded terrifyingly all around us. In a few seconds we were saturated. A car with wipers flailing came up beside us and a woman asked us whether we wanted a lift to Villars, but we were too waterlogged by then and declined with thanks.
It was quite a frightening dash to Villars, because of the lightning. We fairly sprinted along the roadside with our packs bouncing, but when we made it up the raised causeway into the village, we were relieved to see a bar open in the square.
We left our streaming capes at the door and fell in to the warmth and safety of the interior, where we stayed for almost an hour while the storm abated. Such is the pleasure of walking in France.
It was after ten when we ventured out and it was still drizzling half-heartedly. As we descended a lane at the back of the village (the GR again), we met a party of drenched horsemen coming up, dressed like pilgrims in pointed capes. Their leader, who was on foot, grinned and called “Super matinée!” (lovely morning!).
We proceeded through fields and hedgerows until we got to the outskirts of Apt, the usual industrial eyesore, which soon gave way, as we crossed the river, to the pampered centre of the town, with its cobbled pedestrian streets, churches, leafy squares and cafés.
The town map that we got from the Office of Tourism gave us the good news that the municipal camping ground was just over the bridge (le Pont des Cordeliers). Before going there we had a second round of coffees in the Place Gabriel Péri, pleased with our morning’s little adventure.
At the municipal camping ground everything was muddy but we found a nice corner with a hedge to the west and a large tree stump to sit on. We had showers, although we had been thoroughly washed already, then lunch and a nap, before venturing back to do the tourist walk of the town.
There are interesting traces of the Roman settlement that preceded the present town. In the eleventh-century church of Saint-Anne, crammed awkwardly into the Rue des Marchands and built on an even earlier structure, arias from Mozart operas were being played on an organ, presumably someone’s idea of mediaeval music. It was delightful, anyway.
The camping ground was so close that we could go back, after a refreshing glass of rosé, for another rest before dinner. Next to us a pair of cyclists had arrived and were hanging their sodden sleeping bags on a branch. I went up and spoke to them in French, but they could not understand me.
They were Slovenian academics and spoke excellent English, but no French. There were also two girls straight out of the seventies, with long tie-dyed skirts, beads, sandals, flowing hair and a generally bedraggled look. Our Dutch neighbours, typically, were spreadeagled face-up on deck chairs in the sun.
As evening arrived we presented ourselves once more in the town and after a search, decided on a crêperie/galetterie that also served grills. It was up a flight of stairs on a sort of internal balcony, overlooked on all sides by the windows of adjoining apartments, but pleasantly decorated and full of diners.
We had steak, baked potato and salad served on a wooden board, with wine and coffee. Many of our companions were having some sort of bubbly drink served in brown pottery bowls, which turned out to be cider, the right thing to drink with galettes.
Our one experience of galettes in Navacelles had convinced us they were not nourishing enough for a walker’s dinner. The background music was Beethoven’s Ninth, as unsuitably heavy as the church music had been light. In the matter of music, Apt was not living up to its name.