Day 6: Riez to Gréoux-les-Bains

Wednesday, 12 June 2002
Distance 21 km
Map 60 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded) or
Topoguide (Ref 401) La Haute Provence par les Gorges du Verdon

Walking in France: Lavender and poppies, High Provence
Lavender and poppies, High Provence

We were gradually getting the idea that an early start would avoid suffering later in the day, when the sun was it its hottest.

Even so, the market in the village square was in full swing when we arrived at about 7:30. We stopped for coffee and bought some lavender soap, then set off up the D6 towards the Château of Pontefrac to rejoin the track.

The road was not busy at this hour and there were fields of red poppies beside it.

At the château we missed the GR4 turnoff sign and ended up walking a kilometre uphill on the road before realising something was wrong.

Walking in France: Thirteenth-century Knights Templar tower
Thirteenth-century Knights Templar tower

Back at the turnoff, we set off climbing again, this time on a steep, gravelly, shadeless path, to arrive at last on the plateau, with its fields of wheat and lavender.

The track undulated past a ruined farmhouse and we noticed a familiar, delicious scent in the air – we were beside a field of coriander.

Through a forest and down a cobbled mule-track, we reached Saint-Martin-les-Bromes, with its thirteenth-century tower built by the powerful Knights Templar. The church is three centuries older.

Walking in France: Wild poppies, High Provence
Wild poppies, High Provence

As we had run out of water, we went down into the streets and soon found a fountain with potable water. The village was charming and the plane trees in the square provided a cool canopy, where we had lunch of bread, cheese, sausage and wine.

The wine was a mistake. The next part of the track was straight up a blazing hot dirt road and we had to stop for a lie-down under a pine tree before we made it onto the plateau. Luckily the way was partially wooded from here, as we were flagging badly and my blisters were protesting.

Walking in France: Lavender farm
Lavender farm

Emerging from the forest, we saw Gréoux stretched out below us. Instead of following the circuitous GR4, we plunged straight down towards it, pushed through a hedge and found ourselves in the grounds of one of the numerous health spas of the place, surrounded by elderly bodies splayed out on the grass in swimsuits – highly embarrassing for us all.

We scuttled out into the street, which was thronged with people on walking sticks or in wheelchairs, and trudged up to the old centre on the crest of the hill.

Having almost drunk the street fountain dry, we presented ourselves at the nearby camping area.

Walking in France: Dinner in Gréoux-les-Bains
Dinner in Gréoux-les-Bains

All the places here were gravelled and occupied by camping cars, but our hostess let us pitch our tent on a patch of ornamental grass in front of the office, and even brought out a couple of plastic chairs for us.

In the evening we ate pizzas in a steep laneway, with the setting sun pouring up the street and the occasional motorbike or scooter weaving through the tables.

We wanted to have aïoli, the local speciality, but it is mostly reserved for Fridays. Our carafe of wine was not quite a half-litre, but the local equivalent – a pot lyonnais (48.75cl).

Previous day: Moustiers-Ste-Marie to Riez

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