Monday, 16 June 2008
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 187 m, descent 106 m
Map 60 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
It was 7 o’clock when we rose, fresh and rested after a warm sleep with socks on.
Once again we had freshly-picked cherries with our muesli, then set off by a different route, down to the lake and along the shore, then back up to the village on the old road, the one that was used before the bridge was put in.
As a farewell to this excellent village we had coffee at a different bar and left about 9 am, just as the school children were assembling at the primary school.
We took a thread of a road through the Plan de Volonne, winding through orchards and devoid of traffic.
The exertion warmed me enough to require the removal of the zip-on legs of my pants for the first time this year.
With a bag of cherries collected from an overhanging tree, we rejoined the other road at a bridge over a tributary and continued our quiet way through fields and stunted woods. Rocky hills appeared in front of us and we saw Salignac in the distance, crouched under its ridge.
Before long we were side-by-side with the autoroute, which had crossed the Durance to our side, and as we approached Sisteron we could see the high grey citadel reflected in the water.
Eventually we went through a short tunnel, then over the autoroute (which had itself disappeared into a tunnel) and came to the narrow slot where the Durance squeezed through a rocky mountain ridge.
It was easy to see its strategic value in former times and to appreciate why the history of Sisteron goes back at least 4000 years. It was often referred to as the Key of Provence and was constantly being fought over, being the gateway between Provence and the territory known as the Dauphiné.
A defensive wall was built in the fourteenth century, of which only three cylindrical towers remain, and a hundred years later Sisteron, along with the rest of Provence, became part of the kingdom of France.
This major change was soon followed, as if in divine retribution, by a series of plagues that killed two-thirds of the population.
When Napoléon’s rag-tag army came this way in 1815, they were very worried that they would meet resistance here and be unable to get through, but in the event the townspeople, who had been royalists in the Revolution, considered Napoléon the next best thing to a monarch and grudgingly allowed him to pass.
The citadel was bombed by the Allies in 1944 but was hastily rebuilt.
We crossed the river on a high road bridge, but still had stairs to climb to reach the streets. It was approaching midday so we hurried to the Office of Tourism, which was at the other end of the town, near the three towers.
Here we found out that the camping ground of Sisteron was actually three kilometres upstream and on the other side of the river.
While we were digesting this information and a coffee in the bar Henri, the sky darkened suddenly, and we decided it was time for a night in a hotel.
The Hotel Tivoli, a couple of streets away, gave us a room with a washbasin and a view of the forested hills for €31.60, and we retired there to eat our lunch. Meanwhile it began to rain heavily, a phenomenon that we greatly enjoyed from the comfort of our room.
When it eased, Keith ventured out in search of the next map in the top 100 series, while I waited weakly indoors, as my blisters had become worse. On the way back he had another attack of the indescribable kidney pain that he was not supposed to have any more.
We lay on our soft bed, a pair of cripples, until we recovered somewhat, then we went out to send an email and walked up towards the citadel, through a park of aged pines.
We had left it too late to go inside but the outside was impressive enough, a great mass of pale arched masonry emerging from the natural rock promontory as if part of it.
There was a view of the rooftops of the old town through the trees.
In the evening we dined in the hotel, with only one other group for company.
It was a typical country dining room, with a low, beamed ceiling, a big fireplace, lace curtains and chandeliers. The rain falling outside made it even cosier.
We had salad as an entrée, followed by veal in cream, and indulged in a bottle of Provençal red (from Pierrevert) instead of the usual carafe.