Sunday, 21 May 2023
Distance 16 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 429 m, descent 471 m
We slept heavily and woke feeling restored and full of optimism for the day ahead.
As we had not arranged to have breakfast at the hotel, we left earlier than 8 am and wandered around the old town a second time, in the hope that it would look better than last night, but it did not.
Out on the street again, we went into a bar opposite last night’s pizzeria, which had all the attributes that we needed – traditional decor, coffee, people, even a basket of croissants on the counter, although admittedly there was only one left, which we seized. I had some left-over pizza from last night with my coffee.
We were inclined to linger in Manosque, as the hotel owner at Labastide-des-Jourdans had warned us that the place would be closed until 5 pm.
On the other hand, we had found out that the bar at Pierrevert, the only refreshment stop in the day, would close at 12:30, so we started out at about 10 am.
It was just as well, as it took us longer than we thought to get out of the houses, even though the way was marked with GR signs.
We spent over half an hour negotiating the first tortuous kilometre up to the chapel of St Pancrace, where the bitumen ended.
Beyond that, was an ancient olive grove and then the GR4 became a path descending along a ridge, through deciduous forest beautifully adorned with wildflowers.
Some parts of the track were wide and gentle, but others were steep, overgrown and stony.
We met a few locals puffing their way uphill, looking as though they did this every Sunday morning as their weekly self-punishment.
Keith was glad that he had his walking pole.
There were also some runners who flew past us downhill as if pursued by devils.
Eventually we started to see signs of civilisation. We passed under two high-tension powerlines and crossed an iron bridge over a narrow, noisy, fast-falling torrent that looked like a miniature hydro scheme, but turned out to be the Canal de Manosque.
This was purely an irrigation channel and bore no relation to the old barge canals that were the highways of France for a couple of hundred years, until overtaken by the railways.
We reached the bottom of the ridge and joined a road at les Rocs, from which it was a short, steep climb to the village of Pierrevert, which was our destination for refreshments.
We had been to Pierrevert before, but by a much less adventurous route, and all that we could remember about it was that it was perched on a spur high above its surroundings.
It was almost 12 noon, so we were in a hurry to find the bar and have coffee before it closed in half an hour.
When we found it (at the top of a high metal stairway), we were relieved to discover that it did not close until 1 pm.
We relaxed into a corner and had two rounds of coffee, accompanied by the last of the left-over pizza, among a crowd of chattering locals enjoying the last conviviality of the weekend.
When we left, we went out of the opposite door, which was at street level instead of suspended in space, and strode off in search of the next GR sign.
Unfortunately we had misread the map and had not noticed that the GR did not actually go past the bar, with the result that we were soon lost in the fields below the village. Realising our mistake, we climbed back to the top and found the GR quite easily.
It immediately plunged in a different direction, then onto a bitumen road past a raw new housing estate, and continued on its westward way.
Just past a bridge, the GR4 turned off from the road, but we did not, and so began seemingly hours of trudging beside the road, which was not actually very busy, as it was Sunday afternoon.
The only slight point of interest was the modest Chapelle Ste Marguerite which we glimpsed across the vines.
Then the road dipped and climbed, by which time Keith was exhausted, so we sat on a stony, flowery knoll beside the road for a while.
A troop of friendly cyclists came past and asked what we were doing, to which we airily replied (through clenched teeth) that we were just out for a stroll.
When we crossed from the department of Alpes de Haute Provence into that of Vaucluse, the road number changed (from D6 to D27), but nothing else did.
Out of boredom I began collecting specimens of the many unfamiliar wildflowers that lined the road and I had a big bunch by the time we arrived in Labastide-des-Jourdans, our destination for the day.
At the entrance to the village stood a small, charming seventeenth-century chapel dedicated to St Mark, with a tiny niche over the door showing him at his writing desk, accompanied by his symbolic lion. Above this was a sweet little bell tower with a single bell.
The only accommodation in this village was a hotel, which we had booked into. It turned out to be a massive old three-storey building, painstakingly restored, on the corner of the main street.
As it was only 4:30 pm and we had been told that our hosts would not be there until 5 pm, we sat at a nearby bus stop waiting for a car to turn in to the driveway.
We each went over to the door, which had a sign saying that they were closed, and pressed the bell to no avail.
At about 5:20 pm I went again to press the bell, for lack of anything else to do.
As I was walking away, a woman’s head appeared from a window above, asking crossly why we had not pressed the bell earlier (how did she know that we had been waiting?). It turned out that they had been at home the whole afternoon.
Inside, the place was impressive, especially the ceilings, with huge split tree-trunks holding up the lath-and-plaster ceilings. The walls had large stones protruding from whitewashed, plaster.
Our hostess was keen to be agreeable now, and offered us cups of tea. We thought this was a very nice gesture until we found out, when the bill was presented next morning, that we had been charged outrageously for it..
Our room had a large fore-chamber, empty of furniture except for a folding table and chairs, a large bedroom and a magnificent bathroom suitable for half a dozen people to disport themselves together.
There were no other guests that night and since it was the chef’s night off, we had to content ourselves with a tray of charcuterie, cheese and bread, and a glass of wine. As is my habit, I discreetly tucked away some food for tomorrow’s lunch.
We ate this is the silent, empty dining room and we began to feel sorry for our hosts, despite madame’s earlier insulting behaviour.
They were probably worried sick about the lack of guests, not to mention the astronomical cost of their renovations.