Day 10: Charleval to Mallemort

Monday, 29 May 2023
Distance 9 km
Duration 2 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 10 m, descent 0 m

Breakfast on the balcony, Charleval camping (Luberon in the distance)

The next morning it was as if clouds, rain and wind did not exist. The sun beamed down on a scene of blissful serenity, After packing up, which took us only a few minutes, we hastened to the café.

At this hour there were very few people occupying the tables and we chose one on the balcony, from where we had a grand view over the valley to the mighty barrier of the Luberon, with its forests and bare, rocky landslips muted by distance to a blue and beige speckle.

We sat savouring our luxurious coffee and croissants, and, as we had done a dozen times already on this trip, imagined that from now on the walking would be easy, the camping convenient and the meals delicious. We were slow learners.

Is it possible I actually climbed up here yesterday?

Soon we were back at the scene of Keith’s Finest Hour, which looked no less frightening today than it had yesterday.

We peered down in the happy knowledge that today nothing was required of us beyond strolling across the overbridge.

Down the road a little way was the centre of the village of Charleval, where there were festive umbrellas strung across the street over a lively looking café. Naturally, we had to stop there, after hunting up the local boulangerie and buying two more pastries.

Breakfast in Charleval

Well pleased with this promising start to the day, we set off along the main road to the west (the D561), passed a large roundabout, and soon afterwards turned off onto a smaller road, the D23C, which was neither a highway nor a lane.

It was mostly tree-lined and had very few cars on it.

Ahead of us in the distance we saw a nameless hilltop village with a pale tower (later identified as Alleins), and to our left, out of sight but not out of mind, the rearing ridge of the canal, fast approaching the hydro power station where it would drop through turbines and produce the miracle of electricity.

We did not have to walk much further before we saw this power station, with its huge stubby descending pipes, painted red, on the far side of a a long field where workers were planting some vegetable crop or other, we could not see what.

  On the D23C, with the village of Alleins in the distance

At this point Keith started to feel a pain in his knee, no doubt the result of twisting it a few days earlier near Cucuron, when we were slithering down a muddy slope to the road.

The pain was not excruciating but he needed a rest, so we sat for a while on a low wall which appeared on the side of the road just when we needed it.

A hydro power station on the far side of the field

In a few minutes his knee calmed down so we walked on and were soon beside the canal, which was no longer the mighty towering giant it had been. It was now a harmless thing at ground level, like a normal canal or river.

Just before the first houses of Mallemort, another canal came in from the right, fed by the Durance, presumably to give greater force to the next power station down the line.

A rest for the knee

As we were not far above the level of the Mediterranean by now, we guessed that there would be only one more (which was right).

We did a big zig-zag over two bridges to get over this canal junction and found ourselves suddenly among factories and warehouses instead of fields.

Continuing along a small road on the right bank, and having crossed a much bigger road (the D7N), we were once more among fields, with an impressive group of glasshouses and many low plastic tunnels, no doubt for vegetable growing. After all, irrigation water could be borrowed from the canal, only a few metres away.

Meeting of canals near the first houses of Mallemort

At the next bridge, we crossed the canal and stumbled our way across the rough, muddy, scoured-out bank towards the camping ground. By this time the sky was not as pristine as it had been, and Keith’s knee was beginning to complain again.

We could see various decrepit sheds and caravans through the fence, which also looked decrepit but was stronger than it appeared, so we had to keep going to the next bridge, where the official entrance was. Here we saw a large placard advertising its main attractions as karaoke and a restaurant. We especially liked the sound of the latter, as the village of Mallemort itself was two or three kilometres away.

Approaching the camping ground beside the lowered canal
The view from the lunch room

After walking, or limping, up a long, steepish driveway, we came to the entrance barrier and a large reception building and restaurant, where a few people were propped up at the bar having lunch.

We were invited to go on and choose a plot for our tent, which we did, and when we came back, the manager, out of the goodness of his heart, presented us with a plate of food – some bread and various tasty little morsels.

Probably he had noticed that Keith was limping, and felt sorry for us. Everyone in the room then questioned us about what we were doing, and were duly horrified at what we had already done, and, even more, with what we intended to do, which involved an extra four hundred kilometres of walking.

After a round of coffee to finish our free lunch, we went down to the emplacement that we had chosen and put up the tent, at which point it began to drizzle, so we delayed the usual showers in favour of snuggling up in our sleeping bags.

Installing ourselves in the Mallemort camping ground

The light patter of the rain was a soothing accompaniment to our slumber. When we woke up, it had stopped raining and I set off for the sanitaires, but to my chagrin I could not find them.

In the end I had to go back to the reception building and ask the manager (it turned out that they were far down the hill – it was a very long, narrow camping ground).

I came back, much revived, in the clean set of clothes that we reserve for non-walking duties. We only carry two sets of clothes and the set that we walk in gets washed every day, whereas our “evening” clothes only get washed occasionally.

Keith then went off to have a shower, at which point he discovered that his knee, instead of benefiting from the after-lunch rest, had become more painful than ever.

As he was hobbling along, one of the camping staff saw him and spoke to him in English; not very polished English, but a lot better than Keith’s French.

He was from Belgium and was in the habit of coming here with his wife every summer, to help in the camping ground.

Another pizza meal!

He broke the news to Keith that the restaurant would not be open tonight, as it was Monday, the traditional day of closure in France, as we well knew. We should have guessed it already in this case.

However, he added, there was a pizza van on the highway roundabout, only a kilometre away, that would be open tonight and he kindly offered to drive us there.

We had eaten a lot of pizzas so far on this expedition, which indicates how ill-favoured this trip had been compared to previous walks. Nevertheless we were pleased to accept his offer, as the walk into the village was beyond Keith in his present state.

The last packing-up for this walk

In due course this kind fellow appeared and we skimmed down the road to the roundabout, where there was quite a conglomeration of shops, although none of interest to the hungry walker.

The pizza van had a column of smoke billowing from the roof, and quite a crowd around it, but eventually we made it to the counter and put in our order. We thought we would get only one pizza, to share, but our Belgian friend insisted that we get two – he was evidently keen to build us up.

Back at the camping ground, the manager appeared and invited us to sit at one of his outdoor tables, and we bought a half-litre of wine to go with the meal, so it could have been worse.

But there is something dispiriting about eating pizza from a cardboard box outside a cold, closed restaurant. As expected, it was all we could do to finish one pizza. The other one we cut into four and wrapped in a piece of plastic.

In the night it rained again, but by morning the sun was peeping weakly through the clouds.

Free pizza

The bad news was that Keith’s knee was even worse. Clearly, we would either have to stay here for an indefinite time until it improved (if it did). We looked at each other, both worried that the other person would want to persevere, but eventually honesty prevailed and we both admitted that we were not enjoying the constant setbacks that we were enduring and had been secretly longing to go home.

This was a great relief, but the problem remained of getting to Mallemort with Keith being so crippled. There was nothing for it but to set off, which we did very slowly and painfully.

At the roundabout I put down the uneaten pizza on a stone outside the closed pizza van, with a sign saying “gratuit” (free), for some hungry vagrant to pick up.

The elusive Raoul Coustet bus stop in Mallemort

The walk into the centre of Mallemort was at the pace of an elderly snail, but we got there in the end. After a great deal of fruitless searching we found a bus stop with three well-dressed matrons waiting.

We asked them about a bus to Cavaillon and they said that if we wanted to get to Cavaillon, we shouldn’t start from here! They advised us to follow them, as they were going to Salon de Provence for a shopping expedition and we could catch a train from there.

So we did*, despite the fact that Salon de Provence is in the opposite direction from Mallemort as Cavaillon is.

When we all got off, right beside the railway station in Salon, we thanked these estimable ladies very much for their help.

*This bus service was Libebus route number 86 from Raoul Coustet in Mallemort to its terminus in Salon de Provence.


We went in to the station and I asked at the ticket counter about the next train to Cavaillon, at which the woman became very agitated and almost shouted that the train was already in the station, so we must hurry, don’t worry about tickets! However it was not at the platform near us, it was further away, up a flight of metal stairs, along an overbridge and down again. Keith was hardly in a position to hurry, so I raced ahead, got to the platform and hurled myself at the nearest carriage, pressing the green button to make the door open. After a short time they began to close again, so I pressed once more and went through the same nerve-wracking cycle.

Meanwhile Keith was tottering down the steps towards me. In desperation I stood to attention, faced the front and made a Stop sign with my bent arm, in the hope that some invisible official was watching. Keith arrived, we got on and immediately the train left the station, so we think someone was indeed watching my antics.

Wonderful return to the Ibis Budget, Cavaillon

It was such a relief to be on the train that the journey seemed short and luxurious.

After a couple of weeks of relying on leg power only, we revelled in the sight of the scenery out the window hurtling backwards while we reclined at our ease. This happens every year when we finish our walk.

At Cavaillon we tried to remember the way to the Ibis Budget hotel, in which we had taken refuge during the heatwave of 2012.

All we knew was that it was close to the Durance river, so we walked, or limped, along a street that was going that way and found it with no trouble (there was also a camping ground in Cavaillon but it was further away, too far for Keith).

Looking across the carpark to Flunch (obscured)

Across the carpark from our lovely hotel room, we saw an establishment called Flunch, which sounded inviting for people who had not had breakfast. Also we had not seen anything very inviting in the way of restaurants on our way from the station to the hotel. This lived up to its promise, although it was really only a cafeteria, and we ended up going there again in the evening.

Between these two eating marathons, we had to sort out our return to Australia. We had plane tickets with Air France, but they were for three weeks in the future, and we also had to arrange transport to Paris.

With some difficulty (Keith’s crippled state, combined with contradictory street signs) we made it to the Office of Tourism, which was at the edge of town, backed by a rocky ridge, in a square dominated by an impressive double arch, made of white stone (probably marble) and covered with elaborate carved decoration.

Cavaillon’s wonderful Office of Tourism on the left and the Arch of Cavaillon on the right

We later found out that it had stood in the old centre of the Roman town of Cabellio, since the early first-century, until moved a few blocks up the hill to this site in 1888. This information was deeply moving to us as Australians, for whom history is either more recent than 250 years, or tens of thousands of years old.

Arch of Cavaillon

Fortunately for us, the Office of Tourism was not at all busy at that hour and we were soon at the counter, explaining our predicament to a very helpful man whose English was about as good as my French, so, after my initial explanation, we alternated languages. Our problem was that we could not change our Air France tickets online. A phone call was required to change tickets and we did not have the right technology to ring numbers outside Australia.

So he rang Air France and a very long, convoluted conversation ensued, during which he frequently had to ask us questions. At length we got to the brink of success, at which point he looked horrified and said that they wanted an extra payment. As we had seen the price of our tickets go up by a thousand dollars the week after we had bought them, we imagined thousands of euros, so when he said €50, we almost laughed.

Keith then used his phone to book seats on the TGV which went directly from Nîmes to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris tomorrow. With many thanks to this wonderful man (whose name was Baptiste), and greatly relieved by this encounter with French efficiency, we strolled back to the hotel, had a rest (more for our strained nerves than for strained muscles), and returned to eating duties.

Dinner at Flunch

Dinner at the Flunch was perfectly adequate, although far from flash. We had grillades with an assortment of vegetables and a bottle of the local red to help things along. There were quite a few other people dining around us and it made for a pleasant atmosphere.

Keith was still in pain from his knee so it was good that we had only to hobble across the carpark to regain our room and the blessed comforts of bed.

In the morning we had an early train to catch, so we had not pre-paid for breakfast. We slipped out, crept down to the station with all the speed that Keith could muster, and had an excellent breakfast in the bar across the street from the station.

At the bar opposite the Cavaillon railway station

With our coffee we had an array of pastries, including croissants, pains au chocolat and chaussons, as we knew (or hoped) that this would be our last breakfast in France for a while.

The local train deposited us in Avignon, where we had more coffee and chatted to a dapper Parisian gentleman, 95 years old and seemingly in perfect health, both physically and mentally.

Then we got on another local train that would take us to Nîmes to join the TGV. This train wended its way through the countryside and we were calmly conversing and admiring the scenery when I realised that an announcement had been made, but I didn’t hear it.

The train then stopped at a small, unassuming siding in the middle of a stretch of grassland. This station was called “Nîmes-Pont du Gard”.

Was this where we were supposed to get off, or not? We had no idea, and only 30 seconds to decide. If we made the wrong choice, we would miss the TGV, hence miss the plane, and it would cost thousands of dollars.

A excellent breakfast before leaving Cavaillon

Keith thought that the station we were supposed to get off at was called simply “Nîmes”, so we should stay on the train, but I remembered the unheard announcement, so I wanted to get off. After several of the most stressful seconds of our lives, we got off, and that turned out to be right! What a relief! (The TGV station was actually built on top of the little siding, so we couldn’t see it from the train).

We were shepherded upstairs to the upper platform, and when we finally stepped onto the TGV bound for Charles de Gaulle, we were profoundly thankful that a merciful providence had done the right thing by us. After that, nothing could upset us. The train was packed and we could hardly believe that we had got two tickets only yesterday.

At CDG, there was a mass of humanity moving slowly towards a few gates. We calculated that at this rate we would not arrive at the gate until our plane was long gone, but then a woman came around bearing aloft a placard with flags of different nationalities, including an Australian one, so we were plucked from the throng and whisked through a special gate, for reasons quite beyond us.

A quick snack at CDG before the long trip home

The Air France flight was unexceptional and we landed at Singapore. Keith had a credit card that would give him entry to a Lounge, where passengers can enjoy showers, snacks etc, but when we presented ourselves there, the card was declined, inexplicably. But we did not mind – one look through the door at the rows of chairs containing what looked like propped-up cadavers was enough to send us scuttling away to the relative liveliness of a café downstairs.

The final leg was with Qantas, and by the time we arrived in Sydney we had resolved never to travel with Qantas again. The plane itself was worryingly old and dilapidated, the seats seemed to be more cramped than ever, and the food was a horror story. Breakfast consisted of a paper bag containing what looked like a small, squashed sausage roll with a greenish fluid leaking out of it. Apparently this was a “spinach lattice” and it came with nothing else, not even a hot drink. However it did land safely, which was more than we expected, and the rest of the journey home was in a bus. Three hours later, in chilly Canberra, we swapped to a suburban bus and stepped through our front door with a sigh of gratitude.

Meanwhile, Keith’s knee was still very painful, so he went to the doctor the next day and had X-rays and general probing, which did not reveal anything untoward, so the advice was to go home and rest for a month, and see whether it got better of its own accord. At the end of five days, the pain had completely gone, leaving us with the suspicion that the knee had shown more sense than we had. It had decided that enough was enough.

Previous day: Lourmarin to Charleval

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