Day 5: La Bastide-des-Jourdans to Pertuis

Breakfast at Le Cheval Blanc

Monday, 22 May 2023
Distance 24 km
Duration 6 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 280 m, descent 452 m

We woke in the vast cavern of our hotel room, packed our few possessions and went downstairs to the dining room, which was as gloomily empty as it had been the evening before.

A table was set for us and the husband, a worn-down looking, middle-aged Frenchman (his wife had told us that she was originally Polish), brought a plunger of coffee, some bread, two croissants and the usual accompaniments.

He said that he had just delivered his children to school. They were 13 and 15 years of age, so I commented that they were not easy ages for parents, with which he agreed with more fervour than was strictly necessary.

Departing Le Cheval Blanc

We paid – a breath-taking amount – and emerged into normal life again.

As we walked down the street, we were amazed to find that, contrary to our information, there was indeed a bar in this village, where we could have had a very satisfactory breakfast for a fraction of the cost and with other human beings around. There was even a second bar lower down.

Another lavender field

However we soon forgot our annoyance as we strode off into the countryside. It was a beautiful morning and we felt strong and lively, quite our old selves.

The gently descending road that we were on, the D956, was fairly major (i.e. it had white lines marked on it), but we managed to avoid most of it by taking small parallel roads, which were free of traffic and delightfully shady.

A lovely shady walk on a back road

We only emerged onto the highway near the steep little track that led up through the forest to the perched village of Grambois, which we could see from below.

It was quite a scramble to reach the first streets of Grambois, as the track was evidently not used very much these days and was overgrown with lush foliage.

Going up tp Grambois the traditional way

But we enjoyed the feeling of walking in the footsteps of generations of villagers, for whom this was presumably a well-worn way.

Looking back down the traditional way into Grambois

As we reached the first street, we made a small detour before visiting the main square. We walked around the little street that curved around the edge of the village, beyond which, over a low wall, the land dropped away dramatically to reveal a peaceful landscape of fields and woods, stretching away to a line of far blue mountains.

The view from Grambois
Filling up a water bottle

Continuing, we circled around to the main square, which was on top of the spur and looked promising for refreshments, but none were forthcoming, although we rattled the door of the café. We had to make do with cold water, which we pumped up by hand, rotating a wheel on a hydrant.

Nevertheless we were in good spirits as we swung down the main road along the ridge, the D33. Soon after leaving Grambois, where the D122 branched off, we took a little track and rejoined the D33 after a couple of kilometres. By that time we realised that we had made a mistake.

We had assumed that Grambois, on its little spur, was the highest point in the vicinity, but we had not looked at the altitudes on the map, and there was actually another considerable ascent along the ridge before it began to drop.

Resting

After a while Keith began to wilt under the influence of the pills he was taking, and we had to stop and rest beside the road.

We sat on a carpet of wildflowers, scented with rosemary, and looked down through slender pines to a green valley far below. Not one car had come past for the whole time since we had left the village, and we felt remote from the world in this little patch of paradise.

Parched countryside

We set off again and not much further on we came to a drier, more open landscape and this was the top of the climb.

It was only a gradual descent after that, but a descent nonetheless, for which we were grateful.

There were fewer trees here, and more rocks and dry grass, even patches of bare ground.. It seemed to be completely uninhabited.

Eventually we started to go down more steeply and came to farmhouses, vineyards and green, grassy fields crammed with poppies and other spring flowers, quite different from the parched upland that we had just crossed. Meanwhile a mass of storm clouds was rising from the east, overtaking the mild blue sky. The sun disappeared and and soon we heard the familiar growl of thunder.

A sea of wildflowers
Road bashing to la Bastidonne

I was not keen on being out in such an open, treeless place, where we would be a great target for lightning, so we hurried along until we came to the big highway, the D973, which was well lined with trees.

Although we had planned a route on a walking track which kept us off the bitumen while going in roughly the same direction, we decided, in view of the threatening weather, to make a dash for the café at la Bastidonne along the highway, which was quicker but unpleasant. All the while the clouds got lower and the thunder louder.

Near the village, we scrambled off the highway to an underpass, which took us steeply down to the houses, and we found the café without trouble – le Café Bleu. It was a handsome looking place with a forecourt full of tables and furled umbrellas, its only defect being that it was closed.

Just then the rain arrived so we hoisted one of the umbrellas and cowered under it miserably. we had not seen a single person in the streets, which was not surprising given the weather, but then a man appeared. He lived next door and had noticed us huddling outside the café, and wanted to assure us that it would open at 4 o’clock, and that if we needed anything we just had to ring the bell on his gate. We were very touched by this – it was another example of the kindness of strangers, which we had already received several times on this walk, and were to receive in greater measure later that day.

After he went, I cried with gratitude, but also with exhaustion and fear – the thunder and rain were hammering down now. When the worst of the storm was over, we decided to push on, as it was only about 3 o’clock.

Once again we renounced our intended route on the walking track in favour of the quick, brutal way along the side of the highway. With some difficulty we got ourselves to the camping ground, but there was a high wire fence and we could not find the entrance. At last, aided by some helpful locals, and having gone around three sides of a square, we found it.

No joy at le Café Bleu, la Bastidonne

At the reception desk we got an unpleasant shock – tents were not permitted at this “camping” ground, nor were caravans and mobile homes.

We would have to hire one of their cabins for the night, and the girl, consulting a sheet, announced that it would cost €300. We laughed derisively and walked out.

So now we were on the hunt for a hotel. We were tired, damp and annoyed, but luckily our home-made maps included the way from here to the centre of Pertuis.

No “camping” at Capfun Camping, Pertuis

We plodded down through grey suburban streets in the drizzle, until we came to a big road that ringed the centre, turned left and set off towards the railway station in the hope that there would be a hotel nearby.

The road that we were walking down had seen better days; it was lined with decrepit shops and, unpainted warehouse doors. Even the few street trees seemed colourless, but that may have been a result of our general exhaustion and misery.

In the midst of all this greyness, we came to a brightly-lit, immaculate pharmacy, set back a little from the street, a beacon in the gloom, and we decided to go in and ask for directions to a hotel.

We waited in line while customers got their medicines and their advice, and when it was our turn we asked about hotels.

Pertuis

This set off a lively discussion among the staff and all the customers, and they finally decided which one would be best for us. Meanwhile I cried for the second time today, this time discreetly, with relief.

The pharmacist, whose name was Valérie, helped by her assistant Isabelle, started to draw a map, but after she had drawn three or four roundabouts, she cast it aside and declared that she would drive us there!

First she had to ring the chief pharmacist, M. Hamon, who arrived soon after to mind the shop, and told us with a beaming smile that his son lived in Western Australia.,

Keith had Carpaccio de boeuf

Valérie drove us speedily down the road, shot under the railway line, swooped around two or three roundabouts, and and swerved off to show us various eating places that we might fancy, then deposited us at the door of the Ibis Budget hotel. Our gratitude was beyond words, but we tried.

We had no trouble getting a room at this very efficient place, so different from last night’s amateurish, lonely magnificence. It was compact but clean and comfortable.

After we had had showers and changed into dry clothes, we strolled to the Ibis Styles hotel, which was immediately behind the Budget. and had a restaurant, which was open to guests of their lesser sister hotel, although not to the public.

For reasons unknown, half the tables in the room were low. like coffee tables, with the chairs around them suitable for kindergarten children. We were initially shown to one of these tables but when a normal one was vacated, we scuttled across and claimed it.

And Travers de porc for me

Most of the restaurant was taken up by a team of a couple of dozen Cameroonian sportswomen of some kind, and there was a special buffet set our for them. Before eating, they all stood and bowed their heads in silence for a minute.

We had one dish each, plus our usual half-litre of wine. Keith had carpaccio de boeuf, a circle of scarlet slices with salad leaves and parmesan cheese prettily piled on top, and I had travers de porc – three thick slices in a sauce, with salad and crunchy fried potatoes.

Having not had a proper dinner for some time, we had trouble finishing our platefuls, and had no hope with the wine, so i dashed back to our room and fetched the half-litre bottle, but got disoriented and took a long time to find my way back. I blame it on accumulated exhaustion.

Back in our cosy room, our last thoughts for the day were amazement at the change in our fortunes since we had stepped into the pharmacy.

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