Sunday, 17 June 2007
Distance 27 km
Duration 5 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 402 m, descent 392 m
Map 60 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We were away by 6:50 am, swinging back into Lourmarin and out the other side before it had even woken up. The only sign of life was from the boulangerie.
It was to be a day on the bitumen, but after the struggles of yesterday, that had its attractions. The main road to Apt, following the gorge whose upper reaches we had crossed near Buoux, was almost empty of traffic at that hour – there were more cyclists than cars – and we strode along between the deep rocky walls in the shade of the morning.
We reached the turn-off to Bonnieux before the tourists had finished breakfast. The next stage, climbing out of the gorge to the causse, gave us more trouble, as it was already getting warm, but even so we caught sight of Bonnieux below us at about 9 o’clock and were seated on a shady bar terrace not long afterwards, with a bag of pastries and two coffees in front of us. It was a nice change from Buoux.
I had quite a chat with a local woman having coffee nearby. She spoke English and I spoke French, so we both enjoyed it.
The village hangs off the side of a slope and looks out airily onto the similarly perched village of Lacoste and onto the whole wide valley of the Calavon to the north.
Just opposite the bar we noticed a stone staircase rising out of sight between the houses, which turned out to lead to the church and a viewing platform.
From here we saw below us a coloured patchwork of vines, lavender, wheat, fruit trees, olive trees, villages and roads. A group of amateur artists, mainly Japanese, were working at their easels.
We descended the stairs and took a pedestrian tunnel beside the bar to the bottom of town.
Once out in the country again we had the pleasure of a laden cherry tree beside the road, from which we took a modest few, not being in the same great need as we had been yesterday.
It was easy walking, gently downhill, and in due course we came to the Pont Julien, which is now a footbridge but had previously done service for two thousand years as part of the Via Domitia, the great Roman trade route between Italy and Spain. It looked as solid as ever.
We continued on small roads, rising now, until we came to the hilltop village of Roussillon.
Like Rustrel, it was a community based on ochre, and its deposits were mined here until the mid twentieth century.
All the houses are built of ochre, rich red in colour. When the ochre industry failed, the village was rescued from oblivion by tourism, like many remote, backward villages in the region, and is now full of cafés and gift shops. The old mines with their spectacular cliffs can be visited, and the village itself is charming.
In one of the numerous cafés we had a second round of coffee and then decided to get ourselves set up in the camping ground before exploring further.
We followed the signs pointing down a road, and were still following them three kilometres later when the first tents came into view, by which time we had lost a great deal of altitude and much of our composure. However, at least the place was functioning.
The tent area looked as though a flash flood had just passed through, with drifts of loose sand and flotsam piled up under the trees, but we found a pleasant corner for our tent and had showers, lunch and a sleep.
At 5:30, wearing sandals and free of our packs, we set off for the long return walk up to the village and found it not nearly as long as it had seemed on the way down.
At the former ochre mine we paid our €2 and went in to look around at the huge columns and organ-pipes and craters, all coloured a hectic sunset red. As we left, the big carved steel gates closed behind us.
On our way down we had a fine view of the village clinging to its crag. The little lanes and staircases were still crowded with visitors, possibly because it was Fathers’ Day in France.
In a square at the top of town we sat down for a glass of rosé and watched the Foire Artisanale packing up, with much shouting and hand-waving, and backing and filling of trucks. Then we went next door for dinner. By then it had turned cold and nobody was on the panoramic balcony at the back, but we admired the view through the glass door.
We had pizzas, proper paper-thin ones with black edges, like the ones they make in Italy – and a jug of wine. The last glimmers of daylight were fading when we got back to our tent just before 10 o’clock.