Monday, 6 March 2017

These feet are made for walking

There's nothing comparable to walking the fragrant hills of Provence.
Walking is for me, the best way to see and learn about your surrounds, whether is it the bush, city streets – or the narrow sentiers (walking tracks) that criss-cross the fragrant hills of Provence.

One of the first things I do when I arrive at a place – anywhere new, really – is walk around and familiarise myself in the sights, scents, sounds of it.

But wandering through the countryside is a serious business for the French, particularly those in the south who have been walking the hillsides for centuries. Known as ‘La Randonnée’ – probably the best English translation is the very British ‘Rambling’ – it is akin to hiking.
Wandering beside olive groves.
In the Var, there are numerous paths throughout the region and our local council in Les Arcs-sur-Argens is planning to extend the tracks from our village into the Massif des Maures to the south as well as across the hills to our neighbouring villages.

One of my favourite walks – which I prefer to do in cooler weather because of the summer fire danger – is to the top of the Forêt des Arcs, located in the Maures.

The goal is to reach the highest point, where you have a treat in store – not only the expansive view across central Var, but because of its links to pre-historic times with its rocks, placed in strategic positions by former inhabitants.

Tracks take you deep into the Gorges du Verdon.
Known as Terriers, Menhirs or Dolmen, these sharp, cylindrical rocks are found often arranged on end in strange circles reminiscent of tiny Stonehenges, or lying one across two uprights like a door jamb.
The tourist office in Les Arcs has maps of the area and you can choose to take the main balade (walk) of 14 kilometres or the short one of 9.2km. With any of these longer walks it is essential that you take in enough water and probably something to eat to sustain you.

The guide also explains the coloured markings and symbols painted on rocks or attached to trees as you ascend, marking your way – yellow and white for the ‘Promenade and Randonnée’ here. There are other colours for regional and national 'grande randonnées'.

Starting by the Argens River, the track slowly rises through the forest, past ancient cork oaks, whose bark has once been used for wine corks by the local vintners. It also passes some of the early mines, now abandoned, where they once extracted precious minerals from deep within the Maures.

There are two other paths that I have not yet investigated and plan to ‘one of these days’.

They are the Grande Randonnée up and over what we call the ‘Red Rock’ but is locally known as ‘Roquebrune’.  The rich red earth of the rock and the way it glows in the setting sun remind us so much of central Australia. We have already mapped our start – and are looking forward to ending up at one of our favourite restaurants on the other side at Roquebrune-sur-Argens.

Sometimes you find other 'randonneurs' on your walk!
The second is more a series of paths, deep within the Canyon of Verdon in northern Var. I have climbed down to the river bed from the cliffs above, but have not yet taken one of the trails that lead both up and downstream – as well as up the other side of the canyon!

Finally there is our own familiar sentier that links Les Arcs with the neighbouring village of Taradeau. It is strenuous enough so you know you have done some exercise, but not so far that you wind up exhausted.  And it’s always good to be able to stop for a refreshing drink in the main street of Taradeau before the homeward journey (on foot or by bus).




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