Neverest Fest calls.
Thursday, Oct 25th, 2007
I can't quite believe it myself: the penultimate day. Tonight we have our last dinner on the hike, and spend our last night sleeping in strange beds. Tomorrow evening at this time we'll be home.
Fittingly, it was a long hike. We left Merindol and crossed the Durance, bypassing Mallemort on our way to Alleins, mostly along roads. There we temporarily lost Russell, Sally, and Dave, who had fallen behind far enough to not see the rest of us turning onto another road. But cellphones saved the day and we were soon reunited. This was only the second time on the entire trip that something like this happened... and Dave was involved both times. Hmmmmm.
From there we climbed for a while then discovered a discrepancy between our map and reality, which led to us standing in front of a locked gate with a sign on it saying, in French, "No Trespassing". What made it more interesting was that the sign was on the other side of the fence and facing the way we wanted to go. We managed to outflank the fencing on either side of the gate and continued, now legally, along the path to come out exactly where we wanted to be, and more efficiently than had we taken the planned route. :-)
After a picnic lunch next to a ruined 12th Century chapel we walked through woods and between vineyards for a long time until a descent to cross the Marseilles / Paris axis (Autobahn, railway, canal). Then through a flatter land of orchards to Lamanon where we stopped for hot chocolate in a seedy cafe.
And still we weren't done.
From Lamanon we climbed up through Neolithic dwellings carved out of soft sandstone, then via an ancient wain road along the top of a low ridge that was the beginning of the Alpilles -- the last barrier to be crossed on the H2H.
But the crossing was to be left until tomorrow, and we descended in light rain (after a cloudy day) into the village of Eyguieres for one last night.
One day more.
Wednesday, Oct 24th, 2007
Simply a lovely hike today. It started with a fairly steep climb up to the top of the Luberon (about 500m above Oppede), which had our guests huffing and puffing. Ok, we were huffing and puffing too, but I think we would have been able to keep going for four times the distance, whereas I suspect that our guests would not :-).
We stopped for lunch on a rocky outcrop with dramatic views over the southern Luberon, which was much more rugged and jumbled than I would have expected (having only seen it up until now from below), and across the Durance. Dad and Stefan, who both suffer from a little vertigo, sat well back, while Russ and Dave, who do not, hopped and stumbled around on the edge of the precipice in a way that bothered even me!
After a steep initial descent, we walked out of the mountain along a wonderful slot canyon called les Gorges de Regalon, with walls up to 50m high and no more than a couple of meters apart... all the way up. It was like going through a cave at times. Most impressive. Fortunately Dad decided to come down it instead of taking the alternate route along the road. He had no difficulty with the scrambling necessary in places, and he would have missed something spectacular otherwise.
Our B&B in Merindol was also very nice, with comfortable beds and sumptuous bathrooms. They weren't serving dinner themselves that night, so they took us in their minibus to a local restaurant. Nice people.
Around 5.5 hours, so not too tiring.
Two more days!
Tuesday, Oct 23rd, 2007
Today's hike was a bit of a crusher for Sally, I'm afraid, at least that is my impression based on her miming being stabbed in the heart. You see, we arrived at Robion, at the western end of the Luberon range, from which you can almost see Eygalieres... and turned back east to hike to Oppede.
Worse, tomorrow we are going to climb up and over the Luberon, so that we can the day after cross the Durance south of the Alpilles, in order to climb up and over the Alpilles to come down into Eygalieres from the south.
And it was when she realized that instead of the straight hike across flat ground we were going to hike in the opposite direction and then cross two ranges of hills that she got out her make-believe dagger.
Of course, I could hardly have planned these last few days otherwise. After all, in a way this recapitulates the entire H2H. As I put it to Dad, for a start, I chose to walk rather than driving or flying or taking a train. Then I chose to walk over passes through the mountains, rather than along valleys. And lastly, there is the small diversion to Montreux, and the much larger one to Monaco, both of which make the hike much longer than it needs to be. Clearly the H2H was not conceived of as an efficient hike from House to House!
Nevertheless, despite Sally's heartache, it was another lovely hike today. A little warmer than the last few days, and a little hazy, but the views were still superb. We had lunch in Robion, which has a beautiful old village center, and then followed an up and down trail along the Luberon to Oppede-le-Vieux, which is even more beautiful than Robion. In fact, I think it is more spectacular and atmospheric than Gordes, and I will certainly be coming back here to explore the vast ruins of the upper village and the castle.
Our B&B, La Belle de Nuit, is very nice, and Stephan Goessl arrives this evening to join us for the last three days.
Monday, Oct 22nd, 2007
Apologies for the mistaken number yesterday, in fact it is today which is the first half of a stage. Rather than do a long hike and a rushed lunch in Cabrieres with Nicole, I decided to sacrifice a rest day and split the stage over two days. We thus had a short hike today -- around 4hrs -- and will do about the same tomorrow on our way to Oppede-le-Vieux. And this way we can have a leisurely dinner with Nicole... whose cooking merits no less!
The hike was easy, although Dad did complain somewhat about the steepness of the climb to Gordes, where we had lunch. The whole village has been declared a national historical monument, and one understands why, particularly when you climb up to it from the valley: most impressive.
Nicole met us shortly after Gordes to show us the local Mesa Verde equivalent: an olive mill built into a cliff at half-height where there was an overhang. Apparently it was in use until well into the 18th Century, and you can still see the various grinding surfaces, cisterns, troughs, etc. that they carved into the rock to handle the olives and the oil. Tres interessant!
The rooms in the Vieux Bistrot in Cabrieres were excellent, as was dinner at Nicole's place. We were nine around the table -- the six of us, Nicole, and her two sons -- and conversation was good, there was much laughter, and we ate and drank way too much. In particular Dave let himself be goaded into eating two plums that had been steeped for ages in near 100% alcohol (% not proof!) -- most amusing (except perhaps for Dave the following morning :-).
Oh, one more thing: we had our first view of the Alpilles the day before, and the first clear view today. The excitement is mounting! Only four more days of hiking....
Sunday, Oct 21st, 2007
Dave and his brother arrived Saturday evening, not exactly as planned -- due to a railway strike in France -- but in time for dinner nevertheless. Sunday morning we set off bright and, well, late, after 10, much to the disgust of Dave who demanded to know what had happened to the Spartan days of leaving before 8AM that he had experienced at the beginning of the H2H.
But these are the gravy days, we told him. The hikes are short, the weather is perfect, we aren't in the mountains so if something goes wrong we don't need the extra daylight time to recover... there just isn't any reason to get up early. He was, I think, only partially mollified. Having not suffered through the entirety of the H2H, he has the typical guest-hiker's eager initial desire for exercise and effort. Whereas we grizzled and experienced hikers value every short and flat stage as a gift.
Lots of road walking today, as expected and as typical for these last days: the Luberon and the Alpilles are densely populated, at least in comparison with where we have been, and so there are fewer trails. As compensation there are many beautiful villages -- we had a two hour lunch in one, Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt -- and spent the night in another -- Roussillon.
The newer parts of Saint-Saturnin didn't seem to be particularly special, but it is overlooked by remarkable ruins that cry out for exploration, both physical and online (i.e., I don't know their history). Roussillon, perched on its ochre cliffs, is one of the most beautiful villages in France, for which we forgive it its tourists, of whom there were still many around when we arrived shortly before 5PM.
Our hotel, the Clos de la Glycine, is excellent, and after watching Hamilton choke his way out of the Formula One drivers championship, and then some Sumo, the meal last night in the Bistrot was also very good. Unusually, for me, I ate relatively little -- it seems as if the couple of hours hiking in the afternoon were not enough to rebuild hunger after eating an entire pizza, a fair-sized salad, and a dessert at lunch. Grin.
Another short day today, with lunch in Gordes and dinner promised tonight at Nicole's in Cabrieres-d'Avignon. Sigh. It's a rough life :-).