Sunday, March 19, 2017

Les Calanques: Col de Sormiou - Crete and Cap Morgiou - Morgiou and Sormiou villages

This walk is another good one day introduction to the Calanques. Essentially, you follow several mountain ridges (cretes) all the way from Col de Sormiou to Cap Morgiou with fantastic views of the sea with all its islands and finally the Calanques themselves, Morgiou, Sugiton, St.-Jean de Dieu, Devenson etc. with the massive wall of la Grande Candelle in the background.

You finish the walk by returning down to the old fishing village of Morgiou where you have a nice bar/restaurant (closed Mondays) and some small beaches. Thereafter you need to walk up again to the Crete de Morgiou and down to the village of Sormiou, also with some beaches, before returning back up to Col de Sormiou. Not such a long walk in distance, but hard enough because of the steep mountain sides and accumulated ascent.

Mont Puget, highest peak in the Calanques (503 meters)
Start by driving to Mazargues, on the southern fringes of Marseille City. From the north we use the tunnel under the Vieux Port of Marseille and we do not exit till after the next tunnel, following signs for Mazargues. In or close to Mazargues you follow signs for Sormiou. You will pass la Crayolle with its large shopping area (incl. Decathlon) and the road may stop at a barrier at the parking marked on the map by the large sewage complex marked “St. epur” on the map.

In winter/spring (October – May) the road is open for traffic, so simply drive on to the highest point on the road (Col de Sormiou) and park here (1 hour drive from Pertuis outside rush hours, but drive back again via Cassis to avoid the Marseille rush hour (1h 30 min). In the summer/autumn you must first call the day before (after 18.00) to check if the Calanques are not closed for walking (see Safety and Practicalities under Pages in this Blog) and walk from the parking up to the Col (only  about 1 km.).

The morning sun will meet you even in the winter here at Col de Sormiou, and you start walking east along the blue 1 trail (also GR until you reach the Crete de Morgiou). You are quickly on Col des Baumettes (10 minutes) and here you “branch out” to the right on the blue trail towards a fantastic viewpoint only some 4-500 meters ahead. Next the trail descend a little before going up on the Crete de Morgiou (40 minutes) and it’s here you lose the blue and white GR markings.

Falaise des Toits, behind Sugiton
After some 30 minutes along the Crete de Morgiou, you meet the intersection where your red marked return trail for this afternoon crosses your blue trail (1h). Another 30-40 minutes and you will be down from the Crete on the 85 meter point (1h 45m). Here you have the black trail going down to Morgiou Village and you will have to decide whether or not to take the extra 15 minutes (one way) out to Cap Morgiou (2h) and back again. It’s a charming little walk with fantastic views all the way and a nice place to pick-nick.

Calanque de Morgiou and Cap Morgiou
The walk back up to Morgiou village takes about 45 minutes and is very scenic all the way. You see the little beach across the bay and you pass the Café/Restaurant in the Port before heading northeast along the road to start with. Only some 3-400 meters after the port, you want to turn left off this road onto the red 5 trail. The ascent up to the ridge of the Crete de Morgiou from the road takes a good 30 minutes (3h 30m).

Old defensive wall just before Cap Morgiou
The descent to Sormiou village takes a good half an hour and it takes you almost 15 minutes to walk through the village to the large car park (follow the red trail and then the brown trail). The brown trail breaks off from the red trail just after the parking lot to the left. The ascent back up to the car at Col de Sormiou takes about 20 minutes.

Shorter alternatives
This walk will probably be too long for the summer heat for most people, but there are a few things that could be done to cut the walk shorter. Cap Morgiou itself could be avoided to save some 35 minutes.

The return walk from Morgiou could be made less hard going by going up along the road or the red 6 trail in combination with the road to the highest point of the road (213 meter point). Here you continue the road down on the other side for some 600 meters (you see short cut possibilities on the map) before taking left onto the forest road that will take you back to Col de Sormiou. This way will not be much shorter, but it will take a lot less energy and for most people less time.

Alternative for a short walk
The first 40 minutes of this walk is in itself a good introduction to the Calanques. Continue another 30 minutes to the crossing of the red 5 trail and take left down to the beach at Morgiou (another 30-40 minutes) where you could take a swim or have a café at the local bar. The return walk could be the same as you walked out, or you could consider the “shorter” alternative described above. I would have taken the same route back for a nicer scenery.

Basic information:

Duration:       6h (including 1h 20min for lunch and swimming)
Distance:       13 km.
Ascent:          650 m (accumulated)
Difficulty:       Moderate
Start/finish:    Col de Sormiou (Marseille)

Map:              IGN Les Calanques de Marseille á Cassis (1cm=150 m)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Montagne de Vautubiere – short and easy

West face with the Durance valley and Luberon.
This is a great walk for winter time, when you want plenty of sun shine along the way. Easy and a fairly short walk that could be expanded with almost an hour along the ridge of Montagne de Vautubiere and another hour for lunch. The ridge has some of the best 360 degrees views in the area and you can see the Alpes, Ventoux, Victoire, the Durance valley and almost to the coast and plenty of nice spots to lunch. 

The Villemus ruins

The walk could also be shortened by parking closer to the west face of Montagne de Vautubiere (just drive on passed Notre Dame and park by the road side somewhere) and climb the mountain from the west, returning down the same way. This will make the walk just under 2 hours in total including short stops. The original walk could also be taken walking in the opposite direction, making sure you get up to the top in time for early lunch. 

Drive in to Jouques from Peyrolles and after the village center you take left for Bedes and St-Paul. Follow this small road for 2 km. up to Bedes and park in the car park on the left as soon as you see the entry sign for Bedes. 

Montagne Vautubiere from the north.
The walk starts across the road, going east along a local road marked with blue and yellow signs occasionally. After 10 minutes (just before Notre Dame), you take off the road to the left onto a dirt track and after another few minutes you turn left again at the 358 meter point. At the end of the fields you turn right and you will shortly walk passed the Villemus ruins. The blue and yellow signs are now getting more frequent and you follow these, taking off left only some 100 meters after the 377 meter point (about 30 minutes from the car). 

After about 20 minutes walking you will join a surfaced road and walk along this for about 1 km. Here, at the 444 meter point you take right on to a fire road marked DFCI in red and now you simply follow this fire road all the way to the tower on top of Montagne de Vautubiere. This takes about 45 minutes from the 444 meter point, or 1h 45 min. from the car. 

The Observation Tower (fire protection)
The walk back to the car is about 1 hour, but it is strongly recommended to explore the mountain ridge going north along a small path. After only 10 minutes, you see nice areas for pick nick and all the way to the end of the ridge (about 25 minutes one way) it is fantastic 360 degrees views. You see a massive 2 meter high cairn at the very last part of the ridge, and this is also a very nice place for lunch. 

At the northern tip of the mountain ridge.
You return to the car on the blue and yellow marked path going down (more sideways at first) from a point on the road only some 40 meters south of the observation tower. It takes about 30 minutes down to the first “opening” in the form of an olive grove and another 30 minutes’ walk back to Bedes, mainly along a surfaced road.

Basic information:

Duration:        3h (no lunch break)
Distance:       10 km.
Ascent:          300 m
Difficulty:        Easy
Start/finish:     Bedes, 2 km. north of Jouques, direction St-Paul-les-Durance.
Map:               IGN 3244 ET Montagne Saint-Victoire

Walking down the west facing of Montagne de Vautubiere

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Gigondas – Dentelles de Montmirail (5h)

This is a walk along the highest part of the Dentelles (Dentelles Sarrasines). It gives you a real touch-on feeling for the place and has fantastic views in all directions. Given the fact that we follow the trail along its high ridge, it will be steep parts that in places could be difficult for some because of the sheer steepness, slippery stones or simply because of vertigo.

From Pertuis, I was surprised to discover that the “country route” by car to Gigondas was quicker than using the motorway to Orange Sud, as I usually have taken. (From Cavaillon, follow at first for Carpentras, but at Velleron go straight on for Monteaux, Sarrians and Vacqueyras.) When approaching Gigondas village, take left in the round, signposted for Dentelles de Mintmireil. Drive all the way up to Col du Cayron and park here.

You start walking along the forest road going uphill in a general westerly direction. After about 20 minutes, you are on the next Col along this road, and here you see a signpost and a path with blue markings taking sharply left off the road just before the road turns. Follow the blue markings all the way up to the top, but do not cross over to the other side for Col d’Alsau. Continue along the northern side of the Dentelles till you see another path coming up from the left, directly from Col du Cayron. Do not take this path down, but continue a little bit longer along the top till the blue path takes you up to a Col on the Dentelles near the 563 meter point. You have now walked about 1,5h from the car.

We suggest a stop for lunch up here on the south side (several places to sit), before continuing the walk on the other side of the Dentelles, now following the blue markers westwards. You are now passing some of the more known rocks up in the Dentelles, like Rocher du Turc and Tete Vieille. As you get closer to the latter, you take the blue marked path down to the road near Col d’Alsau (about 30 minutes from the 563 meter point).

Follow the road upwards towards the Col (it’s a Parking here), but you turn right after only some 100 meters; up the stairs that is made here, and follow the blue marked path of Le Gand Montmirail. When you are approaching the Col at the 464 meter point, make sure you have taken the left fork of the blue markers to reach the Col easily (another 30 minutes or so).

At the 464 meter point (the Col), there is a blue marked path that continues on each side of the mountain. Take the left hand fork and keep following the blue markers (northeasterly direction) till you get right down into the bottom of the Ravin du Vallat de l’Aiguille. Here the path crosses over to the other side of the valley and follows the valley right down to the end.

Towards the end, I suggest you follow the blue marked path straight on up to the road that passes right in front of the big Rochers d’escalade (398 meters), rather than trying to find the path to the left indicated on elderly maps (including my own).

The road that passes here will take you all the way back to the car at Col du Cayron.

Basic information:

Duration:       5h (including 60 min. lunch)
Distance:      10 km.
Ascent:         400 m
Difficulty:      Difficult parts along the ridge
Start/finish:   Gigodas (Parking at Col du Cayron)
Map:             IGN 3040 ET Carpentras (1cm=250 m)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Meyrargues round - 11 km

The walk starts at Chateaux de Meyrargue, here with Luberon in the background.
This is a great walk for winter time, when you want plenty of sun shine along the way. Easy and fairly short walk with a descent at the end that could challenge some. But take it slowly, and you will be all right.

Drive over to Meyrargues and park at the cemetery’s southern end, where there is a small car park next to the Roman “les Arcades”. Start the walk going further along the road up the short hill to the 277 meter point on the map right at the back of Chateaux de Meyrargues. On the top here, you turn left off the road and on to the yellow marked foot path that starts here going south (signposted for Venelles).

After 15 minutes uphill you arrive at a major crossing at the 360 meter point. If you want to enjoy the sun shine with a good view, you could extend this walk by some 20 minutes by walking up the little hill on your right here. There is a large table of orientation up there telling you what you see.

At the 360 meter point you follow the yellow markers on the forest road for another 4-5 minutes and now you leave the road going left at the sign post, still following yellow markings. After only another 4-5 minutes, you follow the right fork for “Yellow 1”. After another short walk you are joining another forest road southwards, and you stay on this road all the way to the Cistern at the 380 meter point (about one hour from the car now).

Tour de Guet which you pass on the way back.

At the Cistern, you turn left and follow the road with yellow markings. You soon see a restored cottage from the 19th century on your right, and this could be a candidate for lunch in the open.

From the top of the hill after the cottage, you descent slowly and join another forest road at the 406 meter point, but you just follow yellow markings further along the road till you reach the Cistern at the big road junction about 500 meters after the 480 meter point. To see the Cistern, you need to keep left twice here and you have now walked about 1.5 hours from the car. Another candidate for lunch in the open will be up on the right from the road about half way between the 480 meter point and the Cistern.

The restored cottage from 1870
Reaching the Cistern, you turn left along the forest road that meets you as a T-junction and follow north along this open ridge with good views of the Alpes. This road is not marked in any way, but just follow it for about 30 minutes till you see the Cistern on your left just below the 430 meter point. In this road junction, you should first keep left, then keep straight ahead when you see the Cistern down on your left.

Montagne Saint Victoire

You are now on the forest road up the tower of Guet at 498 meters. After about 10 minutes along the road you see the tower and very soon a foot path taking off the road to the left. Take the path and you will be up on the top in another 10 minutes. 

Enjoy the fantastic views of the Alps, the Durance river and valley, Montagne Saint Victoire and Pertuis with Luberon just behind.

Peyrolles with the Durance river and canal and the Alpes in background

For the last bit of this walk, we follow the mountain ridge further north eventually coming down at the large cylinder shaped water tank that is the water reservoir for Meyrargues. If you don’t feel up to a steep descent, I suggest you walk down back to the Cistern you saw at the 430 meter point and follow the road down past the Cistern and further, eventually passing the Cemetery where the car is parked. This route could also be slightly faster than the walk along the ridge.

Start the way back from the tower walking along the forest road going north for only some 150 meters. At the first bend in the road, a small path takes off to the left. Follow the path along the ridge of the mountain. Great sceneries and views in all directions.

The mountain ridge above Meyrargue
After about 15 minutes (still high up on the ridge) the path turns 90 degrees to the right, and here you see clearly the large cylindrical water tank you want to get down to. Follow the ridge further for another 150 meters and the path starts slowly to go down and after a while you pass over another small ridge. After about 10-15 minutes the path really decides to go down, and you follow. You will be down at the water tank in only 5 minutes but watch your steps to avoid falling.

Walk along the road down from the water tank and you will quickly reach the northern end of the Cemetery. Walk up the park along the cemetery to the roman arches and you will see the car park on your right.

Basic information:

Duration:       4h (including ½  hour for lunch)
Distance:      11 km.
Ascent:         360 m
Difficulty:      Easy, but with a steep descent at end, but alternative exists.
Start/finish:   Meyrargues
Map:             IGN 3244 ET Montagne Saint-Victoire

Ruins of the Roman Aqueduc "Les Arcades" by the Cemetery

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Sisteron: Les Monges - from Baudinard with Lac des Monges

Western face of Les Monges
Les Monges (2,115 meters) attracts walkers from all directions, and the best walk for the top of Les Monges is in my opinion still the walk published on this blog 03.07.2013, called the ultimate Crete walk (from Authon). The main attraction with that walk is that you stay up on the Crete for most of the day and up/down the Crete is quite strait forward.

This walk explores the northern ridges and slopes of Les Monges and have the advantage of visiting the lovely Lac des Monges on the way down. It’s quite a long walk, but it could easily be shorten down by dropping the actual top of Les Monges (saves you an hours walk there and back) and you could do a short cut from the La Sapie Ruins in south east direction, taking the small path directly for the Ridge at around the 1743 meter point (see map).

Northern ridge and Les Monges in the background
You take the No 23 Exit (Sisteron North) from the A51 Motorway and follow for La Motte-du-Caire. You soon get on the D951 road (still for La Motte), but make sure you get off this road only 4 km before La Motte. You turn right onto D1 for Clamensane and 3.5km after passing through Clamensane, you take the small D751 road for Reynier. It takes about 10 minutes up to Reynier, but you need to drive on another 10 minutes to Baudinard, a total of about 1.5 hours’ drive from Pertuis. If you have problems parking at Baudinard, turn back and park at the “bottom” where the road did a 360 degrees turn at the 1057 meter point (see map).

The walk starts going straight south from Baudinard on a red marked trail for La Sapie and Le Crete, and after about 20 minutes you see the farm situated on a large slope of fields. You turn sharp right off the road a few hundred meters before the farm house and follow the red markings out of the fields and into the sloping woodland. It takes about another 45 minutes to the La Sapie ruins, where the red path takes right and follows an easterly direction. The red markings becomes more scattered and old, but you just follow the path and the map. After some 30 minutes, you are just below the La Sapie Col at 1744 meters, and here the path turns left upwards for the top of the mountain ridge, which you reach in less than 10 minutes.

Les Monges: The top.
Now you have a fantastic 360 degrees view, which you will have with you for another 2 hours plus your lunch time. You see all the neighbouring mountains close by and a  large range of the Alpes in the north. When you get to about the 1743 meter point on the Ridge, you see a path coming up gradually joining the Crete around here. This is the short cut one can take to reach the Ridge a good 30 minutes faster going directly from the La Sapie Ruins.

After 1 hours walk along the ridge from the 1743 meters point, you get to Crete du Rause at 1915 meters, where there is a large signpost. Here you could decide to drop the 60 minutes up to the top (and back). You have about 2.5 effective hours walk back to Baudinard via Lac des Monges. But if you have time to walk up to the top, you will be well rewarded with strange mountains and rock formations, and large green areas, some in shelter from the wind.

Lac de Monges
The walk down from the mountain takes incredible long because of the way the path has been constructed, but it’s a very nice walk and very easy going for a path that could have been much steeper. You see the lake on your left after about 1h 20 minutes. You should take a short rest here on the western end of the lake before starting the last “lap” of the walk, which could be quite steep in places. No real problems, however; the path are also meant for horses, though I doubt you will meet any. You see the yellow signpost for Baudinard at the western end of the lake going straight down the mountain side, passing a natural “source” after a short time. You should recon on a good hour down to Baudinard, unless you have a very steady foot going downhill.

Basic information:

Duration:       7h (including total of 1h stops, which might not suffice)
Distance:      18 km.
Ascent:         1000 m (accumulated)
Difficulty:      Moderate (but a long hard walk unless using short-cuts)
Start/finish:   Baudinard (see driving instructions from Motorway)
Map:             IGN 3339 ET

Some of the views of the Alpes.

View of the Alpes from the top of Les Monges

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Camargue – The Beauduc round

There is a special atmosphere in the Camargue. This walk is along water all the way, so no horses or bulls grassing about like in the interior. It’s the large and graceful flamingos that set the pace along this walk, except for along the beach up to the “shanty town” of Beauduc. Here is an eldorado for surfing as well as kite surfing etc. and Beauduc looks quite respectable compared to the heydays of the 1980’s and 90’s. The walk is really ideal for cycling (there are a fair number of cyclists around) because of the monotony of the landscape.

You could actually drive all the way to Beauduc, but the road is terrible at times and takes about 30 minutes longer to drive each way (from Arles). The road to Beauduc starts at the ruins of Tourvieille, but you need to access the road from the north (D36C) as it’s blocked directly out from Salin de Giraud, just after Faraman.

From Arles, follow signs for Camargue and Salin de Giraud (D36). Turn right at Peaudure (6 km after le Sambuc) and drive on for 4 km. At the T-junction here, turn right. At the next T-junction (2,5 km) turn left. After almost 4 km along the road here, you are by the north end of Etang du Fangassier (a good half an hour’s drive from Arles), and you drive on to the dike for a short while till you see signs for the parking on each side of the dike.

You start the walk here, first by continuing another 10 minutes southwards to the first cross roads. Here you take the road to the right, marked Phare de la Gacholle. After about 35 minutes walking along this road going north-westerly direction, you have the next junction. Here is a parking lot and you turn left here for the sea unless you want to spend an extra 30 minutes for a better view of the lighthouse straight ahead (15 minutes each way).

You will reach the beach 30 minutes from the parking lot, and you can now follow the beach southwards towards Beauduc or alternatively take one of the inland roads. After about 50 minutes (just under 3 hours from the car) walking along the sandy beach (find the hard patches), you reach a long barrier of wooden poles right across the beach to prevent cars from going into the area you are walking. Here you see some of the activity going on at Beauduc; mainly kite surfing.

The return to the car is about 1h 45min from this barrier, and you start by crossing the barrier and turn left inland, following the same general direction as the barrier, and often most easily by following the car tracks. After about 10 minutes you will reach a large car park (not marked as such) with a small road going off into the woods straight south. This is the road for the actual Beauduc, and the road to take if you want to explore the coast line south of Beauduc.

The road back to the car is simply to follow the main road out from Beauduc, walking in north-easterly direction from this car park. You will soon pass a large garbage container and continue on in the same general direction. After about 35 minutes from the car park, you will meet a T-junction. Here, car traffic has to turn right (south), but you turn left for your car. From here it will take you about 1h along this dike to the car. In April and May lots of flamingos to see on each side of the dike along here.

Basic information:

Duration:      4,5h (including 1h for lunch)
Distance:      16 km.
Ascent:         0 m
Difficulty:     Easy (but could be water on tracks and soft sand along the beach)
Start/finish:   Etang du Fangassier – the dike at the northern end
Map:              IGN  Camargue – Alpilles (1:75.000 and 1:25.000)

Beauduc "Port"

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Les Alpilles – along the ridge from Col de Vallongue to Pas de l’Aigle.

This is a great hike in the Alpilles between Saint Remy and Eygaliere. It is also good for winter because most of the walk is well exposed for the sun and the northern Mistral wind is avoided most of the time, especially along the ridge, believe it or not. You will find a large parking where the GR6 trail crosses the D24 road. Simply drive westwards out of Eygaliere on the D24b road a good 2km until you meet the D24 road in a T-junction. Turn left and drive on for another 1km (here the GR6 crosses) and park in the parking on the right.

Col de Vallongue
The walk starts along the GR6 (here a forest road, not well marked with the GR-colours) westwards. After about half an hour you turn left (you are approaching a small airport) and follow the forest road around its first right bend at the end of the field. Very soon, you will see the signpost for the ridge path and follow this into the woods on the left (still marked GR6). It will now take you about half an hour up to Col de Vallongue at 251 meters.

The GR-path continues high up on the southern side of the ridge. Great scenery, warm sunshine and no Mistral winds. After about 45 min., the path turns 90 degrees to the right and is heading up to the top of the ridge. This takes a good 15 minutes, but from here the views is fantastic all around, and still no Mistral wind! This is because the mountain wall on the northern side is so steep that the wind turns right up for quite a while.

Part of the Apilles ridge
The GR path now continues along the main ridge and after about half an hour the path descent fairly sharply for a short while and continues again upwards towards Pas de l’Aigle. At the lowest point on the path here, you see a very small path that takes left down from the ridge. This is the path for the return walk today, but if you have the time, it could be a good idea to continue along the ridge a bit longer (perhaps to Pas de l’Aigle), find a nice place for lunch and return here afterwards.

Down on the southern side of the ridge
The descent down from the ridge takes only about 10 minutes along the small path that was referred to above. It ends up on the forest roads that passes by in the valley just below the ridge. Do not take the first road you meet, but walk southwards for another 50-60 meters and find the sharp bend on the main forest road at the 252-meter point. Here you turn left and just follow this forest road all along its bends and turns. Remember to turn left twice (at the 241 and at the 214 meter points) before finally ending up at the 210 meter point on the D24 road. From here, there is a path next to the road on the left that you could follow all the way back to the car.

Basic information:

Duration:       5,5h (including 1h lunch)
Distance:      14 km.
Ascent:         440 m
Difficulty:       Moderate (but steep and rocky in places)
Start/finish:    (3 km southwest of Eygalieres, where GR6 crosses the D24 road)
Map:               IGN 3042 OT Tarascon (1cm=250 m)

Les Apilles (the ridge) seen from Eygalieres