Thursday, September 16, 2010

Merindol – Pic de Faiendre – Top of Petite Luberon

Pic de Faiendre, straight on!
This is perhaps one of the most wild areas of the Luberon, at least on the southern side. You start deep into the Luberon and you will cross a biological reserve, which means you should use extreme caution and not walk outside the small trail. It’s also perhaps one of the most “montagneuse” areas of the Luberon. You really feel you are in the mountains. The views are just fantastic, already after 15 minutes walk! No wonder it became our favorite Luberon walk from the first time we did it in 1999. It could well take an hour more than the 6h stipulated if you get "taken away" by all the nice views! It is also a very good walk for winter time because 90% of the walk is well exposed for the sun and you have quite good shelter for the mistral wind most of the time.

Merindol was also the setting of the most bloody 5 days during April 1545 in the Luberon. Totally 3000 people were massacred and 600 sent to the galleys by the French army. Merindol castle was violently dismantled, along with every single house in the village (up on the hill from to-days village). The responsible were the Catholic aristocrats from Aix who saw the increasing number of Vadois people (they had Protestant tendencies) in the Luberon as a potential threat. The first part of the trail described here is in fact an old Vadois trail over the Luberon to Menerbes.

Pic de Faiendre

When you approach Merindol from the east on the main road, drive all along to the main round about, but don’t turn right into the village of Merindol. Drive on for another 250 meters and turn right into a small lane which you follow along. This will in time take you down to the small road that you follow all the way up through the mountain valley to a place called La Font de l’Orme (Maison de Forestiere). Park at the large car park here.

Take the main route straight north, through the picnic area and further into the Combe de l’Euse valley (yellow markers). But you only follow this deep valley for 12-15 minutes. Then you see a medium large cairn on your left and you take the small trail that winds its way up this side of the valley. After another 35 minutes, you reach a small plateau and a large cairn. On the map, the trail simply turns back down the other side, but we want to continue straight north towards Pic de Faiendre. You see the trail continue along the ridge upwards towards the peak, and try to keep directions for the actual summit. Don’t take too much to the left, but keep on the middle ridge in the beginning, and you will soon see the trail marked with small cairns and some blue painted dots here and there. About 10 minutes before the summit, you reach a T-junction. Take right here and follow for a while along the eastern side of the peak till the path turns sharply back again. Now you follow the blue dots back all the way to the western side of the summit and follow on around the western side of the summit till you reach a small cairn just north of the peak.

Now the trail continues north along the ridge, but it’s well worth to take a 15 minutes water break on the actual summit with a fantastic 360 degrees view. You will see Les Appilles, Montagne de Victoire and of course the Durance valley. Turn back slightly and take the small trail on the western side of the peak, just above the one you have come on. This takes you around to the southern side, where you simply climb up to the summit.

Effective time walking from the car to the summit is about 1h 15min, and you have now another 45 minutes walk to the ridge of Petit Luberon (the old ridge road). You continue the small trail along the ridge and it will finally zigzag its way up to the plateau. Here you follow small cairns till you meet a small track road that you follow in north eastern direction in the beginning. You meet up with the road that goes all along the ridge of Petit Luberon pretty soon.

Take left and walk westwards along this road and walk the 30 minutes over to Bastidon du Pradon, and take left here. This is a small house that acts as a shelter for everyone that needs it. You could lunch here in the shade or walk on for 10 minutes for great views of Luberon. You simply follow the GR 6 southwards and all the way back to the car. This will take almost 3 hours.

The first section out on one of the ridges takes you very near the areas where there still might be Bonelli eagles nesting, and the views in all directions are fantastic. This must be the most spectacular descent from the Luberon! Back down in the valley, you enter the Gorges de Regalon and follow it southwards till the GR-trail turnes you left. You will get a good idea of the Gorges even though you miss the main part of the Regalon. Follow the GR-trail back to the car.

In winter time, you may want to avoid the shaded Gorges de Regalon. In order to get the 90% exposure to sun as promised earlier, you need to choses a different return route when you are down from the mountain. When the GR6 trails meets the fire road down in Vallon de la Galere, the GR6 turns right along this road. For maximum sunshine, you want to turn left here and follow this road all through its bends till the road eventually meets up with the GR6 (use the map). It will take you about the same time as through the Gorges de Regalon.

Basic information:

Duration:    6h (including 1h for lunch)
Distance:    16 km.
Ascent:        550 m
Difficulty:   Moderate
Start/finish: Merindol/La Font de l’Orme
Map:           IGN 3142 OT (1cm=250 m)
GPX-file:    Merindol1.gpx      (Link to free download)

Alternative route back, half an hour shorter.
When you meet the road at the ridge of Petit Luberon, take right instead of left. Follow the road eastwards for about 30 minutes till you have a signpost at La Croix de Fer at 673 meters for Merindol and La Font de l’Orme. If it’s hot or you want good shades for your lunch, picnic under one of the large Cedre trees that you find here. Otherwise take the yellow marked trail to the right for Merindol, and after just 10 minutes you could lunch with a 360 degrees view next to a large cairn.

Now follow the yellow main trail along the ridge, but after only about 10 minutes descend, the yellow path takes a quick 90 degrees turn to the right, down into the long valley. I prefere to stay up as long as possible, and therefore continue the path straight ahead. This is an unmarked path that quickly takes you up on the ridge ahead, and which you follow for about 1 hour until you join the GR6  at Jas de Bourdillon. You might be in doubt once or twice along the way, but chose the left turnings, and you’re be all right. Great views all the way!

At Jas de Bourdillon, you simply join the GR route and follow the red and white markers back to the car.

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