Thursday, March 17, 2011

Montagne Sainte Victoire - the ultimate walk along the top


The village of Vauvenargues, just outside Aix-en-Provence, is stratigically placed for making an alomost 2 hours hike along the Victoire ridge, and still make it back to the car parked at Vauvenargues. Fantastic 360 degrees views all the way, with views of the Luberon, Mount Ventoux, the Alps and Cap Canaille, the vertical cliff just off Cassis on the coast. Best on days with little wind of course, but for lunch time eating, we found it surprisingly easy to find shelter from the Mistral wind along the top.

You drive into the village of Vauvenargues and park at the last car park, oposite the castle. Walk down from the car park and take the yellow marked trail. After you crossed the bridge, you turn left along a green marked trail. This is Sentier des Plaideurs and will take you to the ridge in about 2 hours; quite hard going, but no technical difficulties. Just take your time! If you continue for half an hour or so west towards the Cross, you find good shelter for lunch on the big flat area called Plan de la Crau. Try to follow the cerns along the ridge, especially if the weather is bad. Otherwise, walk anywhere along the ridge (GR9). Be aware that it's often a lot colder on the ridge (1000 meters above sea) than below, so bring windproofs and extra sweater.

Shortly befor you reach the Cross (1,5 hours effective walk), try to look out for the large hole in the Victoire ridge (le Garagai), through which 2 paths comes up from the southern side (both difficult paths). From a distance you see a "black hole" with a large tree next to it. When you get in close, climb up the short distance to see down through the hole.

Take in the view from the Cross before descending to the chapel area (le Prieure) and return to the car along Chemin des Venturiers (GR9) to Vauvenargues. It will take you about 2 hours to reach the car from the Chapel, and its easy going.

The GR9 walk down is not much exiting, so for the ultimate walk of Victoire, take instead the Sentier Imoucha down to the large dam (Barrage du Bimomt). This way, you continue the ridge all the way down with tremendous views all along. But if you haven't sent one person down the GR9 to Vauvenargues for the car, you will have to hitch hike or take the local bus back to Vauvenargues (from the main road).

Alternativly, you could park the car in Aix, take the local bus to Vauvenargues and walk down to Tholonet on the southern side, and take the local bus back into Aix from there. Then you will again start on the route Sentier Imoucha from le Prieure, but take the second path on the left (at 686 meters) down to Refuse Cezanne. (The first path at 767 meters is somewhat difficult.) This path down is fairly easy and after Cezanne, you follow on for the village of le Tholonet.


Basic information:

Duration: 7h
Distance: 16 km.
Ascent: 700 m
Difficulty: Moderate, but a physically tough climb for 2 hours
Start/finish: Vauvenargues
Map: IGN 3244 ET (1cm=250 m)

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