Monday, June 10, 2013

Sisteron: Montagne de Jouere and Le Croix de Ste Jean (1.886 meters)

Les Monges seen from Croix Ste Jean
The town of Sisteron is only 1 hours drive north of the Luberon on the A51 motorway. This gives access to a mountain region very different from the one further south. The French calls this region the Pre-Alps and it certainly has an appearance of the Alps. In addition, the area is normally open to hikers all year around, not closed during summer months like some parts further south.

You could walk from the town of Sisteron, but just some 20 km. east of Sisteron there is a 15 km long S-shaped mountain ridge (crete) that could be accessed from several different places about 20-30 minutes drive east of Sisteron. The ridge has a height of about 1.500 – 1.900 meters most of the time and you could in fact walk along the whole of this ridge, but that would be too long for one day. At the eastern end of the ridge, you have Les Monges at 2.115 meters as the highest point on the ridge.

This walk could be an easy introduction to this area. You start walking from the small village of Valavoire at 1140 meters. (Exit No. 23 from the motorway and get on the D304/D951 heading north east towards Chateaufort. 3.5 km after Nibles, you turn right on the small D1 road and right again after about 1 km on an even smaller road signposted for Valavoire (D104). You keep driving till the road stops in Valavoire and you can park here. It takes about 30 minutes from the motorway.)

Start walking on the forest road that continues where the tarmac ends. It’s signposted for Croix Ste Jean – 2h 30min, which you also can see written on the map with microscopic letters next to the 1.886 meter point on the ridge of Montagne de Jouere.
It’s fantastic views in all directions from the start, and this will continue for most of this walk. Straight north you see the high peaks in Parc des Ecrins (over 4000 meters high and part of the southern French Alps) only some 60 km away, and later you will see the high peaks around Barcelonette (only some 40 km away).

Le Crete towards Croix Ste Jean
Make sure you exit the winding road after about 45 minutes walk (see map) and continue the path towards ”le Chateau de la Mole” at the 1640 meter point. This is an impressive rock structure that you pass about 1 hour from the car. Another 15 minutes brings you up to an impressive plateau of mainly grass just below the ridge, which you will reach after another 25 minutes.

The ridge has also an impressive slanting grass plains on the other side which makes it very easy to walk along the ridge. Take right along the ridge and 40 – 50 minutes walking will bring you to the highest point of the ridge in these parts, Croix Ste Jean at 1886 meters. After lunch, it’s worth considering walking on for a bit longer before returning to the car. It will take about 1h 40min to return to Valavoire from the Cross.

For the return walk, I suggest you take off the main path down to the left only some 5 minutes after the Cross. You see from here that you could easily join up with the grass plains further down by following the small ridge that goes down here. This is also slightly quicker than following the main ridge all the way to the signposted return (1h 40 min to Valavoire). Alternatively, you follow the path you came on.


Basic information:

Duration:        5h (including 1h for lunch)
Distance:       12 km.
Ascent:           800 m (accumulated)
Difficulty:        Easy, but you notice rising 800 meters 
Start/finish:    Valavoire, 30min drive northeast of Sisteron
Map:               IGN 3339 ET (La Motte-du-Caire, 1:25,000)
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