One of the things we love about Provence is its wonderful wildlife and recently we’ve been lucky enough to watch ‘Sangliers’ foraging at the side of the road…….. Please excuse my photography!!
And have seen Vultures flying off the Petit Luberon and near Sault, but when it was suggested that we go to look for the Rhinos I really wasn’t sure what to think?
When it was suggested I couldn’t help but think of a wonderful scene in the film of Marcel Pagnol’s book ‘La Gloire de Mon Pere’, where the little boy (on being told they are going to the garrigue, which is a ‘vrai desert’) asks if there will be Rhinoceros……….. but really….. could there actually be these beasts in The Luberon?
Happily on further investigation it transpired that this hunt would not be for present day animals, but rather for the footsteps left by their ancestors some 30 million years ago.
We were told of a walk starting from Viens that takes you to the site of over 200 pre-historic footprints, so we decided to take a look and picked up a route map from the local ‘La Poste’
Having the dog with us this Christmas has given us a great excuse to go for some lovely long walks, exploring areas that are much more difficult to get to by car or even bike and enabling us to find some unusual things that really are off the beaten track and this sounded perfect.
Needless to say the dog still needed to be walked on Christmas Day, so we bundled her into the car, headed to the fantastic & friendly Boulangerie at Simiane-La-Rotonde for a delightful breakfast and then drove back to Viens, parking in the car park just by the Lavoir to the side of the entrance gates to the old village.
The walk is well-marked by small green signs with the letter A on them and starts by dropping below the road on the right just past the viewpoint on the way back towards Simiane.
As with so many of the French footpaths the route is easy to follow with clear green marks on trees and stones along the way to make sure you keep on track. The path itself was clear & well-maintained, although we were pleased we had good walking shoes on as it was slightly muddy in places (certainly not something you have to worry about in the height of summer).
At times the trees thinned out & we were treated to delightful views, especially here looking over Gignac towards Saint Saturnin and beyond……
It was hard to believe with the colour of the sky that it was Christmas Day.
After about 4km we passed a turn in the trail and followed a rocky road, which led to the old mudflats that have been partially excavated to reveal some of the ancient imprints from a range of animals that roamed the area so many millions of years ago.
At first they were difficult to spot in the rock, but quickly we got our eye in and with the help of the information sign at the site started to notice the tracks that had been left.
There are three-toed footprints left by the ancient ‘hornless’ Rhinos….
And two-toed prints left by other smaller creatures that all passed through the muddy area and left their mark.
In places the rock almost looks volcanic with thousands of small perforations, which the information board explains as having been created by bulrushes that had been growing there and small worms.
It is a fascinating site and quite unexpected in the heart of The Luberon National Park, although reading the sign perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. It explains that the fossilised footprints of mammals from this period are rare, with only 60 sites known around the world, of which 3 sit in the Luberon National Park, making it one of the most important global sites.
The site was only discovered in 1968 and since 1987 has been classified as a Reserve Naturelle Nationale, which aims to offer it some protection, as sadly some damage had been caused, which I find hard to understand.
After spotting a few more footprints we continued back on the marked trail, which leads you through woodland, before turning to follow a slightly different route back to the village, happily arriving back just as the clouds were gathering and a few drops of rain were starting to fall.
In all the walk took us about 2 hours and was approximately 8.5 km. It is an easy route, with no particularly steep or challenging areas on the path and allowed us to see something quite unexpected and was a great way to pass Christmas morning, whilst ‘la Dinde’ was in the oven – it also meant we could collapse and do little else in the afternoon without guilt!
Whilst the Ochre cliffs and other natural attractions are well-known, the Rhinos don’t seem to be highlighted in any guidebooks for the area, but if you find yourself near Viens (which is itself worth exploring) then why not take a walk out to see them for yourself.