Autumn walks in Provence

It’s now nearly 2 weeks, since Andy’s little ‘finger’ incident happened and we’ve been settling into life without cycling, as riding with a heavy duty bandage protecting the stitches, doesn’t really make gear-changing particularly easy. I know I can go out on my own, but somehow, it just doesn’t seem right, so the bikes have remained in the garage, and we have put on our walking shoes instead.

A very poorly finger, means no cycling for a while

Apart from it being a very lovely way to explore the area, and get some exercise, it also is the perfect way to protect Andy from himself, as he has a tendency to find it very hard to take things easy. So after a rather strict telling-off by the nurse for doing too much and pulling his stitches, he accepted that perhaps climbing ladders, doing bits of building work and even fettling the bikes and Fifi, would have to wait until he was in full working order again.

Cycling breakfasts for 2 will have to wait

We’ve really discovered the walking here over the last 12 months, and now love finding our way between villages and through the local hills, following the well-marked tracks, that criss-cross the area. In fact, we never imagined we would say it, but we have found ourselves looking forward to the slightly cooler days of autumn, so that we can start doing longer walks with Millie again, as during the summer it is far too hot to do much at all.

This is the most beautiful time of year, with the days still warm, (22c today) and that wonderful light that we love so much, which just makes us want to be outside, filling our lungs with fresh air, and taking as much time as we want to stand and look at the views.

Autumn is such a stunning time of year in Provence

A delightful peace has settled across the valley too. By the end of the hot summer months, it feels as if everything just needs to kick back a little, put its feet up and enjoy a well-earned rest. The soundtrack of the summer quietens, the warbling of bee-eaters flying overhead disappears almost overnight, and the ‘whistling’ of the Orioles ends too, until finally the last cicadas and crickets sound out of place, their scratching and rattling Kss Kss a harsh noise, in comparison to the gentle lilting tunes of autumn birdsong, before even they finally fall silent.

It’s as if the whole area has taken a deep breath and is settling down with a sigh. The summer traffic, a steady stream of cars making their way between villages, has been replaced by the much slower, and much more characterful tractors. With their trailers filled with grapes, they potter on their way to the local wineries, and Domaines, where the piles of fruit, ranging from translucent pale green, to so purple they are almost black, will be turned into wine. The scent of fermenting juice as we wander past, is quite heady and so evocative of autumn.

The scent of fermentation was heady as we walked past the Coulet Rouge today

The colours of the landscape are starting to shift too, with the vines changing from stripes of vibrant greens, to showing the first tints of red, orange and yellow, as the leaves (seemingly exhausted, after feeding the plants all summer), finally succumb to the cooler temperatures that have arrived since the autumn solstice.

The leaves are starting to turn, on the vines

The walks take us way off the roads, along tracks that lead through the woodlands, and vineyards in almost every direction. The paths, especially on the approach to villages are often ancient tracks, laid with rudimentary old cobbles that have seen use for hundreds of years…

Old cobbles on the track up to Caseneuve

Or perhaps old cart routes, with the constant passage of wagons, forming ruts in the rock, leaving their own particular mark on the landscape, like here in the old ochre quarries outside Roussillon…

Ancient wheel ruts in the old ochre quarries outside Roussillon

More often than not though, we make our way along sandy, earth tracks, which capture the marks of everyone and everything that has passed before us. We can see what animals have walked the same way, from deer to boar, including even the tiniest of prints from the youngest of baby sangliers. I love catching a glimpse of these little creatures, with their wonderful stripes, that camouflage them in the undergrowth, making them look like little ‘humbugs’ running through the brush.

Teeny-tiny baby boar prints

At the moment though, the paths are edged with toadstools, of all shapes, sizes and colours, pushing their way up through the ground, wherever they can find space. From the traditional image of the red and white Fly Agaric…

Colourful toadstools pushing through last year’s fallen leaves

To ones shaded a burnt umber, glossy in the dappled sunlight, and others that are just simply bizarre, appearing to have been made of unwashed old sponges…

There are also the flowers, which seem strange, as it almost feels too late for bushes and daisies to burst into life, but perhaps it’s just a final flourish before the real chill of winter sets in. It seems quite odd to see carpets of purple under pine trees, above which are the bright reds of winter berries…

Autumn colour outside Roussillon

Or rose hips, sitting on bare stems, glowing with warmth against the cobalt blue skies…

Hips ready for the winter birds

Millie, of course, is always happy wherever we go, whether it’s just a short, gentle amble, or a longer hike of around 15km. Of course, like us, she’s happier if there is a little stop half way round, especially if there is even the slimmest chance of catching a falling crumb or two from a croissant or pain au Chocolat …

an ever-hopeful Millie

As with our cycle rides, we have some favourite walks, which we always enjoy doing. From Pont Julien up through the vineyards to Bonnieux for breakfast at the boulangerie, before heading back down into the valley along quiet lanes, with glorious views all around…. This is a lovely route

Looking through the vines to Lacoste

There’s a lovely route too, that takes us down from our hamlet, before climbing up through the ancient terracing to Saignon, where we sit by the fountain, with a snack and a coffee. This one is particularly perfect in winter, as there is always the shelter of the lavoir, to hide out of the rain, and we can return home to warm up, in front of the still-roaring fire…

Sheltering from the rain on a winter walk to Saignon

Then there’s a regular walk we do from the little hamlet of Les Huguets, up through the pine forests and ochres to Roussillon, where we are very happy to pass a while, people-watching on the square, before heading back through the old ochre quarries…You can see the route here

Colour under foot on the walk at Roussillon

And closer to home, across to Caseneuve, climbing up the steep, straight path in front of the village, that cuts across the winding road several times, a much more direct route than going by car, with the well-deserved views from the top. Before heading back via the path towards Gignac and back along the ridge of land sitting high above the Colorado at Rustrel.

Looking up to Caseneuve

But, there are always new walks to find, the most recent being over the ridge and down through the ochres of the Colorado, before walking on into Rustrel for a mid-morning coffee and croissant at the excellent boulangerie there, before climbing back up the steep path to Croix Christol and heading home, back along the ridge and down through the woodland….You can follow the route is here

The pretty Mairie at Rustrel

What we have really come to appreciate, is that so many of the walks start and finish at our front door. We hadn’t really considered this, when we bought the house, but it’s something that we now absolutely love, and couldn’t imagine living somewhere without such easy access to such excellent routes.

The map we bought, when we first moved into the house, showing all the routes on a satellite image, is so well worn now, that it has holes in it and is slowly falling apart…

Dog-eared and battered – the sign of a well-loved map

But it has been worth its weight in gold, helping us find paths, hunting out new places to explore, allowing us to get further under the skin of this incredible area…

And it feels as if we have only just started scratching the surface ….

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