Finally—nine days after our arrival in the Luberon—we’ve managed to go on our first hike of the summer.
We think the Luberon is one of the best hiking areas in Europe, with a substantial network of marked trails. Every route seems to be different with a new vantage point on the spectacular scenery, much of which is often hidden from the road. We came here as a family this past spring for two weeks, primarily to hike.
But hiking here in the summer is different… quite difficult, actually. It’s so hot, hot, hot! In July and August the government even restricts hiking in some areas. You’re not allowed to be in the forest of the Luberon mountains or on the Vaucluse Plateau after 11 am, due to risk of fire. But you wouldn’t want to be there after 11 anyway, because it’s just so hot. So hiking at this time of year involves getting up very early and planning a walk that isn’t too far away and isn’t too long.
This morning we hiked in one of our favorite areas, on the Falaise de la Madeleine, west of St. Saturnin-lès-Apt. “Falaise” means “cliff,” and this is an incredible cliff… a solid rock wall stretching above the village of Lioux, almost half a mile long and rising 320 feet from the ground. What’s so unique about the falaise is that it’s totally invisible from the southern side, where a sloping hillside covered with low trees and scrub rises up from the valley. You have absolutely no sense that there's a cliff on the other side! But from the northern perspective (especially on the road coming down from Murs), the cliff is massive, a long expanse of grey limestone… truly magnificent.
The magnificent Falaise de la Madeleine
We’ve done another hike at the falaise a couple of times—a circular hike beginning and ending in the small village of Lioux. But we’ve wanted to do another hike that approaches Lioux from the other side, and today that was our destination.
Our hike started at the pretty little 17th century chapel of Saint Madeleine near the tiny hamlet of Croagnes. The chapel has been recently restored by local artisans and is a quiet hideaway surrounded by flowers. It’s worth a stop even if you don’t plan to hike. A barking dog was there to greet us as we parked our car in the shade. We didn’t go inside the chapel today, though it is open to the public. We were getting started a little later than we had planned; it was just too hard to get up and it was 8:15 by the time we set off.
The chapelle St. Madeleine in Croagnes
Our chosen route was a rocky trail headed steadily uphill to the northeast. As we walked, we stopped several times to look behind us, as the views opened up the higher we got: the two Luberon mountains, Bonnieux and Lacoste, Roussillon, Gordes. Just lovely!!!!
View to the south from our upward trail (Roussillon and the Petit Luberon, with a glimpse of Lacoste)
And then we arrived at a broken post of some sort, and turned left up to the end of the falaise. Now we had views down to the other side—of Font Jouvale, a meeting place of two steep and rocky ravines crossed by two bridges. This is an area where we’ve hiked a couple times before. Our new trail led us up along the falaise, though at this point, there was no obvious sense of being on a cliff.
Looking down on the two bridges at Font Jouvale
The top of the falaise is covered with rocks and low scrub. I felt surrounded by the unique sensory world of the Luberon: the steady sound of the cigales, the smell of the wild herbs, the sight of the wide open views... and the feel of the hot sun. Once we left the gorge at Font Jouvale behind, we looked down over a pretty farming valley on the north side of the falaise.... crops, fruit trees, vines, and even some lavender.
Farmland on the north side of the falaise
We hiked over an hour along the falaise. The way was marked with blue dots and arrows and occasional rock cairns, but I think it’s almost impossible to get lost on the top. Today’s route took us about twice the distance along the falaise as our other Falaise de Lioux walk, and we enjoyed experiencing some new territory.
On top of the falaise (near several cairn markers)
At one point we heard bells—it was a herd of sheep in a field far below, along with a couple of goats, all being herded into a tight bunch by a dog. We're always amazed how sheep in France seem to cluster in a very tight group-- as opposed to England where they wander over a much broader territory.
Sheep and goats in the field below (photo by Kelly)
We could hear the farmer on his tractor. I wish I could say I smelled the lavender too, but it was too far below. Finally the curve of the falaise opened up in front of us, and there were places where you truly had the sensation of that sheer drop-off, one place even where you can look through a small hole in the rock and see the land down below. (The word "Danger" is painted on the rocks.)
The end of the cliff appears before us
When we reached the old mill, we headed back to the south, on a route that was efficient but not particularly scenic. I liked the longer route, but I missed the grand march down the road to Lioux along the foot of the falaise. The track traversed the hillside, taking us eventually back to the little chapel.near Croagnes. We were low on water, very hot, and all a bit grumpy due to the heat. The walk took us 3-1/2 hours, and we made good time, especially at the end when the rocky track was mostly flat and easy.
Looking back, we think this was a good walk… a different, more challenging hike than our other Lioux hike. I especially liked the views of Font Jouvale at the far eastern end of the falaise. We've now hiked on the falaise in winter, spring and fall. Despite the beautiful scenery today, I have to say that I think this hike would be more enjoyable in one of the other months… any time but July and August!
Another look at the end of the falaise (photo by Kelly)
We had planned to do several hikes while we’re here this summer. Charley and I have been working for over a year on a Luberon hiking guidebook, and I thought perhaps we’d finish it up this summer. But I’m not sure we’ll do much more hiking on this trip, so don’t look for our book anytime soon. And maybe this gives us a reason to come back in December or March….