[AND WE’RE BACK! Apologies for the delay; I’ve been curled up in the fetal position, chugging Pepto Bismol since we last spoke.]
Considering how much getting-lost I’d proven myself capable of the previous day, on a walk about two-thirds the length of this one, I surprised even myself when I didn’t get lost at all this day. Not once! Well fine, I made one wrong turn, which caused me to slink furtively through some farmer’s front yard, but it was corrected within minutes.
And it was such a long day! By my standards, anyway, which are admittedly a bit precious in the world of long-distance sauntering. It was just about 30 km, I reckon, and that’s my upper limit for a day’s walk.
I was out the door by 7:30, at the very crack of dawn, and the sun was still glowing red when I got to the next town over, Maussane.
Maussane looked like a gorgeous town, and I think it probably would have been a better place to stay than tiny wee Paradou, but affordable accommodations are difficult to come by in these parts.
This stretch of the GR653A passes along the southern edge of the Alpilles, a small but scenic mountain range. It stays in the lowlands, though, which means that you get lovely views of the mountains without having to test your glutes too much. It also (fortunately for the traveller, unfortunately for the traveller’s audience) means that it’s a bit uneventful. I walked at a steady pace under a piercing blue sky through sunny French countryside, stopping from time to time to appreciate a particularly lovely outcropping or something, and that’s about it for most of my day. I didn’t even encounter any fellow outdoorspeople, unless you count the rich, urban patrons of the golf course I briefly passed through.
I will say that the density of abandoned buildings around this part of the path is excellent. Best that I encountered anywhere on my travels. I couldn’t even stop and investigate all of them (to my everlasting regret), because the area was so rammed that I would have run out of daylight. My favourite, though, was the Mystery Vault (pictured above), a little ways east of Aureille. It was long and low, with an arching roof, and had enough vegetation growing from the top of it that I could believe that it was once covered in sod. I have no idea what it was for, not even the merest germ of a clue (like, storage? Of…agricultural things?). Perhaps a 6.5/10 in creepiness, solid 8/10 in mystery.
Things picked up in the final 5 or so km of my walk, between Eyguières and Lamanon. Here, the path departed abruptly from the gentle, Roman-surveyor-approved flatness of the Via Aurelia, and shot up and over the Défends d’Eyguière (my map tells me that the hill was a less-than-towering 312m, but when you’ve been walking for 8 hours already, it sure does feel like a doozy). The views from the top are just lovely, looking back over the Alpilles and across the plain to the south. The sun was low in the sky, however, and I didn’t much relish the thought of navigating an unfamiliar forested hill in the dark, so I couldn’t dally too much.
It’s a shame, though, because on the way down into Lamanon I started to stumble upon the Grottes de Calès and they looked soooooo cool. These make up a string of ancient man-made caves, in use until about the end of the middle ages, carved into the cliffs of the hill over Lamanon. Argh, they were so neat! And I just didn’t have time to investigate properly! Listen, if you ever find yourself in the area, do me a favour and budget an extra hour for some grotto exploration, and then report back, please, will you?
So I descended into Lamanon after nine hours of walking, absolutely wiped, to be greeted by the most cheerful, loving, excitable AirBnB host to date. And that is saying a lot. Unfortunately, her excitement manifested itself as the fastest French I have ever heard in my life, stirred into a breathless swirl of unfamiliar idioms and a stronger-than-usual Provençal accent. I had been speaking exclusively in French for a few days now, and even found myself thinking in French at most times, but my shattered brain was blown completely backwards by her enthusiasm. I caught maybe half of what she said and pieced together most of the rest from context and (emphatic) body language. I’m not positive that a native speaker could have done much better. In my fatigue and bewilderment, my attempts at polite responses came out as stammering half-sentences, though she didn’t seem to mind.
At last, seeing the bags under my eyes and recognising the confused mumbles of one falling asleep on her feet, a glimmer of sympathy came into my host’s eyes and she spontaneously offered to give me a lift the next morning. As far as I liked, since she & her husband would be driving in the general direction of my next stop anyway.
Well. Normally I hate cheating, but the kindness of her offer, given with such genuine concern, combined with an exhaustion I was feeling in my bones, convinced me to accept her offer. Bless her heart.
I ended my long day at a pizzeria, possibly the only restaurant in the village, certainly a social hub. Oh it was so good. Can someone please tell me why goat cheese & honey pizza isn’t a thing in North America? (Okay, it sounds gross when you say it in English. People would be falling over themselves for chèvre miel pizza, though, wouldn’t they?) Oooooo, with a sharp, sweet balsamic reduction drizzled overtop, and a crisp, dry local rosé to wash it down…mmmmmmm…And then a decadent tiramisu for dessert…ohhhhh….
I’m sorry, I seem to have lost track of what I was saying. It was a good supper, is what I was getting at, and single-handedly made up for the calories lost on my Italy trip. I, um, need to take a cold shower now.