We relocated from Mercantour National Park to Digne les Bains (the capital of Alpes de Haute Provence) through gorges and up and over several mountain passes. We stopped off to visit the fortified town of Entrevaux, a stronghold during the reign of Louis XIV. It’s a medieval village guarding a narrow pass, has a drawbridge entrance high above the Var River and a walled walkway zigzagging up to a citadel.
We experienced some fascinating and challenging hikes in this region. One of the hikes was to the spectacular group of rocks known as the Penitents. Standing in columns 2km long and 100m high, they are made of puddingstone, a mixture of shingle, pebble and sandstone formed by erosion thousands of years ago. They look like a group of Penitent monks in their long brown robes.
Another very long hike (20 km and 9 hours door to door) took us to the top of Mt Cousson at 1512m. We were greeted with 360° views accompanied by the sound of cowbells. Even at that height there are upland pastures and grazing Charolais cattle.
The day we left Digne les Bains we spent the morning in geological exploration in the UNESCO Geoparc of Haute Provence. We did a couple of hikes to see two spectacular rock formations – the Velodrome and the Lame of Facibelle. The Velodrome is a huge 3km swathe of folded rock curving round in the shape of a cycle racetrack. The Lame is a narrow blade of rock rearing upwards and resembling a knife. (See photos for both formations.)
Quite close to Digne is a huge limestone slab containing 1500 fossils of ammonites and nautilus. A couple of other detours took us to see footprints of birds that walked the beaches 20 million years ago and a fossil skeleton of an ichthyosaurus, a marine reptile which lived 90 million years ago when this area was under the sea.
The scenery in the area is stunning and marks the natural barrier between the south which is Provencal vegetation and the north which is alpine.
Things we have learned about Europe this week:
• Campsite life. Picture this. We are moving on early the next morning and the camper van is covered in pollen, twigs and other debris. Do you 1. Try to brush it off? 2. Ignore it and hope the roof closes anyway? or 3. Grab the campsite fire hose and deal with it all in 7 seconds? Ian chose option 3, much to the entertainment of everyone else at the campsite who were eating dinner.
• Buses # 1: We went to catch an 8:20 a.m. bus. After buying our tickets, we looked for the toilets. Seeing the door was locked, we asked the customer service person how we could access the toilet. She shrugged and said, “They do not open until 9:00 a.m.” An analogy could be when you go to a performance of the opera, you are told that the toilets are locked until the intermission.
• Buses #2: Since we were tired and hot after a long day of hiking, we decided to get the #4 bus back to camp. We waited and waited and waited. The #s 1, 2, 3 & 5 came and went. Despite there being an extensive schedule for the #4, we are convinced it doesn’t exist.
• Grocery store # 1. On surfing the aisles at the grocery store, Liz suddenly became animated. “Look what I have found! A flyswatter for € 0.99!” Ian has never seen anyone get so excited about an item that cost so little. Mass murder reigned in the camper van after the purchase. Rarely was more valuable a purchase made for so little. Liz was entertained for 3 days straight………….much better than a dozen red roses.
• Grocery store # 2. Once you get to “nodding terms” with all the staff in the local grocery store, you know it is time to move on.
• In other years in France we have noticed many people writing cheques to buy their groceries. Not this year. Not once have we seen anyone holding up a long line to pay by cheque, produce 2 pieces of ID and tell the cashier their life story.
Last week’s question: Another photo trivia (see photos). When you see this sign in a village in France, what is likely to be coming up just down the road? What does “Borne Escamotable” mean?
And the answer is: Retractable pillar! The French use them in roadways to ensure only residents can access the roads (see photo). Well done, those of you who guessed correctly!
This week’s question: This one is a teaser. What is the symbol of Provence? We mentioned this in an earlier blog entry; so no peaking.
No “Googling” – answer next week!
Until next week!
Ian & Liz