Archive for category: Walking in the South of France

Walking in Cathar country

On a gloriously warm, early Spring day, leave the car and walk from the door of our holiday cottage in southern France. Reasonable fitness is required for this circular hike from Camon to Belloc. Take the Voie Verte, green way to Camon, the roses offer a beautiful, fragrant display against the mellow walls of this ancient bastide.

Fetes des Roses, beautiful, ancient Camon

Fetes des Roses, beautiful, ancient Camon

 

Ancient bastide of Camon in Spring

Ancient bastide of Camon in Spring

A left turn in the village follows a steep road to some lovely forest tracks, deep in Cathar country. The dappled shade affording some welcome protection from the heat of the sun, even in Spring. There is a choice of well marked routes to the pretty hamlet of Belloc. We followed the river until it was apparent that the “footbridge” shown on the map was a tenuous looking zip wire with a bit of frayed rope hanging loose.

So called footbridge, not for the faint hearted

So called footbridge, not for the faint hearted

In summer you could probably wade across quite safely but today the river ran fast and deep so we made our own path through some dense forest, eventually reaching grassy meadows and an alternative return route to Camon. A number of private spots along the river bank committed to memory for picnics and “wild” swimming in a few weeks time.

Walking in the south of France

The Pig Walk from the door of our holiday cottage

The Pig Walk from the door of our holiday cottage

The Pig Walk is one of the first hikes we did from our holiday cottage in the south of France and remains one of my favourites. The path from the Voie Verte, the greenway, towards Lake Montbel is steep, however, all the hard work is done in the first hour, you can then enjoy lovely, open views across wildflower meadows to the near Pyrenees. The pigs live in the woods, you can smell and hear them before you see them. Today there were 4 or 5 weaners, happily snuffling around the forest floor, previously we have met huge sows with their newborn litters.

Explore Lake Montbel on the Pig Walk

Explore Lake Montbel on the Pig Walk

You can descend to the edge of Lake Montbel and spend another happy half day exploring its perimeter and taking a dip, or, take a left turn through an ancient, seldom trod forest to Chalabre for a well earned treat from the boulangerie or a cold beer. From Chalabre it’s an easy stroll home or take the steep hill – lovely views – via the tiny Chappelle du Calvaire.

 

Wildflowers southern France

Surrounded by wildflower meadows, our holiday rental in southern France, what a treat…

A few steps from the back door

A few steps from the back door

A joyous time of year for exploring the natural beauty of Languedoc and the Midi, nature in all her glory as the warm spring rushes towards the baking heat of summer.

Surrounded by wildflower meadows

Surrounded by wildflower meadows

From the back door of our holiday cottage, a short, steep climb along the GR7 is rewarded with striking views of the snow-capped Pyrenees. We take this path as often as we can, through woods and wildflower meadows, stupendous at this time of year, sounds of the cuckoo and woodpecker keeping us company. Returning along the Voie Verte, from Chalabre, a tiny red squirrel darted from under our feet and up the nearest tree. We have seen red squirrels before in this exact spot.

A few steps from our holiday rental

A few steps from our holiday rental

Walking the GR7

Our usual walk out the back door onto the GR7 and into the hills surrounding Sonnac sur l’Hers. Definitely not the heat of summer but far too hot with jumper and coat. Took the lower route into Chalabre rather than the higher path via Chappelle de Calvaire. Bakers closed – well it was Wednesday. A treat on the way back when two red squirrels launched themselves from the trees onto the track in front of us. I am from Cumbria, one of the last English regions where the reds survive, so very happy to see them here too. Unsure of their fate in the rest of France. Does anyone know?

The foothills of the Pyrenees are rich in nature; birds of prey are a common site, usually in the newly ploughed fields this time of year rather than soaring in the warm air thermals of summer. Nick was once attacked by a buzzard, walking in the higher peaks of the Ariege; he sees menace whilst I see only majesty.

The river was high, no fish spotted. There must be boar in the forests as the hunt still meets every Saturday in Sonnac sur l’Hers and lots of gunshot; is wise to stick to the path on these days. Until I was used to seeing the men gather for the hunt I felt just a bit intimidated by the sight of them in camouflage, huge guns slung across shoulders, dogs snapping at heels. However, everyone is extremely polite – and of course you would expect nothing less in rural France.

It is often very warm during the afternoons, even this time of year. Today I chased the sun around the square, ending up on the steps of the ancient church beside the gite, before it slipped behind the hills. Not a bad place to read your Wilbur Smith novel on a January afternoon, but brace yourself every hour and half hour when the church bells ring out.

Rambling for softies

The myriad of walking paths within easy reach of our holiday home in the south of France cater for all abilities. The GR7 leads from our back door in Sonnac sur l’Hers; today we drove to a neighbouring town, la Bastide sur l’Hers (10mins) to walk another variation of the GR7, a day’s walk this time. Gently uphill to Chappelle St. Roch, a tiny church perched on the hillside then steady backdown to Laroque-d’Olmes, a large town for these parts. The route is a bit complicated through the town as the GR7 signs disappear but head for the river, don’t cross the bridge which is what you really want to do, follow the road to pick up the GR Pays d’Olmes which leads you along the river bank to Dreuilhe, the loveliest part of the walk in my view. Through forests and a small but crucial detour via Camp Redon will keep you close to the river and deliver you back to la Bastide. A longer excursion is possible at Camp Redon to Lesparrou and Gorges de la Frau (Gorges of Fear) near the source of the river Hers – an intriguing, much bigger walk for another day.

A walk before lunch

Drove this morning to Ste-Colmbe sur l’Hers, an ancient bastide town so typical of the Languedoc that stand in testament to past conflicts. We often cycle here so it’s not far from the house. An easy walk along the valley floor to la Bastide sur l’Hers, the barrage thunderous due to the swollen river Hers. A short stop at le Peyrat to admire the church of many bells (I made up the name). A steep climb from la Bastide along the GR7b brings you to Mireval; you have lovely views of Lac Montbel by now, though beware the eye squintingly strawberry pink villa that will never, ever mellow. Like a summer’s day on the ridge, fluorescent lime green and lemon butterflies dancing on the breeze as though it were July. Picked bay leaves from the path which are making their way into the lamb stew this evening.  You could extend this walk in any direction, previously we have dropped down to the shores of the lake. Today we came down from the ridge via en Sarrat, a short but very satisfying ramble which would have you back to your holiday cottage and on your terrace in time for lunch.

Caterpillar train

Do caterpillars get lonely? Can you see them, the train was about 2m long, in the hills surrounding Sonnac Sur L’Hers yesterday. Maybe intuitively they know they will come to less harm if they stick together. Perhaps we should be more like caterpillars.

Another hot November day

The work will never get done but is just too lovely to be indoors. Set off for the Col du Bac this morning, another walk from our back door into the hills. A steep climb from Chez Maison Bleue is soon rewarded with spectacular views of the valleys and mountains.

From the back door

It took me around 4hrs to the Col and back, returning via Chalabre. The GR7 signs (red and white stripes) make for easy navigation. Roam as far as you wish among the hills surrounding Sonnac Sur L’Hers; if you like to wander where not many others do, then this region is the one for you.

Well signed routes

Stumbled across this once fine maison, just waiting on some other mad English couple. 

I was beautiful once

 Macabre remains of a previous resident meant I didn’t linger.

Poor thing

 

 

 

Stepping out the back door

19 May
Walked out this evening from our back door onto the path behind the house that is the GR7, one of the long distance walking paths that leads across France to Spain. It reminds me of Laurie Lee, in the book we studied at school, stepping out from Stroud all those years ago in the age before the steam engine. Sonnac Sur L’Hers, in this unspoilt region of the Languedoc, doesn’t seem so far away from those times.
The meadows of wild flowers are stupendous, like nothing you see in England anymore. I can only speculate whether it has anything to do with the farming methods used in the two countries. Certainly from what I have seen in our region, the farms tend to be smaller (often due to succession laws) and the land is less intensively farmed, though of course there is a lot more of it.

Fields behind Chez Maison Bleue

The purest blue cornflowers, dancing in the gently evening breeze of the Aude, and dozens of co-ordinating, miniscule butterflies on the wing. A palette of red poppies, purple orchids (not sure how rare they might be) and yellow cowslips. A steep but short climb from the house is rewarded with sweeping views of the valley and the not too distant, mighty Pyrenees.

Perched on a hill above Chalabre, the Chappelle de Calvaire or the Church of the Calvery is visible, about half an hour from this spot, or a steep walk from Chalabre marked by ancient stations of the cross. We often take this walk into Chalabre and stop for lunch or at least a fancy cake from the boulangerie, you’ve earned it. An easier, flat walk back to the house along the cycle track gathering figs, blackberries and apples as you go, depending on the season.

Chalabre from the Chappelle

 

 

 

A walk from the house, November, 2011

Hot and sunny in the Languedoc just now, lunch on the square every day this week. Flowers wilting in their pots, parched. There are 250 km of paths in the Mirepoix area, today we covered about 20 of them. Camon is a “plus beaux village de France” around 3km. Particularly lovely in May, June when the roses draped round all the houses are in full bloom; a gift from the municipality years ago. The bar closed, which is not unusual, probably closed for lunch, so we continued.

Church, Camon

Lagarde a bit further, around 7km, where the ruined chateau on the hill still maintains a degree of dignity. We have paid 3 euros previously to look around the ruin, even though you couldn’t actually look around it, too dangerous,  just get fractionally closer than from the path. Never mind, good to support the restoration, there is a long way to go.

Lagarde

We often walk or cycle this path, the furthest we have gone is Mirepoix, another hour on the bike from Lagarde. There is good scrumping to be had from the hedgerows and we often see red squirrels scampering along ahead. They seem less timid than their English counterparts, maybe I have been sitting in the sun too long.

Bounty from the woods