Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Les Randonneurs

Following the blue marker to the top of Montagne Ste-Victoire

Hiking around the Gorges du Verdon

“WHERE ARE YOUR HIKING BOOTS?” asked Jean-François. We were in a parking lot on the edge of town at 7:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning. I was wearing my trusty runners that have served me well for all of the hikes I have ever done. “I don’t have hiking boots, “ I replied. “Well, those will be okay for today’s hike in the Gorges du Verdon, but they will not be good enough for Les Alpilles next week.”

This was back in November, my first day-long hike with my AVF group, all French people, all very sportif and fit-looking. “When will Andrea be back?” Jim asked (he couldn’t join us because of his bad knee). “Around 8 p.m.,” Jean- François replied. “Oh,” I gulped.

Just as we began our hike, Jean-François started pointing out various bushes and shrubs and flowers. I recognized the juniper bush. He furiously noted everything in his notebook. But had I misunderstood? Were we ever going to start hiking? We did. And Jean-François, a font of knowledge concerning flora and fauna, didn’t hesitate to point out every plant and bird along the way. It was truly impressive. He even carried a bird book under his arm. At one point he discovered a large mushroom. “In order to identify it, I have to sacrifice it,” he declared, sadly. He cut it off at the base, examined the gills, took a photo, made notes, then carefully placed the cap back where it belonged, so that a mushroom would grow there again next year. I then decided this was perhaps not the right company in which to hack off and fill my knapsack with loads of rosemary and thyme that was growing profusely all around us.

The hike was challenging. We capped it off with a little tour of the pretty village of Moustiers-Ste Marie, where they make lovely faience pottery, and I enjoyed my first panaché (beer mixed with lemonade). During the long car-ride home, I tried to keep up the banter and practice my French by asking interesting questions like “Do you live in the centre of town?”

Les Antiques

Les Alpilles

Les Alpilles

Mom, don't look

I opted out of this extra leg of the journey

THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY we met early in the same parking lot. I proudly showed off my new hiking boots. Claudie said “No, they are not high enough. They will be okay for Les Alpilles today, but they won’t do for a hike along the Calanques.” Sigh.

Our hike, led by Claudie’s husband Jo, began innocently enough with a tour of Les Antiques and Glanum, a Roman mausoleum and arch, as well as an area of Celtic, Greek and Roman remains. We also walked past the asylum where Van Gogh stayed. Copies of his “Olive Groves” and “Starry Night” are displayed along the walkway.
After our picnic lunch, however, the hike got really serious. I announced I would perhaps opt out of the ascent up the ladder along the precipitous cliff, but, as, it turned out, it was a circle route and we would not be coming back via the same route, so the ladder was “obligatoire”. The hike was topped off by one more very steep ladder placed inside a tunnel on top of a pool of water which made everything very wet. My legs were rather wobbly by this time, but I survived.

Manon's Grotto, Garlaban, in Pagnol Country
where Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources were filmed

Picnic time on the summit of Garlaban

A visit to the monastery of Ganagobie topped off another day-long hike

The beautiful cloisters at Ganagobie

Annie organizes some afternoon AVF hikes

A Roman Bridge along the Caramy River

Les Nanas de Lundi on Mont Ventoux

“EVERYONE WANTS TO KNOW HOW OLD YOU ARE.” I was with Danielle and her women’s group who go hiking each Monday. They call themselves “Les Nanas de lundi.” People frequently ask me this question and my answer is always “I am older than seven.” Because my level of French is that of a seven-year-old. So I feel I have to verify that I am indeed older than seven.

We were on a 10 km hike half-way up Mont Ventoux, the biggest mountain in the Vaucluse. The Nanas are a very friendly group of women who love getting together to chat and catch up on things, get some exercise, but don’t take it too seriously. But the conversations get intense. After a few minutes, their arms start flailing, they slow down, and then, when they have something important to say, they stop dead in their tracks to make their point. They also stop frequently to pick wild rosemary, thyme, even wild baby daffodils. Yes, this is my kind of hiking group.
Climbing Mont Ventoux, Les Dentelles in the distance

Le Barroux

Danielle, receiving energy from a tree

THEY CALL HIM "LE CHEVRE," THE GOAT.  That's because every time Jacques and Monique  took us for a hike,  at the foot of a steep hill , Jacques would charge up from behind and say, "Race you to the top."  He always won.  “Where are you leading us?” Monique would ask Jacques, uncertain about the direction we were taking. Our neighbours in La Roque sur Pernes took us for interesting hikes several times a week during the winter. Jacques always carried a detailed map, but it’s still not always easy to find the way. Our goal one day was to do a circle tour, passing through the hilltop village of Saumane. They disagreed the whole way, one suggesting we go up, the other suggesting we go down. But all the while, they regaled us with stories about the region and about their fascinating lives. We never did get to Saumane that day, but we never really got totally lost, either, and we didn’t get eaten by wolves. And we’re all the richer for it.

Monique didn't mind wearing a pretty dress
while we hiked through the lavender  around the Abbey of Sénanque,
but you can be sure she wore proper hiking boots (not shown)
I always think a typical picnic in France consists of bread and cheese, plus other accompaniments, like a roasted chicken, perhaps, a tomato, some olives. I was surprised to notice that my hiking buddies rarely do that. Their typical picnic consists of a container of something they have prepared, like couscous, lentils, chickpeas or a pasta salad. Only those who are pressed for time bring a sandwich.

Also, most people bring something to share with the crowd, for example, dried apricots or dates, thin slices of salami, cherries from the tree in the back yard, chocolate, even coffee (yes, people actually bring coffee on a hike!). On my first hike I duly noticed this tradition for the next time.
Visitors Martin and Nan, on they way up Ste-Victoire. 
In order to reach the top from the Bimont dam (the lake down below)
you must walk along the ridge.

Proof that Jim made it to the top of  Ste-Victoire, his year-long goal. 
Pictured with Martin.

Yes, we just climbed that.
Now, where is that nice tap with cold water?

This salad is perfect for a picnic on a hike or a pot-luck dinner.  You can make a little or make a lot, as it keeps well for several days.
Petite épeautre is an ancient grain from northern Provence which is making a big comeback. It has a very pleasing chewy texture. Our equivalent in Canada is either spelt or wheatberries.
Begin by rinsing a cup of either spelt or wheatberries under cold running water. Then simmer it in about three cups of chicken broth until tender but not mushy, around 20 – 30 minutes. Add salt part way through. Check frequently to be sure there is always some liquid, adding hot water if necessary. When it is ready, drain it if there is still some liquid remaining.
Put it in a medium bowl. Add a couple of chopped green onions, a large tomato, chopped (or some halved cherry tomatoes), a handful of sliced mint, and a dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Stir well. Keep in the fridge until serving time.

You can add any number of other ingredients to vary it a bit. For example, black olives, marinated artichokes, chopped red bell pepper, basil, parsley or chives.

Petite épeautre salad

Bon appétit,

1 comment:

Gaetano said...

Love your post and the pics are fantastic.