Through Le Colorado to Lou Caleu

Apt Travel Blog

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Roussillon, near Apt
Today was our day to hike in Le Colorado. I wanted to get an early start so the light would still be at a nice angle for taking pictures. It wasn't often on this trip that we retraced our steps, but this morning we had to do just that to get back to the entrance to the ochre cliffs. I think we were the first ones there since we were all alone as we entered the first area of surreal red pinnacles. This terrain bears some resemblance to the Canyonlands in Utah and the red rock country of Sedona, Arizona.

It is astonishing to me that France, which is about the size of the state of Texas, has such a huge variety of natural land features. Of course the scope of an area like Le Colorado is much smaller than the vast deserts and canyons of the American West, but their beauty is similar. From the rugged mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees to the bucolic farmlands and rivers of le Lot and le Dordgne, from the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts to the serenity of the Canal du Midi, from the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy to the wildness of the Cevennes and the gorges, there is a huge amount to be explored even without the artifacts and culture of France's rich history. Add in the churches, from Medieval to Romanesque to Gothic and all the art within them,the prehistoric cave paintings, the Cathare fortresses, the great Chateaux, the museums of history, culture, and art (not to mention the wine and food), the allure of all the old stone villages and the magic of Paris, well, I could spend a lifetime in France and not tire of it. In the end, though, it is people who breathe life and energy into all this beauty, art, and history. Having had the good fortune to spend three months at the artists' colony in La Napoule in '89 has led to lasting friendships which then lead to new friendships with artists, writers, and generally interesting people of several nationalities who form a microcosm of today's living, breathing France.

Back to le Colorado: As we walked through an area called the "Sahara," we passed a group of senior citizens in a painting class "en plein air." I thought nostalgically about my mother and how much she would have enjoyed painting here. She was, after all, my very first connection to France.

After a couple of hours, we left the ochre cliffs and headed back out on the road to find the trail which would take us up over a mountain and head us towards St. Martin. We stopped by the lovely B&B that our Chaloux friend Gilles had recommended over the hotel where we stayed. It was a wonderful setting with horses grazing in the pasture, gardens everywhere, but we realized that if we had stayed there, we would have had to walk up to town for dinner and back down again afterwards. It just would have been too much at the end of an already long hiking day. Once again, a vehicle would have made all the difference. We would have just zipped up the hill for dinner, then back again. But we liked our primitive form of locomotion and were willing to alternate town and country stays depending on availability of dinner.

Then we started going up, and up, with no switchbacks. This was one of the two longest, steepest trails on our trip. It was also quite wooded, although we got a few views of other areas of ochre cliffs through the trees. At the very top, there was essentially a five-way intersection. For the first time at such a major intersection of marked trails, there were no signs. To be more accurate, there were signposts, but the signs had been cut down. This was the first act of petty vandalism that we witnessed on our hiking trip. It was a bit inconvenient, trying to be sure which trail we should take from there, with no signs, and then not being exactly sure where our destination was located either. Maps are great, but if you don't know where you are or where you're going, they don't help a whole lot. So I figured it was time to stop for lunch. When in doubt, stop, rest, drink water, and eat.


Once we got over the ridge, we found a place to eat lunch and plan our route to Lou Caleu. The problem was that we didn't really know where it was. Again, we had very clear directions of how to get there by car coming from Apt, but they didn't tell us where the place really was. Lou Caleu wasn't our first choice, from the descriptions on the Internet, it seemed to be a small resort, offering a swimming pool and maybe horse back riding. The other places in the area had all been full. What we are now doing is trying to jump across the valley of the Calavon with Route National 100 as its main east-west roadway from the Vaucluse mountains on the north to the Luberons on the south. There were not many lodgings around here and when we e-mailed and then later called, we found them to be full. So we went with Lou Caleu.

So as we sat on the ridge and looked south, we were faced with two possibilities; one, the hotel was near the town, or two, it was on a road that left Route 100 three miles earlier. From where we sat,this meant we should go left to a trail that lead to the town, or go right to a a series of trails that lead to the highway. After looking at the map and Dawn replaying the phone conversation in her head, we decided that the odds lay in going to the right. It all went smoothly until we got to a farm named "La France". We had not been following any particular trail at this point but a series of thin black lines on the maps that denoted paths or dirt roads or as it says on the map legend, "Unidentified linear features." Well at La France the black line denoted his driveway and it had signs saying that he didn't want anyone walking on it. There was no turning back at this point and even the detour we took along the edges of his fields and across his pastures probably added a half hour to our hike. After that it was clear sailing on a pretty trail that led us toward Route 100. We would stop every half hour or so to refigure out our options, but nothing seemed a reasonable alternative, so late afternoon found us on a switchback of a road with our map out trying to figure out our best option. A pickup truck came down the road and then stopped to help us, which he did. He told us that we were close to the hotel and that we should go down to the highway and go left and he mentioned six hundred meters. We didn't know whether the distance referred to how far we had to go until we got to the road or how far we would have to go once we got on to it.

We carried on. We got to the road and found no sign, but we got more help, sort of. A family came riding down the bike path and stopped to help us. The woman said that there was a hotel that sounded like the one that we were headed for not far down the road. Her husband agreed with her but added that because they were on bicycles, she had underestimated the distance. It was more like three or four kilometers. Doesn't seem like a lot now, but standing on a busy noisy two lane highway during the hottest part of the afternoon, it seemed to us disappointing news.

Once we got around the first turn, we saw a sign up ahead that I could read once I got the binoculars out. Lou Caleu. So the wife was right, she probably always is, and the husband is no Lance Armstrong, and a few minutes later we walked into the reception room.

Lou Caleu (St. Martin du Castillon)

The most interesting part of of stay was our dinner and its aftermath. But before I relate the story I want to emphasize that the restaurant is very good and I would definitely go back there. In fact, excepting our meal at Les Vergiers, it was the best meal we had on this trip. So, despite this story (which had a happy ending), we give the restaurant and the Inn two thumbs up.

After our swim, flirting once more with afternoon rain clouds, we came down to reception looking for a bar to have an aperitif. Having no bar, they suggested we could just sit at our table and have a drink, which is what we did. We got a chance to look at the menu and both of us selected the menu at 28.5 Euros. They selections looked fabulous and we waited with some anticipation for the meal which in fact was delicious. The strange part of the evening began when the waiter brought our bottle of wine, showed it to me and began to open it. I stopped him to explain that it wasn't the bottle that I ordered. It turned out that they were out of that selection and I was a little surprised that he was going to substitute another one, twelve dollars more expensive without saying anything. From there the situation went downhill. They seemed to be out of every bottle that we wanted to drink and as we tried to find something, the restaurant began to fill up and he had divide his time among all the clientele. We finally did get a bottle for us, but he just opened it, poured our two glasses and left. Odd, to say the least.

Actually, I am no fan of the little ritual practiced in every restaurant in the world where after they open the wine, someone is picked to taste a small portion poured into their glass and then nod reassuringly at the waiter that the wine is okay. Nobody ever sends it back. Next time, maybe I will ask the waiter to taste, he or she should know more about the wine than I.

As I said, the food was great. I had lamb that was the epitome of all lamb dishes, incredibly flavorful. We had a serving of lime vodka sherbet that was the ultimate palate cleanser and the sable aux fruits dessert was delicious.

All the while, the waiter is getting crazier and crazier. I actually saw him running toward a table and come to a sliding stop. For years in travelogues, I have been lauding the character and skills of French waiters and here in front of me was a wait service catastrophe. In his defense, I noticed that the dining room and the terrace was full, which must have been unexpected, being an offseason Tuesday evening, and that the manager has pitched in as a second waiter. But in this situation I would have expected for the service to be slow, not that the waiter have a panic attack. But again, the food is great and I did my best to ignore the craziness. After the meal, I considered mentioning my displeasure with the manager, but think better of it. It is not worth the trouble and in venting my little emotions I might jeopardize the waiter's employment which was not my intention. Good thing, because the next morning . . .

Wednesday June 16

He is the person checking us out of the inn and from whom we need some help. First of all, he apologizes for last's night dinner and takes our drinks off of our bill as a small token. And when we ask if he could get us a cab, because now we are out of money and we need to go to Apt to visit a cash machine, he suggests that for a small fee, one of their kitchen staff could drive us in to an ATM, wait for us, and then drive us back. So a problem that had been quietly looming over our heads for a couple of days was solved in thirty five minutes by someone whose job I might have lost for him the night before with some rash words.

It seemed like a miracle. One moment, we are standing next to kitchen helper's car with no cash in our pockets, thirty five minutes later we are standing at the same spot with enough cash to continue our journey until we reach Apt again at the end of the week. So we head out of the inn with smiles on our faces. We had a phone in our room with free local calls, so we had made a reservation at the Moulin des Fondons in Auribeau for two nights.

I had originally thought that during this second week we might get over the Luberons to see some villages on its southern slopes. This is the area where the films Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs were made. The scenery in these films is to die for and a story on the Internet from one of the towns mentions the bench where Yves Montand waited between takes. These films, while inviting us to the area with their cinematography are also cautionary tales as their plots are based on the unwillingness of the villagers to accept outsiders. Dawn and I should never forget that we are accepted as tourists, not as inhabitants, sometimes by people who have only recently arrived. Recently by village standards, which means that both your grandparents were born there.

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Roussillon, near Apt
Roussillon, near Apt
photo by: jsbuck1