After we made a run for it from Maggie's Farm, we drove to a tiny hilltop town called Ampus. We were following the advice of the folks who wrote a wonderful book called "Walking and Eating in Provence."
They have a similar book called "Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria". Can't wait to make use of that one, based on our experience with their book in France.
Their books really help you get out of the tourist zone and into some of the yet-unspoiled territory. Many of the well-known towns of Provence have been surrounded by suburban crap development, ruining the possibility of a good walk that ends at a nice restaurant. So they have found some out-of-the-way towns with good hiking trails, great scenery and some good options for eating.
They offer an idea of how a long a walk will take if you don't stop to look around or enjoy a picnic--but that's not us. So we add about 50-75% to the suggested time--a "3 hour walk" for us takes about 5 hours of poking around and picnicking and napping time. Add a bit more for fording the occasional "dry stream" between farm fields.
The people who wrote the book had been around Ampus about the same time of year as we were (April/May), but it had been an unusually wet spring in 2010. So we had to get our feet wet. The water was on the refreshing side of cold.
Here's a group of older Provencals who followed our example:
The book has simple maps, explicit directions on turns and landmarks and a narrative of the highlights of the hikes. Very handy and well done. Can recommend to anyone who likes to walk and eat in foreign countries. If I could change anything about our trip, it would be to have done more of these walks--but I don't know what I would give up to allow for that. Guess we'll have to come back to Provence during good hiking weather.
Some more details of our ring walk (starting and ending in the same place) from Ampus:
Fortunately there was a tiny market that day in the main plaza. Three vendors: one for potted plants (no thanks), one for vegetables and fruits (a couple of carrots and apples) and one for local cheeses from sheep, goats and cows. The fellow below is wearing an armband from Corsica and is cutting us some goat/sheep cheese.
On the road outside of town--most places you look in May there is a natural garden.
Many olive groves are planted on terraced slopes and grazed by farm animals. The terracing may be hundreds of years old--a generational investment. As are the olives, which take about 30 years to produce their first crop.
The walk led us through woods to an opening around this prehistoric dolmen that was probably used as an altar. No tourists and no signage explaining anything. Just us, the breeze and our imagination figuring out how they built that.
(Probably with a mound of dirt piled to the proposed height of the "roof" and engulfing the stone columns. Then about a 100 guys dragging the roof stone with ropes up a dirt ramp to position it over the columns/dirt pile. Then excavate the dirt. And no, they didn't use rollers for these things--too unreliable. Enough guys and you can drag anything anywhere much faster and more safely than with rollers. )
Back through the mossy woods.
What looks like a fox family's den. Or a hedge hog of some kind.
Along the dirt road through farmland. A small deer ran across the road in front of us here. Looked about the size of a german shepherd dog. And very dark brown.
Which might explain the hunting stands we found further down the road.
My best guess from looking at the various vents is that this was stoked with wood and burned with very little oxygen to make charcoal. Charcoal was used for heating and cooking indoors in the cities, as it made little smoke and could be transported more easily than wood, which was much heavier.
This sign could indicate....
..newly shorn sheep, which leads to....
...this sign, which in my poor french says something like "here, neither love nor friendship changes"
Which reminded us to eat our sheep/goat cheese. The Opinel knives are the ones Caleb gave to us at Maggie's Farm. Also some good bread, carrots and pizza. Sunshine and fresh air were also valuable ingredients.
A little farther down the road is this Romanesque chapel--Notre Dame de Speluque-- parts of which were built in 1090 to celebrate a defeat of the Saracen army from North Africa. The path to the door is framed by large white-flowered lilacs that had just passed their peak.
Another spooky view of the tower.
Delicious looking lichens on the chapel walls--this one shows it's history of starting and stopping over the centuries.
After the chapel, we forded the stream, which you've seen and followed the narrow trail through woods and fields and finally neighborhoods.
Back in Ampus, we see some pollarded sycamores that haven't leafed out yet in this higher elevation.
And a pretty striking example of arborsculpture with a mulberry.
And even small storage buildings are strikingly beautiful.
The Michelin star restaurant that the writers ate at when they were in Ampus, is unfortunately closed.
But we still managed to find good food at the local restaurant: What I thought would be simple salad was crowned with rich ham and foie gras. Just the thing for a southern boy who's worked up an appetite.