Starting in the high Alps of Provence, we follow the GR 4 (Grande Randonnee 4) from Castellane through the Gorge du Verdon, across the Durance River and into the Regional Parc of the Luberon. North of the Luberon, our hike now along the GR 6 and GR 97 is punctuated with charming villages perchés (perched villages) including Saignon, Roussillon and the lovely St. Saturnin.
Over days we will have the opportunity to experience the diversity of Provence. In the Verdon Region, the scenery is that of 1,500-ft limestone cliffs, high jagged mountains and the deep Verdon River gorge. From Moustiers to Cereste, we will hike out of the Alps and cross the open plateau of the Valensole, through lavender fields, cherry orchards, vineyards and poppy fields. Hiking up along the high ridge of the Grand Luberon, which offers great views of the entire area, we will descend down into the once-fortified village of Saignon, where we will spend two days. From Saignon we will explore “classic Provence” with hikes to the “Colorado” and St. Saturnin and Roussillon.
The small hotels, regional cuisine, remarkable hiking and compelling scenery combine to make this hike “a must do.”
Day 1: Individual transfer from Nice by the little train, Chemins de Fers de Provence, to the small, picturesque village of Annot. This scenic train trip takes about 2 hours. Annot not only has a long, rich history, dating back to 1084, but nearby are unique geological features, les gres of d’Annot – huge sandstone boulders and cliffs that were formed some 40 million years ago. If you arrive early, there is a wonderful half-day hike, the “Chambre du Roi,” which loops around these formations and through an amazing chestnut forest. Welcome dinner and area orientation.
Day 2: From Annot we transfer to St. Andre les Alpes, from where we will begin the hike to Castellane. This isolated trail follows paths high above the western side of the Lac de Castillon. Part of this hike will be on jeep roads, through forests, and on high overlooks. This is a varied day of hiking. We meet our van at the tiny hamlet of La Baume for transfer to Castellane.
The village of Castellane is characterized by a huge, hovering rock outcropping that looks as though it’s guarding the village. Castellane has been inhabited since before Roman times. Evidence of these early settlements is still visible. Dinner and breakfast.
Day 3: Departing Castellane, we hike through what some guidebooks refer to as “the most dramatic and natural scenery in all of France.” The scenery is impressive. The limestone and rock outcroppings rise up in pinnacles,while the Verdon River flows below. The trail takes us by picturesque gardens, abandoned farms and high plateaus. We end our day with a descent to the town of Rougon and then to our hotel in Point Sublime. Rougon, with its red-roofed houses perched along the hillside, is situated right on the edge of the Gorges of Verdon.
Day 4: Today’s hike takes us down into the Gorges du Verdon, through tunnels, up ladders and along the river. This hike is more strenuous than the other days, as it involves steep ascents and descents, hiking though tunnels (some of which are dark, so bring your flashlights) and a long set of ladders with 240 steps to ascend. These ladders have handrails on either side and are more like steep stairs. Ending our hike at La Maline, we will then have a short transfer to our hotel in La Palud. This is a dramatic, stunning hike.
Day 5: The hike from La Palud to Moustiers St. Marie takes us through the Forest of Gorges du Verdon and the Forest of Montdenier, with the trail frequently opening up to afford great views of the huge, dammed lake of Lac de Sainte Croix. The GR 4 takes us up to the Col de l’Anes (donkey pass) and to the high point of the day, Signal de l’Ourbes. Our final descent (steep and rocky) leads us off the high plateau of the Gorges du Verdon and to the village of Moustiers St. Marie. Our wonderful hotel is located about 15 minutes walking from the center of Moustier St. Marie. Dinner and breakfast included.
Day 6: Rest Day. Known as the village of “Faience” (pottery), Moustiers was an important center of pottery during the 17th and 18th centuries until the demand for English china and porcelain decreased so much that the “pottery fires eventually died out.” Thanks to the influence of Marcel Provence in the late 1900’s, the fires have been rekindled, and today there are numerous pottery workshops in Moustiers. Be sure to save some room in your pack for a few items! Dinner not included. Breakfast included.
Day 7: A shorter hiking day will take us from Moustiers to Riez. This will allow time for browsing around both these interesting villages. On today’s hike, the landscape changes dramatically as we descend from the mountains and begin to hike across open plains. With the mountains serving as a backdrop, our trail leads us by oak forests, encouraging the growth of truffles, as well as through lavender and poppy fields. The Roman village of Riez is said to be the oldest town in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and is somewhat bypassed by tourism.
From Riez we will transfer by private van across the plateau de Valensole and then the Durance River to village perché of Saignon, where we spend three nights. Once a fortified village, Saignon sits on the west face of the Grand Luberon Mountain at an elevation of 1,560′. Saignon is a wonderful village to browse around while relaxing and enjoying the view. Dinner and breakfast included.
Day 8: Short transfer to the trail head for the Grand Luberon. Though not a high Alp, the hiking on the Grand Luberon is rewarding and a bit demanding hike as we gain steady elevation to reach the crest. As we hike along the crest-line of this grand mountain we’ll have 360-degree views. On a clear day we can see as far as the Mediterranean. After reaching Le Mourre Nègre, the highest point of the Grand Luberon, we descend steeply to Saignon. This is a long hike. Dinner and breakfast included.
Day 9: After breakfast we transfer to the to the “Colorado,” known for the mining of ochre. This very pretty hike, that leads us back to Saignon, wends through fields, ridge lines and vineyards. The trail is varied and there are elevations gains and losses throughout the day. We end the hike with a climb to Saignon. Dinner, packed lunch and breakfast included.
Day 10: Short transfer to Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt and walk to Roussillon. This quiet and unassuming village is full with history dating back to Roman times. Its old church and fortress and quaint narrow streets are enjoyable to stroll. Time, and crowds, have left this town relatively untouched.
Today’s walk to Roussillon leads through vineyards, olive groves, almond trees, forests, and open fields and down grassy lanes. The view, across the Luberon valley and all the way to the rounded humps of the Grand Luberon, is lovely. The spectacular ochre cliffs greet us as we near Roussillon. It is a stunning hike. Overnight in Roussillon. Dinner, packed lunch and breakfast included.
Roussillon is a perfectly picturesque Provencal village, with its narrow streets and all the buildings and houses painted in nearly all the different hues of ochre. An array of ochre pigments were once mined in the area, from pale yellows and oranges to deep reds and everything in between. The inhabitants of the area began mining ochre in prehistoric times and, by the 19th century, export of the ochre dust was considerable. The onset of synthetic dyes put the ochre mines out of business. The effects of this mining have made for some very interesting rock formations. In Roussillon there is an open air museum of the ochre mines.
Day 11: Depart Roussillon after breakfast at about 8:30 am arriving the Marseille Airport at about 10:30 am. From the airport there are frequent shuttle buses to the near the TGV station in Aix en Provence, from where you can take a train to other parts of France. A direct train to Paris departs from the TGV station in Aix en Provence for those who plan to travel to Paris.
All accommodations, all breakfasts, all dinners except one in Moustiers St. Marie, luggage transfer each day for 1 medium-sized bag, all group transfers as per the itinerary, transfer to the Marseille Airport on Day 11, guides, great hiking and great memories!
Airfare, travel to Annot (the starting location), one dinner in Moustiers, some lunches, optional/individual transfers or excursions, items not on set dinner menu, beverages, insurance, tips to guides/leaders, items of a personal nature.
If you wish to have your own room at the hotels there is a single supplement charge of $500. Please let us know if you would like a single at the time of registration. If you are traveling alone and would like to share a room, we will match you with a roommate. If there is no one with whom you can share, we will not charge you extra for this “forced” single during the hike.
This hike includes luggage transfer each day. You will need to carry a small day pack with the clothing and extra items you will need for the day.
While this trip includes luggage transfer, it is not vehicle supported. Participants should be in physical condition appropriate to the strenuousness of this hike. It is, however, possible to skip a day of hiking and take a taxi to the next hotel. This extra cost is not included in the price of the trip.
Accommodations and Facilities
Hotels: The hotels on this route are very comfortable; some are basic and simple, others are are very nice. All reflect the local character and offer a warm Provencal welcome. Unless noted, all have private bathrooms. Three hotels have swimming pools.
Meals: Breakfasts and dinners are served at the hotels and lunches are picnic style along the trail.
It is easiest to fly into Nice and out of Marseille. However, if your plans includes travel to Paris, you can take the train from the TGV train station directly to Paris. Travel time from the Marseille airport is about 30 minutes by shuttle; travel from the TGV Station in Aix to Paris is about 3 hours.
Who would like this trip?
This hike is a great combination of Mediterranean climate, mountain views, varied hiking terrain, picturesque villages, remote hiking and overnight stays in comfortable, relaxing inns. We grade this trip strenuous with some moderate. Though not as difficult or as challenging as our Alps hikes, participants should be prepared for a few long days on rugged terrain. You will be completely enchanted and impressed with the beauty and the fantastic hiking this area has to offer.
The trip will begin at the hotel in Annot. Participants can take the scenic train from Nice to Annot – Chemins de Fers de Provence. Travel time is about 2 hours.
The trip will end with a morning transfer from Roussillon the Marseille Airport, arriving at about 10:30 am; please make travel plans accordingly.
If you would like to register, would like to receive more information, including a detailed itinerary (including elevation gains, loss and distance), and/or request a list of past participants, please contact us.
I liked your relationship with the people at the inns we visited – it was as though we were returning friends instead of American tourists. You were sensitive to them as well as to us.
Any hiking trip in the mountains requires a certain amount of effort and proper fitness training will enhance your enjoyment. In the mountains, time and elevation gain or loss as opposed to distance, tend to be the determining factors when defining hiking grades or level of difficulty. We have done our best to grade our trips consistently, please contact us for further clarification. We are happy to offer names of past participants.
Easy: Hike 3 to 4 hours daily carrying a day pack on generally gentle terrain. Distances from 4 to 8 miles. Elevation gain and loss 500' to 1,500'.
Moderate: Hike an average of 4 to 5 hours daily on varied terrain. Distances from 5 to 9 miles. Elevation gains and losses generally 1,500' to 2,500' or about 2 hours.
Strenuous: Hike 5 to 7 hours daily on varied terrain, with consistent ascents and descents of 2 to 3 or more hours generally 2,500' - 3,500'. Distances from 6 to 11 miles. There are some sections that include steep uphill and downhills.
Strenuous Plus: 5 to 8 hours partly on rocky, challenging terrain with consistent steep ascents and descents of 2 to 3 or more hours generally 3,000'-5,000'. Distances from 6 to 15 miles. Though each day is not strenuous plus there are some sections that may include rough terrain and open and exposed trails.