First, let me say that we had another great but short walk again today. If you are reading this blog in preparation to do this walk, whether you are a purist who has to step on every meter of the designated trail or a pragmatist who is just trying to get from point A to point B, I urge you to read what we did today.
We are walking the route of the Via Domitia, a Roman road built about a century before Christ’s birth. The actual site of the Via Domitia, in the valley we are in, is likely several layers of tarmac and cobblestone below the N94, the only French national road through the valley. It usually isn’t fun to walk on that road so some people planned a route nearby it for walkers, called the GR653d. This route does its best to stay away from traffic, preferably off-road entirely, and take advantage of any existing trails. Unfortunately, the planning seems to cater to day-walkers, rather than thru-hikers who are carrying 12kg of gear. The marked GR653d is often clinging to the side of a mountain, up and down steep gradients, and in certain areas difficult trails to walk on.
Once again, Melanie decided to walk the Via Do-smithia instead and it was a fantastic walk with great views, mostly off-road on decent but usually flat trails. Furthermore, we were much closer to the original Via Domitia than the marked trail but still out of earshot most of the way.
We started our route today south, through the rest of the village of L’Argentière-la-Bessee to rejoin the marked Camino route just after crossing the rail tracks. After 3km of walking on quiet roads, the Camino lead up a steep gravel path. We had planned to take this path, which was expected to climb a little more than 400m but then decide after 1km on that trail and 170m of the climb if we wanted to bug out. At that point, there was a trail leading back down to the quiet road where we had pencilled in a possible, flatter alternative. We looked at that first climb though, from the road, and it looked tough. It was obviously about a 17% incline so we said to each other, that looks insane and there is no way we wanted to do the whole trail on that rough surface and steep incline. We continued down the road toward Plan B, and after another 2km, we saw the trail that we would have come down if we bugged out – and we probably would have – and this trail looked to be on about a 35% decline on loose gravel. We would have had to ski down it!
Thankful that we had not taken that route, we almost immediately turned left off the quiet road onto a bridge over the river. Now on the east side of La Durance, we walked only 100m before turning right onto a trail next to the rail tracks. We could only follow this trail about 1km until there was a pathway under the rail line that we needed to take. This lead to the little village of La-Roche-de-Rame where we stopped in a restaurant for a drink and toilet break. From there, heading south, there was a 1km stretch along the N94 but the first half of that could be avoided by taking the “Le Lak” path through a park. The second 500m of the national road was straight and had a wide shoulder so it was safe.
At the first road where we could turn right, we did and from there until our hotel, we were on a fantastic mix of trails (very quiet roads as well as gravel, dirt, or rocky paths) between the rail line and the river for the last 10km. As noted the trails were pretty flat but mostly shaded and excellent for walking. I wonder why the GR trail didn’t come this way? This long section was a delight, had fantastic views and had a great soundtrack of the water going over the rapids most of the way. What is not to like? I can not imagine that I would have enjoyed the mountainous route more that what we did.
If anyone following us wants a copy of the GPS route we did, let me know. I’ll try to remember to link them here when I get back home.
Before I forget, I have edited yesterday’s post to mention dinner. If you ever happen to be in L’Argentière-la-Bessee and you don’t have dinner in Casa Antica Pizzaria, just don’t ever talk to me again. You would have missed the world’s best pizza. Also, the breakfast in the Hotel Giaizette this morning was the best breakfast I have had in Continental Europe and an incredible bargain at 8€ per person. Don’t miss either place!
EDITED TO ADD: for those following, you will be shocked to learn that there is a laundromat in the tiny village of Mont-Dauphin, only 50m from the cool Auberge d’Eygliers.