Today was a very hot and brutal walk but we are happy, happy, happy. That makes three reasons for being happy. First, today was the last day that we needed to shortcut some of the walk. [edited two days later: these were famous last words]. Lurs was the only place we could find accommodations for tonight and following the GR trail would have meant a 39km day (as well as a stupid idea). We don’t do those lengths and we try hard not to do stupid things either. We are also happy because I already have booked two B&Bs and a hotel for the next three nights and all are between about 20 and 23km walk along the Camino route [edited two days later: wrong again]. Marching on to Mane, Céreste and Apt! Finally, we are very happy we ignored a very nice man and the GR signs at one particular point of the day. We would have missed a real highlight of this walk.
The day started out a short 400m down the somewhat busy D4085 before we could cross the rail line and get onto an excellent gravel trail for another 2km all the way to the Intermarché supermarket. I had to pick up something for dinner and macaroni and ratatouille, along with some olive appetizers looked like a perfect meal, even if if did mean another 2kg to carry today. There is no place to eat in Lurs at this time of year. After shopping, we ignored the McDonald’s down the street and headed to Peipin village on the road.
From Peipin, we shortcut a little by going to Châteauneuf-Val-Saint-Donat via the D951 rather than the hilly forest tracks on the GR route. The road was pretty quiet and fine to walk along side of but here is where some of the fun today started. A 70+ year-old man stopped next to us in his car and asked where we were going. We explained that today we were headed to Lurs but eventually, Montpellier was our goal. He started rambling on and gesticulating (both in French) and eventually motioned that he was pulling off the road ahead and he would wait for us. When we caught up with him, I think he was saying that Lurs was too far away and he would drive us. Also, we should not be walking on the road and we must follow the GR blazes. We assured him that we could do it (I didn’t mention the shortcuts) and then he gave us explicit directions on how to get through Saint-Donat. He wished us well and left.
We followed his directions which happened to be a portion of the GR route we were going to do anyway. Shortly after the center of Saint-Donat, we were walking down a stone and gravel path when we were surprised by a bicyclist pulling up next to us. It was the same man who stopped us earlier! He had gone home, parked his car, got out his bike and helmet and came after us. He said he was glad we followed his directions and then gave us a new set of instructions. “At the cairn, turn right, do not go straight, you must follow the GR signs”! Who was this guy? Was he one of the alpinists who marked the GR trail? Again, we thanked him and he wished us a buen Camino.
Continuing on this trail, we started to notice some things. We knew at the cairn, there was something special but we weren’t there yet. What we noticed was the placement of the rocks in the road. We had seen this before. We were walking on the remnants of a Roman road. Not just any Roman road – the Via Domitia! Our suspicions were confirmed at one point when the Roman curb stones curved off the trail. We looked where it was going through the bushes and shrubs and it went over a small bridge that was barricaded. From another angle we could see that the bridge was of Roman design. Very cool!
As we continued up the hill toward the cairn, we continued to see some signs of the old road. Here, however, we met the next character of the day. Jogging down hill towards us was a young overweight man. He was closely followed by his two rather large dogs, not on a leash. That worried me a bit but I figured with the owner with them, what could happen, right? As they came closer, Melanie joked that they looked like wolves. I did what she had told me before, as they ran past their owner towards us, I put my eyes and head down and reached our my hand so they could each have a lick. They both did that without incident. Sort of. As I did this, the jogger shrieked a little and blurted out something in French. I slowly translated this as the dogs licked my hand. Then, as the went over to Melanie, it hit me what he said, mainly because his last sentence was in English. “Those aren’t my dogs. I didn’t know they were there. They look like wolves.” We wished him good luck a got away quickly but the animals followed us. Uh oh. Fortunately, they ran ahead and we never saw them again. I guess they didn’t like either American or Eurasian cuisine.
Now at the cairn, I laughed. As directed, the GR route is marked to the right, of course, up hill. All along, we planned to go straight. This’s is where we knew the better Via Domitia road still exists. It wasn’t as clear as we hoped but it was certainly more obvious than before. Walking on it now was slow going but worth it. You had to be careful with every footstep but, at the same time, I was studying the rocks. Eventually I found what I was looking for… the grooves in the rocks left behind by the chariots that plied this route two millennia ago. Melanie wasn’t quite as excited as I was but she was more practical. “Okay, take a picture and let’s go. We still have a long way to go”. She was right.
Once off the original Via Domitia, we followed the D101 into Peyrus to search for something to eat and drink. The only thing in town that was open was a kebab shop but that was perfect. We then shortcut down the busy and boring D4096 but, once again, the fun started. We were close to Lurs but, unfortunately, Lurs was on top of a hill. It was only 2.8km away but 220m up a steep hill. We had a choice. We could take the road but that would add 1.2km on it’s winding path. The Camino route was an odd 5.7km that had just as steep a climb in the first half of the route then a flat finish to the day. The most direct route though, appeared to be at a very steep angle but only 2.8km. That’s what we decided to do. Here we broke our rule about doing stupid things.
It turns out that most of the climb was actually in the first kilometer. Then, at the top, there were a series of hills that dropped down 30m, rose up 30m, dropped down 30m, rose up 30m, etc. Oops. After the first one of those, we gave up. The road passed the trail here and we got on it. From here it was only an extra 200m but the same – eventual – final 60m ascent to Lurs.
In a Lurs, we quickly found the municipal house where they guided us to the gîte. We are sharing the hostel it’s nine hikers who are here for a week and just doing day hikes from the gîte. They are all from Normandy and quite nice but I’m not positive they are thrilled with two more strangers in the house.
For those following us, the gîte is fantastic and holds a dozen people. (Christophe 06 37 44 36 98 or the Mairie 04 37 79 95 24) If you like history, ignore the old guy and go straight on the Via Domitia. Why the GR route specifically passes this by, I don’t know. Also, I wish you well. After Embrun, it is tough to find beds and food together that are in reasonable distances the day before. I think once you hit Mane, you should be okay again. I hope.