We efficiently make our way back to Avignon from Lodève on the wonderful French public transport.
We enjoy an end of the pilgrimage lunch with Madeleine and Angèle on a pretty square.
Maartje and Sabine go to visit the Palais des Papes. I go to a concert of the French National Youth Choir with Madeleine’s family to hear Clemence, Madeleine’s daughter. It is in the church of an intact medieval town. So lovely!
Sigh!! Goodbye France and Spain and pilgrimage! Tomorrow, we return to the north, for a weekend in Malle with Sabine and Lowie, and then to Den Haag for final visits with old friends and family… It has been good, and it is good, and it shall be good. I am grateful.
After the usual breakfast – yoghurt with fruit and granola or nuts – we say goodbye to the gîte and mama suggests we go directly to our second breakfast at the friendly little boulangerie artisanal on the square. We have some delicious pain au chocolat before starting out into the woods again. Good idea!
As it is my last day, I take a couple of hours to savor memories from all the days of the pilgrimage starting in Grenada with Mark (❤️). There were so many different pieces and experiences…. but there was a continuity because… I was always there. This is a very simple and at the same time useful realization.
Our walk today is supposedly only 14 km and four hours but it takes us until 5 pm! We walk in a slow “Oma” pace, and visit the Priory du Grandmont, another order established around the year 1000 – very strict: no meat, no shoes, no heat, no talking – ever. I am not sure God requires so much of us! Around 1100 there was a revolt and 200 monks left (the pope had to intervene). They welcomed the poor (Christian men only though) and pilgrims (same filter, but I guess that was the times).
Eventually, we arrive at Lodève, a depressed town, and we almost leave for Avignon, especially since the restaurants are closed – again!! Seriously, I am perplexed at how inaccessible the French cuisine is. Tant pis as they say, Sabine cooks up a fabulous spaghetti sauce, which more than compensates, and lifts our spirits. Our gîte is a lovely, warm house, with whimsical paintings by the owner.
In the morning, we attend the All Saints morning prayer in the very beautiful, sober 12th century church with the eight nuns of the convent in their long white robes. There is a half hour silent prayer first. In the silence, the days and stages of the pilgrimage pass through my mind, and I realize perhaps I made my hopscotch pilgrimage to this ancient and sacred place instead of Santiago de Compostela. The second half of the prayer is singing, all praising God and creation. Very joyous and lovely. We were blessed to be allowed to participate so intimately.
Our road today is a long one, 25 km with two 400 meter climbs plus some smaller ups and downs. The mountains rise around us crowned with craggy peaks, dressed in scrubby oak forest.
The walk involves a 7 km sort-of jog on my part to get to the next village to buy lunch supplies before the store closes at 12:30 (getting food can be a bit of a challenge around here). I make it. The épicerie is very small and very cute and sells butter from a roll. The day also involves Sabine and I sharing Oma’s pack to facilitate her second climb. We hike the last kilometers down the second mountain with a view of the valley and farther hills as the sun sets, and reach our village just before dark. Congratulations mama, on this strenuous hike!
Lo and behold, the boulangerie there is open and sells some wine! So we are able to make a feast in our cute gîte behind the church: local organic wine, with, first a bouillon of potato and shallots, followed by fried potatoes with shallots, champignons, and popped winter squash seeds, then a panzanela salad with coeur de boeuf tomatoes, and for dessert, bread pudding. Not bad for a pilgrim’s meal that was carried on our backs 1-2 days! All in all a very satisfying day! Thank you All Saints!
Today takes us up into the hills, starting with a steep climb in the forest. After the arid landscapes of the past few days, we are surprised by the relative lushness around us. Even the ground is somewhat moist. This is really exciting evidence of what I learned in the permaculture course: that a forest can really retain moisture and even generate its own moisture through local evapotranspiration that then cycles back into the system as rain, dew or fog.
The last part of today’s walk is along a beautiful gorge of the Herault river. At the mouth of the gorge is a wide swimming hole with a beach and people sitting on it in the sun! The river is emerald green and the gorge is deep with exciting rock formations, and some fern-covered overhangs with lacy waterfalls….
We would like to dawdle by the gorge, but our final destination is supposedly the prettiest village in France, so we push on. St. Guihelm le Desert does not disappoint in the pretty department! It is a medieval gem built up a narrow valley with houses with flower boxes and tiny little windy streets. At its center is a 12th century monastery and church. It is however, very touristy.
We are staying in the Carmelite sister pilgrimage lodge and are welcomed by sister Sabine which lead to some funny juggling of names seeing as sisters Sabine and Babette were there too 😁🤹🏽♀️👰🏿The lodge is centered in a small courtyard and old stone stairs lead up to our room. It is very special.
We try to go to a French restaurant again – as we already called and know the restaurant in our next village will be closed tomorrow. No luck: when we venture out at 7:30 we find everything to be closed up! There is just one creperie open, a very cute place covered in knick-knacks that my mom loves esp. the very meditative guy cooking the crepes. Hehe. We have a nice time.
In the morning, we meet Erique, owner of the gîte, who decides, for reasons unknown, to tell us about his secret route to Lunel, our destination. This raises our estimation of Vauvert considerably. The route goes along lanes of plane trees, and many, many fields with the white horses of the Camargue that like our occasional pat and apple leftovers.
We spend some time in a beautiful, small village that is crazy about its toros, and are able to refill our bags with bread, cheese, and fruits for lunch.
At the end of Erique’s walk through vineyards, orchards, and a couple of pretty towns, we catch the train to Montpellier. We decided to skip this big city so from the main train station we catch the line 3 tram to an outer station – the trams are painted in lots of fun colors, are clean, and fast – and from there hop on the 177 bus to our next village, Montarnaud (all infos found on the amazing smartphone!). The day ends with a fancy Sabine meal with cod, sautéed winter squash and new potatoes, served with a tasty vin du region. Miam-Miam!
After breakfast, we go straight to the cafe for coffee of course.
Sabine and I visit the market, under an arcade of plane trees. We find lovely warm slippers for me, olives, and cheese. We have to leave the paella, fruits, meats….
This part of the route takes us through orchards, which is very interesting for me and my permaculture orchard plans. The French are masters of pruning, there are so many variations, and all look quite lovely. They tend the trees, guiding them into desired shapes, but taking advantage of the trees’ natural dispositions. We all three enjoy looking at them. I take a zillion pictures, but here is just one. If I can manage something like this, I will be very proud!
Vauvert is a bit of a surprise – quite depressed, totally closed up, and the restaurants where we thought we’d eat (since it’s Sunday and we could not go shopping) are all closed (because it is Sunday). Our gîte rooms are in rebuilt horse stalls, and the only food is take out pizza. Sheesh!! However, the take-out pizza guys are really nice, their pizza is good, and they sell wine, so we get enough stuff to have a fun time in our stalls for dinner. 😉
Friday, morning, Sabine and my mom arrive in Avignon and we all have some lunch on Madeleine’s terrace. What a happy family reunion!
We take the 20 minute train to Arles, and from there, we walk 3 km to the gîte, where we are welcomed by a very chatty hostess. My, the French can talk! She does not inquire about us at all, just a barrage of stories, until I affirmatively start to tell one of my own. Then she listens attentively. Perhaps that is how conversation goes here – everyone takes space as needed or able.
Saturday is our first walking day, all along a dike with a ribbon of woods that protect us from the mistral wind – basically a gale from the north. We have lots of nice little stops with fruit and cookies – very agreeable and relaxed.
At St Gilles, we have a lovely gîte all to ourselves and two big treats. The first is the visit to the church and the tomb of Saint Gilles, apparently the next most important pilgrimage stop after Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostelle. Saint Gilles was a hermit from a wealthy Greek family, who lived in the forest here around 700 and who performed healing miracles. I like that this spot fell into our trip.
The second is the Festival de Toros, where the small steers of the Camargue are run through the streets of the village. The biggest fun is boys who run after the steers and try to catch them. Everyone is out and chatting with each other and enjoying the festivities. I just love it when people are out and about, gathering, visiting! I loved this is Spain too. We have great seats on a little terrace with a ricard.