La Vie Est Belle
Trip: Fieldwork in South-Eastern France
Date: 14 – 05 – 2016 until 5-06-2016
Route: Car from Delft to La-Motte Chalancon. Drove in Cirlces around our research area and had a day trip to Sistéron, an hour driving from the campsite. We returned to Delft by car.
Transport to France: Car
Transport in France: Car
Company: My fieldwork group and fellow students
Stayed the night at: Camping Le Village in La Motte-Chalancon
Highlights: L’Oule river, Chalancon Via Ferrata
Never before have I been very impressed by study excursion as I could not imagine that any non-geologist would be interested in what kind of rock formations I had seen. This trip was different as not only the rocks showed brilliant layering, but also because we spent three weeks camping and hiking around the area, which happened to be extremely impressive, beautiful and full of old castle ruins as well.
After having criss-crossed little mountain roads while being amazed by the strange but outstanding rock formations, we arrived at the campsite. A field of green grass welcomed us, accompanied by our fellow students that had arrived earlier and a very friendly camping warden who looks as if he enjoys every day as it comes. The town itself is a cute little town which has a boulangerie for your fresh croissants and baguettes in the morning, a crêperie, a café/restaurant and a tiny little supermarket, although I would recommend grocery shopping at Rémuzat or Verclause. A pizza stand is present at the little market square every Friday and the man is doing great business! If you are longing for a pizza, make sure to order on time or you miss out. All shops in La Motte-Chalancon or closed on Monday, but don’t worry, because they are replaced by the morning market at which you can buy delicious fruits, vegetables, cheeses and meat for really good prices. Just thinking about the goat’s chees makes my mouth water yum!
La Motte-Chalancon is surrounded by mountains which already give the area splendind surroundings, but the highlight of the small village is the lake at the foot of the moutain. For some reason you are actually not allowed to swim in there, but it seems to be tolerated and besides, we travelers are too stupid to understand French are we not? 😉 If you are too scared of getting in trouble for swimming, the lake is still worth your time, because I can promise that the awe of the sun setting behind the mountains while sprinkling it last rays of light over the lake is certainly worth your time.
Not for the faint-hearted
A day off is always a welcome change after you have been working hard for a week straight. And if working hard involves lots of looking at rocks, you could perfectly well imagine that we wanted to get as far away from any rock formation is would be realistically possible…but you would be wrong. We actually thought that it would be a good idea to have another look at some more rocks, from even closer by, so we rented climbing some climbing equipment (this can be done in the Tabac-shop in La Motte-Chalancon for only €10,- per half day, which I would deeply recommend) and drove up to Chalancon; another tiny village, pretty much built into the mountainside. This is where we started our adventure on the Via Ferrata (to some more well-known as Klettersteig): a route along de mountainside following beams, ladders, small footsteps and handgrips. The area is full of these, so you can go wild if one Via Ferrata is not enough. The one in Chalancon is fun to do and not extremely hard; it is even doable with a fear of heights as long as you have enough friends to pull you through, proven by one of my study-mates.
La vie est belle
It was a beautiful warm day that after a long stroll with many stops to look at rocks finally brought is to the top of one of the mountains in the area. The view was amazing and the lavender fields added to the picturesque setting we found ourselves in. It was the perfect spot for lunch and for having a look at the progress of our geological map. It was warm and I took of my shirt; partly because we hadn’t seen anyone else around so far that day and partly becease I was hot and I think it is only fair that girls should be allowed to take off their shirt just as much as guys. While enjoying the views, the food and working hard on our map at the same time two ladies with a beautiful, large, white, fluffy dog passed by. They said hello and started a little conversation about how we were enjoying our day. When we told them we were actually studying, on a beautiful location, while enjoying the sun in my bra she could only smile and say “La vie est belle”. Life is good. With those words she took off.
Around 5 PM we realised that we might have paid the rocks a little bit too much attention. They deserved it, but it meant we were now on the wrong side of the mountain, a good 6 kilometres from where we parked the car. On a normal road this distance can be walked in an hour, but walking up and down mountainsides on small trails makes things a bit harder and I do appreciate my dinner. After having had some small interruptions (such as a lost hat, which caused Paula to run almost back to the top and then back down again) we lost more time and the discussion was if we would be better off hitchhiking (down the mountain, then along the road and then up another mountain) or just walking back. Hitchhiking is a bit hard when there are no cars around and besides we would probably need 3 cars to get us to where we wanted to be. If we stranded somewhere between two lifts, we would most likely have to walk further than if we would have just followed the walking trail.
Just as we were discussing our options a car on its way down drove by. I took it as a sign that we should take our chances hitchhiking. This first car indeed picked us and brought us downhill, where we ended up on a larger road where it is not easy to stop. Luckily, a pair of shirtless dudes smoking cigarettes in their old crappy car decided it was a great idea to stop right in the middle of that road, but we had to get in quickly. Luck had it that the backseat of their car was inhabited by a huge, hairy, black dog whose midday sleep we had just interupted, so he had no intentions of moving. After a lot of struggeling and luckily no accidents we managed to squeeze the three of us on the one and a half seat we had been able to conquer from the dog, who was slowly giving up more and more space now that we were in, until he finally just sat on the floor. This story probably doens’t sound as hilarious as it was at the time, but it was a ridiculous situation, especially because the dog was very hard to see on the black backseat and it took me a while and a lot of laughter to let the others know that I had just set my bottom down on top of an enormous dog. Ridiculous really.
Soon came the time to say goodbye to this funny little vehicle and its passengers and we found ourselves at the foot of the mountain we still needed to get up. A lot further away than where we started, but next to a road that we started walked up ourselves to set a good example. Time came and went and no cars passed by. This continued unitl we almost reached a state of despair, one car passed by and left us even more desperate as he would not pick us up. Just as we had about given up and realised that this hitchhiking idea was probably not as good as we hoped, our savious came. A friendly Frenchman who was interested in geology brought us all the way to the car and we still got home more or less on time for dinner.
Moral of the story? Hitchhiking in a very quiet area works perfectly well as most people are extremely friendly and not as anxious as people in a bit city. However you should not be in a hurry, as sometimes only one car passes by every two hours…
On the next day off, our study association had arranged wine tasting, a must-do if you are in the country of wine. There are many wineries and villages around this area where you can go and taste the wine, but we just had a bunch of different wines collected for us at one spot. The wine tasting started around 4 and we did taste some pretty good wines, I believe…. I learned that French and Italian wines usually only have the name of the village where it is produced on the bottle if it is a good wine, but the name of the grape if it is a less good wine. I also learned that I get drunk easily if I drink wine before dinner and I learned that I like Grenache grapes, which give a sweet taste to the wine.
Recommended would be the “Rasteau”, a delicious red wine, containing Grenache and Shiraz grapes. There were probably more wine that tasted good, but I can only recall this one, because I liked it so much that I was bright enough to put the cork in my pocket as a future reminder for my drunk self about which wine I preferred.
Because we only effectively took half a day of on Sunday, we decided to take another half (or a little bit more than half) off on Monday to give us the opportunity to explore a bit more of the country outside the boundaries of our research area. Sisteron is a commune on the banks of the river Durance. This in combination with its large citadel built on top of a massive rock formation (so massive that even people without the slightest interest in geology cannot fail to notice it) makes the city into a very pretty view from afar.
Sisteron is a rather active city too. The citadel is large enough to wander around for a few hours (entrance price: €6,95), the rocks on the opposite side of the river are used for rock climbing and there is an adverture park for the less professional and very young climbers where you can have a look at the city while dangling around in the tree tops. The water of the river is a beautiful bright blue, but unfortunetly not suitable for swimming because of the current caused by the dam used for power generation. On the counterside, there is a man-made lake right next to the river that is suitable for swimming and is filled up with the fresh water from the river.
After you’re done playing knights in the citadel, swimming in the lake and climbing trees there are many cute petite restaurants waiting for hungry guests. We ate at Restaurant Du Cours, part of Grand Hôtel du Cours and I would love to use this post to compliment the place. There was no vegetarian option on the menu but when we asked they said they could fix something. I expected nothing more but a heap of grilled veggies piled up on a plate and I would have been happy with that, but they positively surprised me with a lovely potato gratin, some grilled veggies that were very well spiced, beans and a side salad. The meat plats of my friends were also well received and we were allowed to choose not one, not two, but three pieces of cake as a dessert on top of it all! This restaurant is well-worth your appetite and I would highly recommend visiting it if you are in or near Sisteron.
A day in l’Oule
If you feel like you have to cool down when in the area of La Motte and you are scared to set foot into the forbidden lake, the small river l’Oule is the perfect place to go. If you follow the river and wade through the water to traverse it at some points, you will find the most beautiful, small and quiet beaches surrounded by rock formations several tons of metres high. It as absolutely beautiful and I know that I chose the right studies now that I can say that this can be called studying:
Finishing up and wild dreams
Three weeks later the time had come to pack our things. With the map finished and half a day left it was a perfect idea to hike up to the little ruined castle that had been staring at us from its mountain top for the entire time we spent here. Now was the time to visit and the castle did not dissapoint at its beautiful location, half overgrown with plants. It was unfortunate that all our camping gear was already packed in the car, ready to go, or the castle ruins would have been a wicked spot for wild camping for a night. There is a small, but rather good hiking trail winding up to the ruins themselves, so it should not be too hard to take a little tent up there. I would almost go back one day, just for that, so if you have the chance, make sure to take it!