The GR49 (Grande Randonnée 49) is a long distance walking path from St-Raphaël
on the Côte d'Azur to Rougon near the Gorge du Verdon. If you like the idea of a
linear walk, continuing from place to place, this is good for having lovely views, tasty
French cooking, and being a manageable length - 6 days. This is one of the shorter GRs, and so it is easy to do the whole thing, which is
It passes through a nice variety of countryside, from the big city start, through
charming villages, to Europe's largest and most dramatic Gorge. Doing it in Spring was
lovely (warm days and cool evenings), as some parts were lush and green, while others were
more arid. The seasons changed depending on how high we were.
Knowing in advance that there was nowhere for lunch, we bought a picnic from one of the many good
boulangeries on the road out of town. Leaving the St-Raphaël suburbs took surprisingly
little time, and we were soon among the limestone hills, with rolling views.
The cistus and
lavender bushes were being pollinated by the bees, and there were several splendid yellow
butterflies. There was a pleasing variety of trees, including pine, holm oak and eucalyptus.
The walk was on a mixture of rocky paths, open tracks and balcony paths. Crossing the A8
wasn't as bad as you might imagine from the map, and there was a pretty lake just the other
side. With the detour to a hotel in Bagnols-en-Forêt, it made for quite a long first day, and the final bit was rather
tedious. (Actually, using the 1:25000 map we found a shortcut into town. The path was lovely
but there were lots of 'Beware of the Dog' notices, and the overall effect was rather
creepy. However, it came out just by our hotel.)
As we had left the GR49, we had to find our way back without paint; occasionally we had some
trouble in the woods, and the map seemed less accurate! With the benefit of hindsight, it
might have been better to use the minor roads.
However, we passed a wonderful little lake,
positively teeming with noisy frogs, so I named it the vociferous frogs lake. As it was a
hilly area, it was not so dry as yesterday, and some bits were quite like English meadows,
with lush grasses and daisies. There were more buildings, and the cork trees in the forests
The weather changed, the cloud was low, and it drizzled on and off all day. There were
thick pine forests, which allowed us only occasional views of the big ravine along to the
source of la Siagnole. The lack of a good picnic spot was redeemed by having bought earlier
a delicious frommage chèvre for lunch.
The long climb up to Mons was also in the cloud, but
Mons itself turned out to be a delightful hill village. Shopping there took a long time
because of all the 'bonjour Monsieur, bonjour Madame' greeting that took place whenever
anyone came or went. Delightful if you're not in a hurry, which we weren't.
Again preparing lunch in advance, we found some nice quiche lorraine and
courgette flan at the Mons boulangerie, and then set off on the first climb, up to a big
The longest climb of the day was after lunch. More rain made the trail finding harder, and
the cloud blanked out the views. It was winter up there, even with some snow at the top.
We enjoyed it more when we got back down among the spring meadows. I hadn't found anywhere to stay in La Bastide, so we went
2 kilometers to the south, to Le Coq en Pâte in La Roque-Esclapon; it was shut
when we arrived, so we waited under shelter, but it turned out to be a very friendly pub-like
place, frequented by the locals, with very good pizza cooked in a wood oven.
This was the longest day - 20 kilometres. But route finding was easy, and we were encouraged
by a beautiful sunny morning and great views. We indulged ourselves at the nice cafés
in La Bastide and Bargème before getting out onto the woodland paths and pretty
countryside. At one point a wild boar had nested near the path, and ran away when we
appeared, followed by its four tiny piglets.
The weather changed after lunch and we did a
long climb through heavy rain. Having crossed the River Jabron, we were near huge limestone
crags, with a delightful variety of countryside. The storm cleared and we had sun in the
late afternoon, walking along the river under the citadel town of Trigance.
Up the hill, in town, there were fine views of the valley below. We stayed at Le Vieil
Amandier. Both it and the village had a slightly pretentious atmosphere, and it was our
least favourite place; however, we bought cheese and wine and had a very convivial evening.
At only 9 kilometres, this was a relatively short day, but quite a tough walk. With the
variable weather so far, we were slightly worried by the mist in the valley
first thing; however it burnt off and turned into a clear, sunny morning. We walked up
through the old village, enjoying the stone houses set in narrow alleys, and
the occasional water well. Clear views showed us that the countryside was growing grander.
After going over the top to the next valley, there was a long walk down through pine trees
and spring flowers: violets and primroses, plus a few lizards sneaking in and out of the
vegetation. Even though the leaves were that lovely fresh green while just budding, they
were too thick for us to get proper views.
Finally we got down to the Pont de Tusset
and the rushing chalky turquoise River Verdon. Then it was a long climb up to the Point
Sublime in the heat of the day. The Auberge at the Point Sublime is a nice, friendly place,
with delicious home made ice cream and florentins, a great place to relax and celebrate the effective end of the walk.
Having come this far, we wanted to do the Sentier Martel through the gorge - it's a
highlight of the walk. It's a very popular path, and even on a week day in April there were
plenty of other walkers. We shared a taxi with others from the Auberge, to Le Chalet de
la Maline. The morning had started sunny, but gradually more cloud
appeared as we climbed down to the river, with its now familiar gushing cloudy turquoise
torrent. We were deep among the dramatic and spectacular cliffs. There was a nice variety
in the day, sometimes ambling by the river, enjoying blossoms and light green young leaves,
and sometimes clambering the hillside, deep in the cleft below the crags. Near the end, the
path goes through two tunnels (yes, it's definitely worth bringing a torch), with the second
one being 600 meters long. We had some rain, but it was a beautiful bright evening to finish
- a lovely day. And back to the Auberge again.
As there wasn't a bus when we were there, we walked from Point Sublime to Castellane, along
the GR4. It was a satisfying end to the walk, with great open views, a nice contrast to the
enclosed Gorge. Despite a cloudy start to the morning, it had burnt off when we set out.
There was a steep climb to Rougon, the official end of the GR49.
After coffee there with a
fabulous view over the town below, it was on up again, with another tough climb to a broad
plateau at the top, which might be sheep summer pastures.
We took a wrong turn when
distracted by a pretty shepherd's cottage; it was just after a col, and we should
have looked harder for the next paint flash, on a tree ahead. Once we refound the route,
there was then a long amble above the next valley. The big loops of the balcony paths
followed the curves of the mountains. It was a dark afternoon, but we had no rain. The
long slow descent through grand scenery eventually joined a rural road into Castellane.
This was a nice unpretentious town focused on river and mountain activities. There are quite
a few little hotels round the central square.
There's a daily bus from Castellane to Nice; however it left rather late for us, so we got
a taxi to St-André-les-Alpes, which is a sweet 1950s station, and took the rattly
little Train des Pignes into Nice, and walked round the old town.
Even with variable weather, we enjoyed the walk a lot. The pretty countryside, the
atmospheric old hill villages, and the pleasantness of French culture and cuisine all made
for a good holiday and worthwhile journey.
© 2010 Diana Ambache