Monday, January 5, 2009

Les Dentelles de Montmirail

Les Dentelles de Montmirail

I have discovered one thing that I don’t like about France: walking along a mountain path with nothing but scrub bushes and an occasional rock protecting me from imminent death. That I survived to write about our adventures through the Dentelles means that I may have used hyperbole in describing the dangers of our trek, but I have concluded that I don’t like heights. On the other hand, the vistas were better than any photos that we have seen.

Tish had stopped at the Tourist Information Center in Vaison la Romaine and picked up another guide for hiking. As a result of Tish’s research, we have discovered that there are walking paths all around the area. Unlike the guidebook that I had found earlier which rated hikes in terms of expertise and ease, the new guide showed distance, the height of the climb, etc. but no ratings. If the new guidebook had showed a rating, I am sure it would have rated the paths that we took for experienced climbers – though we were passed by a man carrying a baby in his arms, two guys who were running the trail and a couple with whom we walked for a part of the trail.

It was a gorgeous, sunny Sunday and Tish wanted to go for a hike. We looked in the new guide book for a short-distance hike and found a four km./two-hour hike with a climb of 200 meters. I am sure that the book is wrong. We climbed up for at least one km before we started to walk along the cliff (more hyperbole). I must admit that the views were spectacular. The Dentelles are mountains that you can see from the autoroute – about 30 km to the west – and we were walking along the mountain ridge just below the peaks. The vistas were breathtaking – looking north at Sablet and beyond, looking east towards Mt. Ventoux, looking down (oh no, don’t look down!) on vineyards. It was awesome. Being up so high, we were above the air pollution that seemed to range out there below us. I can only imagine how the views would have been if the pollution index had been low.

I always thought that the “Dentelles” referred to teeth – because when you look at the limestone cliffs, they look like bad teeth. In fact, the name refers to “lace” – though I don’t see the connection. The Dentelles are part of a mountain chain called Montmirail. While I thought we were high enough to break through the atmosphere, the highest point is only 734 meters.

The Dentelles are extremely popular as a hiking location. We parked in the designated parking area with about 25 other cars. From that point, one can go in a variety of directions to paths of differing difficulty and distance. That is probably why we saw so few people on the trail that we chose. I laughed when Tish found our well-marked trail head for “Les Dentelles sarrasines” and pointed up. I shouldn’t have laughed. What I should have done was be a little more attentive. When the Guidebook says that the hiker will “grimpe, marche, chemine” (climb – I would have translated it as crawl, – walk and hike), I should have looked more closely at the topographical map… We got so close to the top of the Dentelles that we were actually walking (for a short distance) in the afternoon sun. (The majority of the walk was on the shady side of the mountains.) There we were: Mark scared out of his wits and the Newmyer girls – Tish and Ellen – walking along and talking about all sorts of topics except the fact that we were walking right along the edge of life…

To get to the ridge, we first climbed through pine and scrub-oak forests, then to mostly shrubs and then to heaven. All of the way up – mostly straight up – we kept hearing what sounded like a bell that one would put around an animal’s neck. Tish said that the little bells were popular among hikers as they thought that the bells would frighten off predatory animals. I thought the bell might be on a sheep – though there were no pastures in sight in any vicinity to our location. It turned out that bikers had put a bell on one of the dirt bikes and it was that bell that we heard for so long.


The hike across the front of the Dentelles was not our only excursion. On New Year’s Day, we drove up to a hiking trail on Mt. Ventoux but walked only two kms. as the snow-covered trail had become icy. We decided to go to Bedoin and take the walk around that village. While driving to the path, we passed a sheep herder and his flock of sheep. The sheep were protected by big dogs and the herder was being followed by a half dozen sheep-dogs.


After our hike through the Dentelles, we stopped at the Cave du Gigondas and tasted and bought some wonderful wines from my favorite wine region. The whole area at the base of the Dentelles is filled with vineyards. While the vineyards seem remote – almost unreachable – they produce the grapes grown in the limestone of the mountains that create such marvelous flavors in the Côtes du Rhone wines of which my favorite is Gigondas. I can’t get Gigondas at the local Cave Cooperative though they do sell very good wines there. I regularly go to the Cave to get our five-litre jug refilled…

The pictures attached to this post are from Tish and even though they are great photos, they can’t capture the beauty of the route we took.

1 comment:

  1. Another great adventure enjoyed vicariously. Thank goodness you are getting good exercise to care for your health. It's compensation for the wine and cheese, no doubt. Cooper