Saturday, May 31, 2014

France 2014: Hike to Claviers

Every day, when we look out at the countryside from our terrace in Bargemon, we see the town of Claviers looming in the distance.  We learned from our home swap hosts that a railway used to operate in this area and passed through all the little towns like Bargemon, Claviers, Callas, Fayence and Draguignan.  The tracks have long been removed, leaving forested walking paths that lead from one town to the next.  It is only about a 4-5km to walk each way between Bargemon to Claviers, so we decided to give this a try.

On our first attempt, we tried to follow the instructions we were given but ended up totally lost.  We were doing alright at first, going down a rocky slope until we met a main road, looking for a water fountain, then recycling bins, then a bridge, etc.  Along the way, I was leaving "digital breadcrumbs" to help us find our way back, by taking photos of key turns, signs and landmarks.  We then spotted an old man walking along and made the mistake of thinking he must be going to Claviers, and followed him for a while.  It turns out he was not going to Claviers and therefore, neither were we.  We ended up in a farmer's field and luckily we were able to trot out enough broken French to ask whether we were going the right way, although we didn't understand much more after his reply of "Non!".  However, that plus the fact that the skies were getting ominous gave us enough cause to retrace our steps home to retrieve more detailed instructions.

It was not a total loss though because the path we took was beautiful and we ended up at a very scenic railway tunnel–just not the one leading to Claviers.  We wonder where this does lead, and will probably check it out on some other day.

The next time we tried this walk, we were armed with more detailed directions and it was a bright sunny day, so getting lost would not be as daunting.  We also used Google Maps on  our IPAD to confirm that we were walking in the right direction.   This time we were successful as we figured out where we "zigged" when we should have "zagged" the previous time.  It was at a junction where we turn right onto "Chemin du Plan" instead of left on "Route de la Voie Ferree".  Had we just looked up what "Route de la Voie Ferree" meant the first time, we would have realized that it means "Railway Line".

Once we were on the right track (pun intended), it was fairly straightforward to follow the railway road to Claviers.  There were still no signs pointing to Claviers along the way, so we had to take it a bit on faith.  We knew for sure that we were on a railway line, but were we headed towards the town we wanted?  Imagine our joy when after just over an hour of walking, we finally spotted the sign indicating that we had arrived in Claviers!  After turning that bend, we started to spot the buildings of the town in the near distance, including the iconic church bell tower that we could see from our terrace.

We found it exciting that when we looked back the other way across the valley, we could see our home village of Bargemon.  It looked so small, accentuating how far we had walked.  Just before entering the heart of the town, we found another railway tunnel and wondered whether that might lead to the next village of Callas.  We plan to drive to Claviers next time and check this out.   The old railway station for Claviers still exists and seems to be renovated into a private residence.

Although Claviers has some very interesting looking restaurants, shops and galleries,  most of them were closed (probably too early in the season).  Claviers is half the size and has 1/3 the population of Bargemon, which is why it seems like such a sleepy little town in comparison.  We found one boulangerie that was open for another 15 minutes before closing for the day so we rushed to pick up a cold drink after our long hike.

In the main square, we found the one restaurant that was open.  Luckily it had a nice patio and it was a pleasant afternoon.  We ordered a "side salad" that ended up being huge but really good.  It had lettuce, tomato, cucumber, olives and emmenthal cheese.  For our main we requested what seemed to be the French version of a banquet burger–a juicy beef burger with ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato, served on a toasted bagel!  The fries it came with were thin and crispy, as we like them.

After lunch, we climbed a small hill up to see the views of the countryside. Finding a big open green field with hills and little villages in the background always brings out the Maria from Sound of Music in me, so I had to do the requisite twirl.  Rich is getting pretty good at taking the selfie photos now, utilizing the height difference between us to highlight the scenery in the background.

We found one particularly scenic view, which gave Rich the opportunity to play around with the different special effects settings on his camera, including watercolour, painting and illustration modes.  Then it was time to make the trek back home again.  Both Bargemon and Claviers are set on hills with a valley between them, so there is a steep uphill climb both ways, making this for a good round of exercise.

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