Thursday, 3 October 2013

A hike through Southern Europe: Burgundy

Vineyards in Burgundy
One of the beauties of hiking in Europe in fall is the ample availability of free wayside fruit - and this hike is no exception. Early and mid September in Lorraine was Mirabelle time. Mirabelles are small yellow plums and apparently a speciality of Lorraine. Mirabelle trees were everywhere and I was stuffing myself. Equally delicious and also widely available were plums. But soon Mirabelle and plum season was over. The overripe fruit "snapped" and started rotting on the trees. And outside Lorraine there weren't any more Mirabelle trees anyways.

But now I was in Burgundy and this is where the wine comes from - and that means grapes. Vineyards everywhere but I did not even have to "steal" them as there were plenty of wild grapes along the wayside. Surprisingly enough there are even peaches left but I guess they are "wild" peaches as they are rather small and still not quite ripe. Now, early October apple and pear season has just started and will hopefully keep me happy for the next weeks. And last but not least there are still some blackberries. There are also plenty of mushrooms, but I am not good at knowing which ones are edible and which ones aren't....

In Burgundy landscape and villages have changed a lot. Especially in the wine growing areas I came through some beautiful sleepy little villages - quite a change from rather industrial Lorraine. Although the landscape still isn't breathtaking the GR's skirt some rather impressive cliffs. In order to make them even more impressive the trail planners let you go them up and down on incredibly steep trail.

Beside the GR tracks on my GPS I carry paper maps for the the whole route. Unfortunately the GR's get re-routed a lot and several times I could choose between three versions as GPS and paper maps both differed from the trail on the ground. Unfortunately it is not always obvious why the trail has been rerouted. I encountered the first big reroute with a huge group of hikers: I was sitting in a picnic area having lunch in the middle of nowhere when I heard voices in the forest. I have not encountered another hiker for weeks and was quite surprised when 16 hikers showed up and one lady even spoke German. They were a group of retirees from Dijon who go on day hikes every Thursday and I was quite an attraction for them. This being France they dished up several bottles of wine and even stronger liquids but I refused anything but biscuits and a look at their map which just resulted in a third trail version. When I eventually followed my paper map and therefore the shortest version I soon realised the reason for the diversion: Shooting signs everywhere, but when I saw MTB tracks all over the ground I decided to continue. I did not see or hear anything and obviously did not get shot.

Several days later I was not quite that lucky with my own trail version. Despite other trail markers I decided to follow an older trail version on my GPS which was significantly shorter - and I wanted to get quickly in and out of the next town before it got dark. After 1,5 km on the old track the path ended, although GPS and map showed it continuing. But in reality it ended at an electrical fence at a meadow. But I was not to be defeated that quickly:  As I could not see any cattle in the pasture I jumped the fence and continued - until I could see around the next corner: there were plenty of cows in the same huge meadow and as I had seen plenty of bulls in this area I almost started panicking. Luckily my four legged friends had not spotted me but I retreated close to the electrical fence. In the case of a bull attack I could jump over the fence right into the thorn bushes but at least save my life. But the cows left me in peace until I reached safety again. I had no choice but to retreat to the new trail version and lost an entire hour in the process.

I was not happy about this outcome but immediately changed to plan B. With this delay I would not be able to hike out of the next town that evening but I remembered seeing a municipal camp ground there on Google maps. After my positive experiences with camp ground in France this sounded like I good options. I arrived at Toulon-sur-Arroux just as the camp ground receptionist left for the day. I was still let in and for 7,50 € this even turned out to be the best camp ground so far. Hair dryer and toilet paper! And then I found the internet hut, a covered pavilion with chairs, free and fast wifi and electrical outlets for recharging my cell phone. I was in heaven. I washed myself, my hair and my clothes and got everything dry until next morning...

In the morning I made a long shopping trip into town and indulged in more free wifi but my tent was still wet when I packed it. Although the weather is still pretty good and warm there is heavy fog every morning. Usually it takes till noon to clear and warm up but then it is almost hot. I certainly did not expect day time temperatures above 20 Celsius. But I still hike in  shorts and T-short every day. Only the foggy mornings and the occasional rain shower make me put on more clothes.

Loire Canal
In Southern Burgundy the landscape changed again. No more wineyards - this is cattle country. It looks more like Britain than France although there are hedges instead of dry walls between the pastures and every cow is white. I have now crossed the river Loire and am out of Burgundy. I have also completed the first 1,000 km, about a quarter of the trip. I have 270 km left till Le Puy and will soon encounter the first higher altitude. I now go up to over 1,500 m and alas, the forecast is heavy rain on two days, although the general outlook is still quite good.


Anonymous said...

I tasted Mirabel plums for the first time ever this September while walking the GR65 in France--straight off the trees, while walking.
They were SO GOOD! :)


Respect, respect,Christine ! You are one E tough lady. I admire you and can't wait to read each and every new installment of your travel journey. Good luck and best wishes, Christian