Sunday, April 18, 2021

Take a Hike...or Two

A new Avignon-based company called Hike Provence is offering private guided hikes across the region along with organized group hikes on set days that anyone can join. The hikes, at varying levels of difficulty, are designed to appeal to both tourists and locals alike.

While the project may have been nudged along by Covid, Hike Provence was really 30 years in the making.

Raised in Singapore and Korea, Charli Aron launched the company after returning to Europe from Vietnam, where she was painting, writing, climbing and hiking. “My family is in the UK and my son caught very bad Covid last Easter when I was in Vietnam,” she says. “He’s now fully recovered but I realized I wanted to be closer to home.”

Charli first met her business partner Marushka Delarbre (who grew up in Greece and Denmark) when they were both students in London 30 years ago. “And ever since then we’ve met regularly to walk and talk,” Charli says. “We’re both very keen trekkers and we’ve hiked all over the world, both together and alone.”

Marushka has lived in Provence for 25 years, running an organic apple farm above the village of Tallard in the Hautes-Alpes.

Charli arrived in August 2020.

“Through fortunate happenstance we’re now both based in amazing Provence, with the wonders of Mont Ventoux and the Alpilles Mountains on the horizon,” Charli says. Discovering the stunning hills, gorges and passes has been such a joy. As a passionate climber and trekker, I thank my lucky stars daily that I live in Provence! Here the skies change hourly; over the course of one day we can be blessed with every color under the rainbow. The fauna I trek through in the mountains has all the aromas that season French cuisine. In short, it’s wonderful. And with so many things closed due to Covid this year, lots of other people have been excited to get out into the hills too.”

Private hikes are built around the needs and size of your group. Choose the date, level of difficulty and number of hours... and they’ll design the perfect hike for you. Rough pricing for private hikes is: 30 per person for three- to four-hour walk or 45 per person for a five to eight hours.

The day starts with a cup of Provencal-herb tea and a chat about expectations. “I recently had clients who wanted to hike the Pont du Gard and explained that they had been left weakened by Covid,” Charli recalls. “So of course I wanted to adapt the hike to their needs.” 

Along the route, Charli or Marushka share the history of the region, offering insider knowledge about important historic sites, geography, climate, plants, insects and more. Both women speak French and English while Marushka can also lead hikes in Spanish. A picnic can be added for an extra charge.

Group hikes (ten people max) happen roughly twice a month, in a mix of French and English. Upcoming hikes include Cabrières d'Avignon on Sunday April 25 (4 km) and the Pont du Gard on Sunday May 2 (11 km). Details about both (plus some recent hikes) are on the site here. To help you choose, hikes are rated leisurely, easy, medium or hard.

A Provencal Pass (50) lets you enjoy five group hikes of your choosing at any time.

For now, hiking is mostly in the Luberon, the Alpilles and the Gard but Charli hopes to expand the offerings—possibly even to Corsica--if things go well. In the meantime Marushka is still farming and also does healing massage; Charli works as a writer and a painter. (Learn more about her work here.)

“At the moment, Hike Provence is a pleasure project,” she says. “But hopefully it will develop into something that we both can give plenty of time to. It’s just wonderful to be with people when they’ve pushed beyond their threshold and surprised themselves. A hiker often confronts physical barriers when climbing long, steep hills. And then when we pause, to rest or to have a picnic, there’s such a sense of elation. I also love the intimacy that quickly occurs when we’re walking side by side, sharing the beauty of nature.”

Whether you want to hike alone or with a small convivial group...whether you want hidden mountain passes or meandering river walks, to experience the gentle old goat paths above Avignon or the vertigo-inducing “steeps” of the Dentelles Montmirail...Charli would love to hear from you. 

“Hiking is a wonderful way to explore the secret paths that knit together the most beautiful villages of the region,” she says. “If you want to discover them up close and personal, smell the rosemary and thyme, muddy your boots...come hike with us! We hope your readers will get in touch and are ready to walk the walk!”

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Photos (1) Charli at the Gorges de Badarel. (2) Charli and Marushka take a break. (3) Hiking from Gordes to the Abbaye de Senanques. (4) Heading down is always more fun than up! (5) In the Dentelles de Montmirail. See the little hiker on the path? (6) The goat looked all friendly and then ate the picnic when backs were turned. (7) Lunch with a view of  the Gorges de Badarel. (8) Happy hikers reach the Rocher des Deux Trous in the Alpilles above St. Remy, overlooking the Greco-Roman ruins of Glanum. (9) Olive trees in the foothills of the Alpilles. (10) Hanging out in the Forêt des Cèdres, during a hike to discover the upper part of Cabrières d'Avignon.  (11) The Gorges du Verdon, often called The Grand Canyon of France. (12) Picnicing at the Pont du Gard, the beautifully preserved 2000-year-old Roman aqueduct built to carry water from Nimes. (13) The ochre cliffs of the Colorado Provençal, in the northern Luberon. (14) At the Gorges de Regalon, a magical trail at the base of a dramatic gorge, both hands and feet are often needed in some of the craggy passes.

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