The Blanc Martell Trail is the modern name of the ancient path that follows the narrow valley floor in the Gorges of Verdon. From descending to the river bank on the western edge of the gorge. It is then possible to walk the entire length of the Gorges of Verdon upstream to where the gorges first begin at a place known as Pointe Sublime.
At Pointe Sublime; there is a bus service that will return you to the start point of your day in the town of La Palud sur Verdon. Yet, the timetable is shameful; because it does not allow an average walker to take time and enjoy the natural beauty of the Gorges of Verdon. Therefore, I found a route to walk back to La Palud sur Verdon.
The history of the Blanc Martell Trail
I am sure that man has walked through the gorges of Verdun ever since humans first came to this area. A place of refuge from wars, famines and pestilence down through the ages. As well as a place to fish, gather food and shelter in the numerous caves and overhangs.
Yet history has a habit of focusing on the recent past and aggrandizing the nobility and their employed writers. So reading the limited information on the area; we are told the trail is named after two local gentleman: a local teacher Isidore Blanc and geologist Edouard-Alfred Martel. Who walked the entire length of the gorge in 1905.
So in 1928, the Touring Club of France established a marked path through the gorge for the benefits of tourism. With handrails and chains in precipitous stretches. As well as steep metal staircases to pass steeper sections. These stairs were then completely replaced in 2005; which makes the trail accessible to almost anyone that can walk 16km over sometimes steep and stony terrain.
Getting to the start
You can drive to the start of the walk by the Chalet de la Maline refuge. Yet I advise against this unless you are in a larger group with two cars. This is because you will then have to retrieve your car after finishing your walk at the far end of the gorge. As well as the high number of reports of thieves breaking into cars on this remote road.
It is better to book a place on the daily bus service from La Palud sur Verdon. To book a seat on the bus; follow the link here: https://navette.parcduverdon.fr/en/ . This bus leaves from a car park just south of the town; or just outside of the Hotel Le Provence.
Top tip: for a more exciting bus journey. Try to sit on the right-hand or nearside of the bus in order to enjoy the vertiginous views down into the gorge as you travel to the start point.
The Styx and a landslide
By sheer luck; the night before this walk, I met a genial French girl in the campsite in which I was staying. Whilst discussing our planned activities we realised we had both booked a seat on the same shuttle bus at 8:15am. After enjoying the views of the gorge on the bus; we arrived at the start point at the Chalet de la Maline.
Realising the mad rush of sixty walkers leaving the bus would continue on to the trail. We hung back and let the madding crowd get as far ahead as they wished. The crowd soon disappeared down the trail. So we then began our walk with all the self respect of a good French woman and a English gentleman.
The path left the roadside and gently wound down towards the floor of the gorge. Nearing the river; I saw a sign indicating that another path to the right had been blocked by a landslide and a risk of further rockfall. If this path is safely reopened then it is possible to walk down the gorge to a point where the Verdon river flows underground. This led to the locals relating the river to the mythological River Styx as a gateway to the underworld.
I wondered how life was before modern discoveries in science; geology and meteorology. Did people live in fear and naivety? Or maybe they were more romantic and excited in their beliefs of how the landscape and weather played such a effect on their lives?
Down by the river
We soon reached the riverbank in the floor of the gorge and stopped on a wide sandy beach. In midsummer the river flowed gently by; so we took off our boots and waded in to cool off. However I must state the water is possibly unsafe to swim in or drink because of pollution. As well as the risk of sudden flooding from dams further up stream.
Along the gorge; there are various points where the path runs close to the river. Most of which are at the start and end of the walk. At one point there is a signpost to the ‘Mescla’; a rocky outcrop above where the L’Artuby tributary joins the Verdon river. However, be careful of trying to climb down cliff faces to reach the river; because of the difficulty and delay in any rescue effort.
In addition; there are many viewpoints and shaded spots to enjoy a picnic or just a short rest from the walk.
A stairway to heaven?
After enjoying a picnic at the ‘Mescla’ viewpoint; we returned to the main trail and turned right. From here the trail began to climb gently at first via long zig-zags; then up a short but steeper sets of stony steps. This is to climb over a ridge on a peninsula of harder rock that forces the Verdon river south before it can return to a westward direction.
Reaching the top of this ridge; I assumed the path would wind back down towards the river in a similar manner. Yet after passing a large boulder called the: Breche Imbert; a deep and narrow gorge opened up below me. Leading down into this gorge was a steep but sound iron staircase. I stopped in amazement as I took in the view. The staircase gave perspective to the gorge beyond; as my eyesight and thoughts got lost somewhere in the void between.
Using both handrails we carefully descended back into the gorges of Verdon. There are a series of landings where you can let faster walkers pass you and give way to those ascending. Take your time here and do not be pressured; look to each step and keep both hands free to use the rails. Maybe walk in front of children and the elderly to assist them in their footing. Take care and time and enjoy the views.
After descending the long stairs from the Breche Imbert; we took in the various vistas as we wound our way along the gorge. At points, there were large overhangs, which people must have used as primitive shelters many years ago. Up in the sky; we could see and hear vultures and eagles soaring above us. Whilst the Verdon river flowed gently by on this balmy June day in Provence.
It was fairly quiet on the trail; as we maintained a relaxing pace that no others could keep too. Yet here, we met a large school group; who were noisy but respectful to us. Reaching a viewpoint over the river; I could see ‘canyoneering’ groups in the water below. This is a relatively new sport of dressing in a drysuit, lifejacket and helmet; then letting the current carry you downstream over any rapids.
We posed for a few selfies and let the sun warm us for a while. For I knew ahead of us was three tunnels; with the longest being 670 metres in length! I had packed a headtorch which soon became a necessity to navigate the puddles and potholes in the dark. At a steady pace; we thankfully soon emerged form the gloom. Here we were joined by numerous groups of canyoners as they returned to waiting minbuses. Judging by their smiles and high spirits; it looked like an enthralling experience.
Pointe Sublime is the name given to the upstream start of the Gorges of Verdon. Where a fairly wide river valley rises up to the vertical walls of the gorge. It also the nearest road access to the gorge; so was busy with canyoners and other hikers. As we stopped to decide our onward route home; I heard the humming of a low helicopter.
All of sudden a Gendarme Search and Rescue helicopter shot out from between the walls of the narrow gorge. Circling a few times; the pilot started descending to a turning point on the road. Whilst blaring a unique horn; the doorman gave very clear instructions to move well away from the helicopter and its spinning blades. The gendarmes repeated this a couple of times, presumably as part of a training exercise; then roared off into the gorge once more.
Missing the bus and a medicinal Stella Artois
After the spectacle of the helicopter landings; my mind soon returned to the reality of returning to the campsite to rest. The distance from Pointe Sublime to the town of La Palud sur Verdon is approximately 8km. Along a winding country road on which the local racing drivers seem to practice. I had seen a footpath on the map; yet this only started approximately 3km along the road. As well as feeling slightly dizzy from dehydration and tired from walking all day in the hot sun.
My French friend had booked a place on the bus back; but this had left over three ago. It seems that in order to catch the return bus; you must complete the walk in less than four hours. Which is only possible if you are fairly young and fit. Not to mention rushing past all the viewpoints in this naturally wonderous place. I had not booked a place on this bus because I wanted to walk all the way home; yet I was saddened by this seemingly unfriendly bus service. Were we really slow walkers? Or is the timetable suited to the bus driver and his union?
The long way home
My French friend considered phoning for a taxi or trying to hitchhike; so we walked up the cul-de-sac from the Pointe Sublime to reach the road back to La Palud sur Verdon. It was here I saw an Auberge or tavern called: Auberge du Point Sublime . Where I suggested we could stop for a quick drink and snack; whilst we weighed up our options: https://maps.app.goo.gl/QHjuGMu4aXjMzT3d9
Whilst my French friend tried in vain to telephone a taxi in this remote part of Provence of an evening. I sat back and enjoyed an ice-cold glass of Stella Artois. I had not drank this lager for many years because of its strong, fizzy and chemical attributes. Yet maybe the cooling effect on my body or the little drop of alcohol had an immediate and amazing effect. I went from feeling feint and groggy to feeling like I had just woke up!
Realising no taxis were coming and hitchhiking could be just as fruitless; I convinced my French friend to start walking with me along the road. We took care by walking on the side that faced oncoming traffic. Listening, using the verge and crossing at blind bends. By the time we reached the safety of the footpath; the sun was beginning to set. We still had a distance to go on tired legs but we were in good spirits.
A day well spent
The footpath wound through farmland, fields and forests. We passed barking dogs, elegant horses, naying donkeys, pigs rolling in their muddy pens and I even spotted a boar rush across the path in front of us. The sun had set now behind the rolling hills of Provence and a long twilight began as the moon and stars rolled into view above us.
We walked together and paused when ever one of us needed to rest. I had met a really intelligent French woman who could hold a conversation. I was amazed for I was struggling to think of the last time I had held such a long conversation with an Englishwoman! The remaining kilometres of the sometimes rough path soon passed by as if I was walking into a dreamy landscape.
Returning to the campsite; we finally set down our heavy rucksacks and undone our walking boots. I wanted to sleep but I knew it was best to relax for a while under a night sky filled with stars. Taking a sleeping matt and a warm but strong beer I relaxed and looked up. I had enjoyed a perfect day in a beautiful place. Seeing a shooting star cross the wide open sky; I thought that this world and universe will always be an amazing place if I relax and enjoy it.
If you want to read about more of my adventures in France; then click here: Routes in France. Especially the nearby: Route de Les Cretes To receive notification of my occasional blog posts; subscribe for free by entering your email address below: