Looking to escape the confines of my small city, I hopped on a train to Provence and met up with my friend Helen from grad school. Not wanting to visit a big city, we decided on Aix-en-Provence, which had plenty of lovely countryside all around. Since museums and restaurants were still closed, we thought we’d go hiking. One thing Helen told me she never got around to while studying abroad there was hiking Montagne Sainte-Victoire. This limestone mountain is famous for have been painted several times by Paul Cézanne who lived in Aix.
Getting to the Mountain from Aix
The easiest way to get close to the mountain is by car, but since we arrived in Aix by train, we looked for buses to get us close to the mountain. When researching itineraries we found regional lines L140 and L110 that had stops in the area. We ended up taking the L140 which cost about 2€ round trip. After hopping on the bus at the gare routière we were dropped off at our stop J2/Barrage de Bimont about 20 minutes later. If you plan on taking this line, give yourself enough time to get to the station and find the bus stop, which was on another street than the other buses at the station. Also be sure to pay attention to your surroundings and look at which stops you pass because the driver does not stop at every stop and there are no announcements for which stop is next!
Le Barrage de Bimont
During her time as a student in Aix, Helen visited a site with unbelievably turquoise blue water at the foot of Montagne Sainte-Victoire. The site in question was the barrage de Bimont, which is a dam that helps to reserve the water supply for the Aix region.
After looking online for easy/intermediate hikes around the mountain, we were delighted to find one that departed from the barrage. If you are traveling by car, there is a parking lot you can drive to in order to visit the site. Since we took the bus, we had to walk about 15 minutes from the bus stop on a walking path just to the left of the main road.
Le Sentier Imoucha
There are a number of hiking trails that depart from the barrage de Bimont, but the most famous is the sentier Imoucha which leads to the top of the mountain and the Croix de Provence. After crossing the dam, you will come across a sign post indicating which trails you can take for hiking Montagne Sainte-Victoire. If you go right, you can visit the Barrage Zola, le Thololet par Doudon, or the Refuge Cézanne. If you go left, you can take the sentier Imoucha.
The hike to the Cross of Provence is about 4 hours, round trip. After arriving at the dam, we had about 5 hours before we needed to take the bus back to Aix before the curfew, so we chose to do the longer hike.
Difficulty of the Hike
The hike to the Croix de Provence is about medium difficulty. There is a good mix of flat and inclined parts, so you will get a good workout. I saw a handful of other people on the trail with regular clothes on, but I would recommend hiking boots or sneakers with traction and pants that are not jeans so you can hike over the rocky parts of the trail comfortably. The trail is marked, or balisé with blue paint, so if you are unsure of where to go, look out for these blue marks on the rocks.
I would also recommend sunscreen and a hat or sunglasses because Provence gets a lot of sun, even in winter. During our hike at the end of February, it was in the mid 60s (Fahrenheit) and there were many parts of the trail without shade. I was glad I wore layers and brought a travel size tube of sunscreen with me. I read that in the summer, hiking on the mountain may be restricted due to high temperatures and risk of fires.
After starting the spring semester teaching half online and half in person, I was happy to finally have a break and to have the opportunity to get back into nature. There is something so calming about the quietness in the mountains. Catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a year, gazing at the scenic views, and getting to move my body helped me feel revitalized.
It’s the Journey not the Destination
“It’s the journey, not the destination,” was the motto of our hike. We thought we had enough time to reach the cross at the top, but we since we didn’t want to miss our bus, we decided to come down the mountain earlier than expected.
It was a bummer we didn’t meet our goal, but in the end it was the experience that I will remember and the breathtaking views we were still able to see from different parts of the trail.
Thank you so much for reading about my experience hiking Montagne Sainte-Victoire and stay tuned for more posts about my adventures in Provence!
À la prochaine,