Several year-round Provencals have recommended that we not miss the Fort de Buoux, located only twenty minutes from our little town. It is a fantastic piece of history – inhabited without lengthy interruption from prehistoric times until the 17th century, when its destruction was ordered by Louis XIV. Isolated on a rocky spur in the Luberon, the Fort has provided safety and sanctuary throughout the centuries, its last inhabitants Huguenots fleeing persecution during the Wars of Religion of the 16th and early 17th centuries. What is so unusual about the site is the abundant remnants of civilizations through the centuries, not just one century piled on top of the other as we often see, but here jumbled and tumbled longitudinally against each other – neolithic cave dwellings next to a 13th century church, whose walls incorporate Gallo-Roman and Celtic-Ligurian ruins.
Robb and I made an ill-fated previous attempt to visit on December 31. We’ve purchased several very detailed hiking books and the ridiculously expensive IGN maps for the area yet, still, our hikes have often veered off course. (Which is not necessarily a bad thing – we’ve ended up in some very interesting places, just not those we had originally set off to see!) Perhaps it’s because the maps look like this:
Or perhaps it’s because hiking routes are marked randomly by various clubs or organizations, each with their own particular slash, dot, square or right angle of yellow, white, red or blue painted on random rocks or trees (sometimes colors and symbols in pairs, trios and quads – and frequently hidden by overgrowth) leading to much confusion. (“I think it’s this way…..”)
If you are lucky, you might find an arrow to point you in a direction, but don’t count on it.
At any rate, for our first outing to the Fort de Buoux we identified a hike rated “moderate.” When we found ourselves climbing an almost vertical falaise, we suspected that, once again, our map-reading and direction-following skills had been found wanting. Any doubt was lifted when we noticed the group in front of us was using ropes to proceed further. (This area is hugely popular with rock climbers from all over the world.) The route up was surprisingly easier than the route down – lots of sitting, sliding and shrub-clutching.
The second attempt to visit Fort de Buoux was much more successful, and so worth it. In mid January, I had Portland visitors and thought I’d try again to get to the Fort. Skipping the huge climb in, we drove to the visitors’ parking lot and walked a very civilized path up to the “Guardienne’s” house, first passing the one of the largest “baumes” in Europe – a neolithic cave created by a monstrous overhanging rock. Next to the baume is a 9th century necropolis, tumbled tombs of various sizes, each tomb’s size suggesting the age of its inhabitant.
A few steps beyond is evidence of first line fortifications – deep trenches and walls, and also evidence of habitation – cisterns and dry rock huts. The moutaintop is large, and you can wander for hours among the centuries. We were there for three hours, and could have stayed for three more. Everywhere was something new to see, each new thing provoking imaginings of what life was like in the cave, in the church or in the castle.It was amazing to walk from the front of the spur to the back, watching the fortifications grow more significant as you approached the donjon, or inner tower, of the castle.
The descent was surprising similar to our first visit to the Fort. It was recommended we take the “hidden staircase.”
What was not mentioned was that each stair is about two feet high, cut from the side of the cliff. More sitting and sliding, but no shrubs to grab!!!