The Route de Cros
Updated: Apr 24, 2021
Of the many beautiful walks in and around St. Hippolyte du Fort, my very favorite is on the Route de Cros. Out my door, across the Planque bridge over the river, turn right, and I'm on my way.
On the first corner, a sweet orange and gray cat lives (or hangs out?) in the water drain. St. Hippo's resident animal lovers feed her; I often see a few handfuls of dry cat food at the opening waiting, for her return.
Next on the right, in good weather, and when in good health, retired neighbors hang out in front of their homes, chatting the afternoon away with each other and passersby. The ring leader is Jacques, one of the warmest people I've ever met. He has a true gift of hospitality–creating community on the sidewalk and making everyone who walks by felt seen and welcome.
This row of houses ends with an opening onto the river and fields below. Three beautiful white horses graze there. I never tire of seeing them. Magical is the word that often comes to mind, and I am, for the millionth time, grateful to live in such a place.
Just ahead is the impressive and ancient Tour St. Jean. It is something of a landmark here and is often used on book covers, postcards, and more. The tower was built in 1687 by King Louis XIV along with the fort that gave our town its newest name. Rampart walls were also built at that time, enclosing the town. All this was to control the majority Huguenot (French Protestant) population.
The top level of the Tour St. Jean was a gun tower; from there, a bridge over the road connected to the rampart walls. At that time, there was no ground-level entrance, reducing danger of attack. Another floor was level with the river below and was unfortunately used to imprison Huguenots. When the river flooded, they were left chained there to die (if not by damp and cold.) Thankfully, it is now a private residence, and flower pots adorn the street-level door. New life.
Originally, one of the portes or doors leading out of town was attached to the tower, now replaced by an arch under the viaduct railway bridge. Dragoon soldiers stationed at this porte questioned everyone passing through the gates. Those from St. Hippolyte were only allowed out during the day until curfew. This went on for almost 100 years until freedom of religion was made official after the French Revolution. As our friend, Pascal once said, "Forts and walls are usually constructed to protect inhabitants, not control and imprison them. This has marked us." He should know as his family has lived here for generations.
When I pass by the tower, I am aware of my freedom to come and go as I wish. No soldiers watch or harass me. No signing out and then back in at the end of day. However, we do currently have a curfew due to Covid. More than once, I've found myself rushing to make it home before 7 pm.
With each season, the backdrop changes. Right now, after a week of rain, everything is bright living green, new growth reflecting warm sunlight. Fruit trees are the first to blossom, displaying clusters of white, cream, or pale pink. Lilac and violet-colored flowers sprout up along the riverbank, adding another splash of lovely color (which I'm trying, and not yet succeeding, in capturing in watercolor!)
A gentle bend in the river and the first waterfall appears. Recent rains assure its flow, somewhere between winter wild and summer's trickle.
At the far right end, water diverts off into a small canal running along the adjacent field, right back past those lovely white horses. These lands used to be vineyards employing 50 men for my home, the Château de Planque. It's fascinating to see how irrigation and water power worked in previous centuries. The canal runs the length of the field, crosses under the street, and flows past the front of the Château to two nearby watermills that also used to be part of the Planque properties.
Further down the road towards Cros, a stretch of flat land along the river is allocated for community gardens. Small plots are assigned, and the owners grow what they wish, using river water. With the advent of spring, the gardeners are back at it, preparing their land with pride and joy.
After the gardens comes an open stretch, full of beautiful trees and…chickens! The rooster loves to fluff himself up as I pass, clucking and crowing, protecting the hens. Soon there will be baby chicks who quickly grow into young hens–the cycle of life.
One of the best parts of walking along the Route de Cros is the river Vidourle below. Recent rains have filled it up again, and there's nothing quite like the delightful sound of bubbling water rushing along its way. Birds sing, a rooster crows, geese honk in counterpoint, rounding out the spring concert.
Something in me relaxes at these sights and sounds. I breathe deep. Hmmm…the scents of new leaves, sprouting buds, river rocks, and fresh earth combine into a natural spa-like experience.
And then…the second waterfall appears. The lovely Mas de Figaret sits on the other side, in the middle of a large property that is now a campground. The owners' geese race around in a pack, white necks craning and reaching for food between noisy honks.
I love these two faded signs, placed about 5 meters (15') apart. For me, they sum up some of the delightful contradictions of French life. One says "Fishing Forbidden," the other "Trout 23 cm," which to me implies you can catch fish up to that length. Maybe I'm missing something, but it makes me smile as I pass by. And for the record, I've never seen anyone fishing in this spot. Especially after the rains, people fish in many other places along the river and seem to catch a fair amount.
A bit further up are several homes. The color of this door with contrasting bursts of purple flowers growing nearby is another sort of visual treat.
The next section of river is particularly appealing. It widens into shallow areas, sparkling sun reflecting, refracting–delightful! A little further on, clear pools narrow and deepen as water splashes over assorted rocks.
I enjoy both the broad, smooth sections and the rocky, splashy bits. It occurred to me the other day that this is somewhat like life. While it's restful to experience gentle currents that move us along without trouble, only that would create a certain monotony. The water here makes little to no sound. And, when the obstacles come, like stones and debris in our way, life can be bumpy. But as I look at the river, these are, for me anyway, the more interesting, the more exciting areas. The water burbles and sprays as it rushes around and over the rocks, which themselves become more beautiful in the process.
We arrive now at waterfall #3. After winter storms, this one roars and thunders. Deep calls to deep, and my soul responds. I marvel and am continually grateful for such daily sights.
Winding on up the road, breathing in more of the highly oxygenated air (all those trees and bushes!) and voilà, one of my favorite old farmhouses. These incredible stone structures are commonly called mas, a retainer from the Occitan dialect original to this area.
Just look at it! The setting, first of all, is magnifique. I love how the mas is nestled into this valley, tucked against the trees, with a soaring mountain backdrop. The cozy, curved stone path leading to the front door and the water catchment pond, full of loudly croaking frogs at certain times of the year, make it unique. Behind it is a large field with a water canal running alongside. An older man arrives by car most weekends to plow, plant about a third of it. Admirable!
On my way back down towards home, I enjoy the same sights from a slightly different perspective. That's always a good thing, experiencing new views. Seeing things from a different angle…well, helps us see things differently, enriching our experience and understanding.
I am so grateful for the gift of this walk, this path. The natural beauty reminds me that the Creator of it all is good and is in charge of everything, beyond what I can understand. My hope levels fill and overflow.
La vie est belle!