Category Archives: #france

A Holy Splinter

After a night of rumbling thunderstorms and quite the lighting effects show, the sun is (almost) out again today. The entire Occitanie region seems to be resisting the arrival of autumn with all its might. Temperatures have dropped but otherwise it is another brilliant day, contrary to the deluge that had been predicted by the weather services.

Good for me as I am exploring the hiking trails around St-Guilhem-le-Désert. This is an incredibly – dare I say cute? – little mountain village. Apparently, it is called ‘le Désert’ because when they were building the village many many years ago in this hot, quite unforgiving climate, it felt like labouring in the desert.

Nowadays, St-Guilhem-le-Désert is quite famous with the pilgrims who set out on the Camino towards Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Because here, in the church, a little holy treasure can be found. Allegedly, Saint Guilhem was given a splinter of the original wooden cross of Jesus Christ for safekeeping. Now, pilgrims and tourists alike come in troves to look at the little piece of wood.

The village itself has only 200 inhabitants. However, each year approximately half a million people make their way through here. Luckily, today St-Guilhem-le-Désert was quite deserted (unintentional pun). I enjoyed walking through the narrow alleys for a little bit, then set out to hike up the mountainsides encircling the little community.

The view from above was worth the walk as you see. High up on the left you can also spot the remnants of an old fortress in which Saint Guilhem apparently once hid when his village was under attack.

Back in the village, I couldn’t help but notice dried silver thistles (Cardabelle) hanging on almost every door. When I asked why, I learned something fascinating. No matter how long these dried thistles have been dead, about a day before rain comes, the leaves encircling the flower begin to roll up. Thus, people in the village always know without a doubt when rain will come.


Still in the Camargue. I could easily stay another few weeks here. I feel like I’m getting more sensitized to the local flora and fauna. With every hike, I’m spotting more little plants and critters. Today, Ute, Jim, and I went to the protected area ‘Les Sentier des Rainettes’.

I now have a new favorite plant, called “Saladelles” – Sea Lavender.

Apparently, as the grass dries out during summer, sea lavender takes over and begins to bloom everywhere. We saw whole fields of it at the nature park, buzzing with dragonflies. Beeeaaauuutiful!!!

Moonwalking Flamingos

Hiking through the Camargue today was just wonderful. I don’t even know where to start… let’s see…

Flamingos! Flamingos! Flamingos! So many and so close. And… they are hilarious. They mooonwalk through the mud like Michael Jackson to stir up critters and gobble them up. They stick their entire head in the mud, coming up cackling and squabbling with the other flamingos around them. The noises they make sound a lot like a mixture between a fart and a burp… I just couldn’t stop laughing while at the same time observing these beautiful (elegant and gangly) creatures with awe.

There were so many dragonflies as well. I got quite ambitious photographing them. You tell me… what do you think of my favorite dragonfly shot of the day?

Then, I saw a couple birds of prey, black storks, lots of herons, several beavers, and lots of white horses.

The Camargue landscape is a thing of beauty in and of itself. Rarely have I seen such warm and intricate compositions of sunshine and foliage. I am utterly in love all over again (I was here twice before) and will surely be back again in the future!

Tomorrow will be one more day of hiking through the Camargue together with my friends Ute and Jim. Then onwards and westwards, towards Montpellier…


Yesterday, I explored Arles a bit. It was great to visit the Arenes d’Arles, a two-tiered Roman Amphitheatre. I was happy to see all the scaffolding and seating, which gave the strong impression that there is just a little pause… until concerts and plays will be back…

Overall, the town had abundant charm. Lots of little corners that made the photographer in me go wild. Some places just looked so inviting, I was tempted to settle in and never leave.

Other than this, tomorrow I’ll move on towards the Camargue where I’ll stay for 3 days to explore all over the place without my heavy backpack. A couple friends and I will go hunt birds (with a camera). I’m looking forward to seeing flamingos again, and many other beautiful bird species. And, of course, I’ll finally reach the ocean! Ahhh, beautiful deep blue sea. I can’t wait!!!

Approx. 370 km So Far

Here a little map again to show the leg of my journey from Geneva to Grenoble. It took almost 2 weeks. Approx. 150 km. 370 km altogether since I started in Brugg 6 weeks ago. First the Swiss Jura Crest Trail, then the French Jura mountains, on to the Rhone River valley, then through the Massif de la Chartreuse.

Now in Grenoble, with (as always) rebelling feet, sore muscles, and a head full of thoughts. I’ll explain more in my next post.

It’s been super lonely this last week in the mountains. On the one hand, I really enjoyed having the forests all to myself. On the other hand, I missed having some company. Missed having people around me, hearing laughter, and conversations. And I missed hugs. Actually, ever since we got into this whole Covid19 crisis, I’ve missed hugs. I am a teddy bear and I am definitely suffering from hug withdrawal. Tried to hug a few trees along the way. But, it’s just not the same. Just saying. Hope you are all well my dear friends around the world. I am thinking of you and I miss you x

Hot Coffee After a Sleepless Night

Chanaz was an idyllic little place to come through. I stayed a few hours, sat at the river and just soaked in the beautiful scenery.

It was also a stop I sorely needed after another cold and humid night in my little tent. Wild camping can be quite stressful. Ticks are everywhere, so are millions of flies and mosquitoes. I want to thank the inventor of the mosquito net!!! Without it, I wouldn’t be able to get any sleep at all. Then there are all the noises in the forest. Seemingly romantic, but not when you are exhausted from a day of walking and really need to sleep and then there is yet another deer crashing through the underbrush just as you are finally falling asleep. I’d love to just go to designated camp sites. But so far, I’ve never seen any.

300 km so far – from Brugg to Culoz

In Culoz, I saw this map of the French Jura trail. It was only then I realized I have just walked both the entire Swiss and French Jura Crest Trail (only that I started in Brugg, in the German part of Switzerland, not in Mandeure). Around 300 km, all-in-all, give or take. I am a bit proud of myself, I must admit ☺️

I also confirmed something I already knew: I am not a mountain person. As much as I admire the natural beauty all around me, I immediately felt so much happier when I was close to water again. Now, following the Rhone river, smelling the rich scent of river water, seeing the blue ribbon meander through valley after valley, I feel like I can breathe more easily.

To be honest, more than anything, I am looking forward to reaching the Mediterranean Sea. The ocean feels a bit like home.

I miss having a home.

Because, no matter how much I’m trying to stay in the moment and make the most of things, no matter how much I am enjoying this journey, I long to have a place to come home to again. A place to relax and just be. A place with friends, with surprise visits, laughter, BBQs, and kinship. A place with a job I love and am invested in. A place surrounded by ocean if possible… and maybe, if I’m lucky, even, one day again, a family in such a place…

Reaching The Limits

Definite highlight yesterday was when I reached the top of Le Grand Colombier at 1’534 m altitude… and spotted the Rhone river for the first time. Those trails were not made for people with heavy backpacks. As I worked my way up slowly with the help of my hiking sticks, I felt like some extra-terrestrial spider conquering Earth. Totally exhausted, I flopped down in this very spot on the photo after, took off my sweaty t-shirt and settled in for a while. Swallows were hunting all around me, zipping past at insane speeds. With no other sounds to distract me, I realized for the first time that they actually sound like mini jet fighters as they accelerate towards their prey. How they’re even able to spot and grab tiny insects at high speed is a mystery to me…

After a while, I wandered onwards towards Culoz, yet again encountering paths that needed the skill of a mountain goat.

To be honest, yesterday I almost gave up. These last two days were tough. Water was the biggest problem. All small mountain restaurants were closed because of Covid19, and all river and creek beds were dried out. There was simply nowhere to re-fill. Also, the day before, I had walked a good 20 km. Not because I wanted to, but because there was nowhere to set up my tent. Either the trail went through an extreme slope, or it went through a cow pasture. I finally found a spot at 8pm at night, after 9 hours of walking. My water was almost gone and I had to force myself to keep some of it for the next day.

Then, yesterday morning, I set off at 8 am, feeling quite cold after a humid night in the forest.

I had a little less than half a liter of water left. Almost immediately, the ascent to Le Grand Colombier began.

Resting on top, from where I was sitting here in this picture, I could see lots of cars and a few huts, and I thought, “Yay, finally, a place to refill my water.” I was parched, so I drank what I had left. When I arrived at the huts, I could see that they were all closed, too. Nothing to do but hope for the best and keep on walking. My saliva was growing so thick, I began to understand how Mr. Anderson must have felt in The Matrix when the agents were gluing his mouth shut. With every minute, I felt more like exactly the same was happening to me, too.

Luckily, about an hour later, I came upon an open restaurant. I ate a real meal and drank 2 liters of water. Took another two liters with me. By then, I had already been 6 hours on the trail. Only 3 more hours to Culoz. With a freshly filled stomach, I felt optimistic. Plus, there was nowhere else to go if I wanted to refill my water supply again at the end of the day. Everything else was just forests and the dried out Jura mountain range.

So, I pressed on. The trail began to go downhill and was horrible. Have I told you how much I’ve come to hate gravel? Almost every hiking trail is fortified with gravel. Not the small pebbly kind either, but large, sharp pieces of rock. I try to avoid them as much as I can. I always watch my step. But still, these trails are killing my feet. After about the 8th hour of walking I felt like crying. “Who had this great idea of going hiking? Oh yeah, me.”

Thankfully, I could see Culoz from above. A trail sign told me it was only 1 1/2 hours more. At that moment though, 1 1/2 hours felt like an eternity. All my water was gone again and I was completely exhausted. I pep-talked myself all the way down, running a constant string of dialogue with myself (with the intermittent “ouch” and a lot of swearing). Finally, after an insane 10 hours of ascents and descents, and approx. 25 km, I reached Culoz. Where I found a fountain to refill my water supply and found a secluded spot to set up my tent.

This morning I feel a lot better again. Heading out towards Chanaz along the Rhone river.

Undercover in Underpants

Every day, I am amazed with the regenerative powers of sleep. My body feels a hundred years old when I go to bed. Everything hurts. In the morning, a little ache here and there but I’m good to go again.

This adventure happened yesterday. I fell asleep before I was able to share it with you. But here it is. I’m still chuckling just thinking about it:

Mid-afternoon, I needed to take a break. I was on a beautiful plateau and spotted shade underneath some trees. I took off all my gear, put my towel as a blanket on the ground, and then took off my sweaty t-shirt as well. Shoes, socks, and pants followed. I spread everything out so it could dry a bit, relaxed, had some water, and a snack.

All of a sudden, I heard a noise. I looked up to see twenty large cows coming through the trees. They looked utterly surprised and shocked to see me. The feeling was mutual.

I got up slowly and carefully, my mind quickly going through all the options. There weren’t many. All my stuff was spread out on the ground, and I stood there barefoot in my underpants. This was when the cows began stomping their hooves and moved towards me.

Could I quickly gather all my things and make a run for it? Too late. As several cows began charging towards me, I grabbed my phone and my walking sticks and moved slowly backwards. I began singing to the cows since I had heard grizzly bears calm down when they hear singing. Maybe it is the same for cows? It isn’t. If anything, they seemed to double their speed. I doubled mine, too.

As fast as I could, I hopped over some rocks and scrambled up the hill in my underpants. Then, I wiggled underneath some bushes.

The cow herd arrived at my stuff and, stomped their hooves. They circled my backpack and clothes suspiciously. Some of them gazed towards where I was hiding, but soon they were preoccupied with my stuff. I was scared. What if they trampled my backpack? What if they chewed on my shoes?? Should I run out and charge at them, screaming my head off? I followed my instincts and opted for keeping quiet instead, hoping they would soon lose interest.

One by one the cows checked out my belongings. They circled, sniffed, probed. Then, finally, one by one, they got bored and the herd slowly walked off into the distance.

It took about an hour, but then, finally, I was able to carefully approach my stuff at the bottom of the hill. All things considered, I was lucky. The cows hadn’t chewed anything. However, everything was covered in cow slobber. I took a couple minutes doing my best to quickly clean my clothes, shoes, and backpack and get rid of all the gooey slobber… always keeping an eye out in case the herd decided to double back.

Then, I quickly got dressed, worked some more on the slobber on my socks, put on my shoes, shouldered my backpack and snuck away.

This probably was one of my scariest and most hilarious experiences to date. For the rest of the day, I kept laughing every time I thought about it.

Of course, I had been way too busy running around in my underpants to take any pictures. So this one is just in the spirit of cows, showing some peaceful and curious bovines I met further on along the way.

The Foot Whisperer

My favorite spot today. Even though there wasn’t any shade, I couldn’t resist sitting on that chair for a while and letting my thoughts roam.

So many things going through my head… the present moment, cows, my growling stomach, memories, happiness, pain, the rich scent of the french jura meadows, a wasp landing on my face, cows coming closer, missing my work backstage, enjoying the physical exercise, blisters building on my left foot now (grrr), wondering where all this will lead, and telling myself to not wonder too much.

Signage was much better today. So strange after not seeing anything yesterday.

5 hours per day seems to be my limit for the moment. Longer than that and my feet start screaming.

I found out that heavy hiking boots don’t work for me on a long distance hike. With the lighter trekking shoes, it feels so much better. I am becoming a foot whisperer, noticing every little signal those two rebels are sending me. Never ever paid so much attention to my feet before.

French hikers are very polite, too. Bonjour-ing all over the place. One hiker shared his water with me today on the trail when I was out.

Beautiful landscape. Mont Blanc often shining like a diamond on the horizon.

Oh, and I did make it to Plan d’Hotonnes today!