Astrid Berges-Frisbey in The Well-Digger's DaughterPeople are always walking in Marcel Pagnol's stories - not surprisingly since so many of them are set in the tough peasant culture of the early 20th century. And so hiking is surely the best way to enter deep into his world.

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This is a survey of self-guided and organised walks through Pagnol country.

"I was born in the town of Aubagne, beneath the goat-crowned Garlaban [mountain], in the days of the last goat-herds," begins the writer's La Gloire de mon père (My Father's Glory).

In this highly poetic and semi-autobiographical book and its sequels, Le Château de ma mère (My Mother's Castle), Le Temps des secrets (The Time of Secrets) and Le Temps des amours (The Time of Love), he vividly describes how he would race through the olive groves and herb-scented scrubland with his childhood friend, Lili des Bellons.

The Pagnol family rented a holiday house, La Bastide Neuve, in the countryside outside Marseille. The author, then nine, had grown up in Marseille, but fell in love with the wild landscapes at first sight. "The garden, surrounded by a rusty fence, was at least a hundred yards wide," he later wrote in My Father's Glory.

"All I could distinguish was a grove of olive and almond trees, whose straying branches interwove in a tangled wilderness. But this miniature virgin forest was just the one I had imagined in my dreams..."

The road to La Bastide Neuve was long and circuitous in the hot summer sun. There was a shortcut, along a canal. But it meant passing through private grounds. One day the family was surprised and humiliated on this walk by an aggressive guard.

Le Chateau de la mereIt was an event which had a decisive effect on the young Pagnol (pictured: a scene from Yves Robert's much-loved 1990 film version of My Mother's Castle.

Read our guide to the Château de la Buzine for more about this story - and its very unexpected and triumphant ending.

In his fictional work, Pagnol's characters undergo life-changing experiences too on their treks through the countryside. In La Fille du Puisatier (The Well-Digger's Daughter), a lovely young woman (played in Daniel Auteuil's 2011 film adaption by Astrid Bergès-Frisby, pictured top left) walks through the fields each day to take her father his lunch - and en route meets the man who steals her heart and her virginity.

There's yet more arduous walking in Jean de Floretteimage! when Jean, a city-bred hunchback played in the 1986 film versionimage! by Gérard Depardieu, inherits a farm in Provence and has painfully to carry water to it from a distant spring.

However hiking today in Pagnol country should be a pleasure, if you are well-prepared. And there are many different ways of discovering it.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Because of the severe fire risk throughout this region in summer, access on foot is restricted by law between 1 June and 30 September. During this period there are three risk levels: orange (access authorised), red (access authorised between 6am and 11am) and black (access banned).

The level varies according to weather conditions and is set daily at 6pm for the following day. It's available on the official helpline, tel (+33) 8 11 20 13 13, in English as well as French and published (in French only) on the Bouches du Rhône regional website.

Even on days when access is authorised, the heat - amplified by the sun and reflected by the white rocks - will make hiking disagreeable in the middle of the day, and July and August are best avoided altogether whatever the weather. The best times of year to go hiking in Southern Provence are the spring and autumn.

Plenty of water and protective headgear are essential, as well as the usual equipment. As the terrain here is very rocky and stony, you're advised to wear hiking shoes or thick-soled walking shoes rather than open sandals.

Any trails involving climbing - up Garlaban, for example - could be dangerous on days of the Mistral (Provence's fierce, gusting wind). You should be sure to check the weather report before setting out.

SELF-GUIDED HIKES

Map of hiking trails in Marcel Pagnol countryThe countryside between Aubagne, Allauch and La Treille is peppered with Pagnol landmarks: both his own personal haunts and the places the writer used as locations for his films and books. Click on the map to enlarge the image.

Just as Pagnol himself roved endlessly and impulsively far and wide through the countryside, there are many variations of the walk which you might do to follow in his footsteps.

You will find plenty of documentation and "topo-guides" - some of them free, some for sale - at the Aubagne Tourist Office or the Allauch Tourist Office.

Large-scale map of the Aubagne and La Ciotat regionAlternatively (and preferably - above all if you are planning an extended excursion) you can forearm yourself with a much more detailed large-scale IGN hiking map of the Aubagne areaimage! or a book of self-guided walks. If you read French, Provence: Tome 1, Bouches-du-Rhôneimage! is a good bet for this area.

If you are setting out from the centre of Aubagne, take the D44 out of town, then turn off along the chemin de Ruissatel, a narrow road lined with suburban villas. It leads to the Puits de Raimu (Raimu's Well), which was used by Pagnol in the original film of The Well-Digger's Daughterimage!(1940).

A little further along the chemin de Ruissatel is an old stone house, the Mas de Massacan, one of the locations for Pagnol's 1952 film of Manon des Sources, which starred his wife, Jacqueline Bouvier: the Mas was the home of Ugolin, the devious peasant who schemed to cheat Jean de Florette out of his land.

The ruins of AubignaneTurn a bend in the path and you will get a very fine view of Garlaban in the distance and see the ruins of the fictional village, Aubignane, pictured, which Pagnol had constructed for another film Regainimage! (Harvest, or Second Harvest, 1937), based on the novel by Jean Giono.

Further on still is a ruined farmhouse, the Ferme d'Angèle (Angèle's Farm), a location for Angèle (1934), followed by the Pagnol family's holiday house, half hidden by olive and fig trees, of which the writer later quipped, "It was called La Bastide Neuve (The New Farmhouse), but it had been new for an awfully long time".

At this point the road forks. If you want a longer and more challenging hike, you should turn right and attack the large loop which climbs round the Jas de Baptiste up to Taoumé peak (667 metres / 2190 feet), at the top of which is the legendary Grotte de Grosibou (Grosibou's Cave), pictured.

A highlight of any walk in Marcel Pagnol's footsteps, Grosibou was the site of two richly comic and self-mocking interludes in his autobiographical My Mother's Castleimage!. In the first episode, Marcel, the young city kid, is taken there by Lili des Bellons, a local peasant lad.

Marcel Pagnol's Grosibou caveThey shelter from a storm and are scared out of their wits by two bright eyes shining in the darkness.

These turn out to belong to a Grand Duc, or Eagle Owl (Grosibou is a humorous version of gros hibou, or big owl). Marcel beats a very quick retreat. He'd rather get wet than have his eyes pecked out.

A little later, young Pagnol grandly resolves to become a hermit and live in Grosibou. But he gets cold feet when he arrives at the cave, with its malevolent owls, and uses the absence of clean water to wash in as an excuse to go honourably back home.

The cave is accessed by a very narrow crack in the rock, helpfully marked by roughly painted signage, and goes right under Taoumé, with an exit on the other side (it's a tunnel, really, rather than a cave), making it a popular escape route for poachers.

The path leads on past another cave, the Grotte de Baume Sourne, and several wells. If you have the time and energy, you can take a rough side-track leading off the main trail up to the top of Garlaban itself (731 metres / 2,400 feet), crowned by a cross, orientation table and, of course, a magnificent view.

Hiking in AubagneThis is the iconic mountain which dominates and inspires Pagnol's work as well as the surrounding countryside.

It was as important to him as the nearby Mont Sainte Victoire was to the art of Paul Cézanne.

Back on the main path, the Grotte de Manon (Manon's Cave) was, as the name suggests, used by Pagnol for his film of Manon des Sources.

After Pagnol's death, the director Claude Berri came back to the region in 1986 looking for locations for his own films of Jean de Florette and Manon des Sourcesimage!, but found it so altered that he chose to shoot farther east instead, around Cuges-les-Pine and Riboux. The village with Manon's well was filmed in Mirabeau, in the Luberon.

After completing this loop, you can either return to Aubagne, or turn left at La Bastide Neuve and end up in the village of Le Treille. On a square by the village church is the Fontaine de Manon (Manon's Fountain), which the young woman stopped up in order to avenge her father's death in Pagnol's film.

A good spot to stop for refreshments in La Treille is Le Cigalon, a bar-restaurant which proved the setting for Pagnol's 1935 film of the same nameimage!. It's still open for drinks and meals, or just a quick pastis, and the views from the terrace are splendid.

Marcel Pagnol's grave in La TreilleA walk down the hill towards Les Camoins leads to the cemetery at 146 route de la Treille where Pagnol's grave, pictured, and those of most of his family members, can be found.

His epitaph reads Fontes amicos uxorem dilexit, a quotation from Virgil which translates as "He loved the springs, his friends, his wife." Nearby lies David Magnan (the real-life inspiration for Lili des Bellons, Marcel's boyhood friend in his books) who died in World War One.

You can do this route in reverse, of course, starting in La Treille and ending in Aubagne. And, as you can see from the map above, it's also possible to join the trail from Allauch, which is higher in altitude, as a result of which the walk involves less climbing than from the other departure points.

How to get there: To get to La Treille from Marseille, take metro line 1 (direction La Fourragère) to La Timone, then bus 12. To get to Aubagne, take bus no. 69 from the place Castellane in Marseille, or alternatively the train.

The current train timetable can be downloaded from the SNCF TER website (in French only). Select timetable no.1 (Marseille-Toulon) from the drop-down menu.

To get to Allauch from Marseille, take metro line 1 to La Rose (the last stop), then bus number 144 to Allauch village (the last stop).

For an alternative tour through Pagnol country, it's also worth looking at the Grande Randonnée GR2013, a new long-distance footpath, part of which loops through this area.

ORGANISED HIKES

The Tourist Office of Aubagne organises two annual hikes on a weekend around the anniversary of Pagnol's death (18 April).

The Garlaban mountain, AubagneThe shorter of the two covers 9 km / 5.5 miles, lasts eight hours and explores locations where Pagnol's books were set and/or his films were shot. The longer hike covers 20 km / 12 miles, lasts nine hours and climbs the mountain of Garlaban, pictured. Some years an even longer hike of 30 km 18.5 miles is available.

Each year in early May, Aubagne also hosts one of the largest hiking festivals in Provence, the Festival de Randonnées en Pays d'Aubagne et de l'Etoile. It offers dozens of different guided walks and rambles of every level of difficulty.

They cover a very wide range of themes, including nocturnal excursions (which feature music concerts), horseback rides, gastronomic tours, treasure hunts and family outings as well as a circuit for disabled ramblers.

 

Pagnol's goat-crowned Garlaban is the inevitably the focal point, but walks also take in Mont Julien and the Etoile mountain range, Sainte Baume, Saint Zacharie and other beauty spots in the region. Note that any guided commentary is likely to be in French only. Numerous other themed walks of various lengths starting in Aubagne are available at regular intervals throughout the year.

Further details of all these hikes from the Aubagne Tourist Office, 8 cours Barthélemy, 13400 Aubagne. Tel: (+33) 4 42 03 49 98. Website for the Festival de Randonnées en Pays d'Aubagne et de l'Etoile. Some (rather pricey) guided walks are also offered through the official Marcel Pagnol website.

A scene from the Pagnol drama-walks in AubagneIn spring and autumn a theatre group, Dans la cour des grands, organises very popular hikes which are combined with promenade performances of Pagnol's writing.

These bring works such as Manon des Sources or La Femme du Boulanger (The Baker's Wife) alive in the very settings which inspired them. Pictured: a moment from the company's recent production of Manon des Sources and, below left, Pagnol himself. Click here to read a full review of one of these extraordinary performances.

Marcel PagnolIn summer the company also organises dramatised urban walks in Marseille itself. Click here for details of these walks, entitled En Attendant Marcel (Waiting for Marcel).

For groups with small children, Les Ânes du Régage, at Peypin, offer accompanied or unaccompanied half-day or full-day donkey rides on the Pagnol trail, taking in some of the best-known landmarks such as la ferme d'Angèle and Garlaban. Weekend packages, which include a day-long donkey ride, may also be arranged through the Aubagne Tourist Office.

Find further viewing and reading on Amazon:

Large-scale IGN hiking map of the Aubagne area

Provence: Tome 1, Bouches-du-Rhône - a book of self-guided walks, with maps, in Southern Provence (in French)

My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle - the first two volumes of Pagnol's famous childhood memoirs

My Father's Glory and My Mother's Castle Box Set DVDimage! - reissue of Yves Robert's much-loved film versions

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - Pagnol's two tales of betrayal and revenge

Manon des Sources - Pagnol's original 1952 film

Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources - Claude Berri's two hugely popular 1986 films starring Gérard Depardieu and Emmanuelle Béart

The Well-Digger's Daughter - Pagnol's 1940 film version of his own novel

The Well-Digger's Daughter - the 2011 remake by the actor-director Daniel Auteuil

Second Harvest - the novel by Jean Giono

Regainimage! - Pagnol's 1937 film adaptation of Second Harvest

Cigalon - Pagnol's 1935 film

 

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