Ask any Aixois what they love most about the area and they’ll describe a hike and a picnic up Mont Saint-Victoire. The peak is a 30 minute drive from Aix-en-Provence and its presence in the backdrop of the city feels as reassuring as a conversation with an old friend. Cézanne couldn’t get enough of it. He features it in a series of post-Impressionist landscapes.
Mont Saint-Victoire has been designated a Grand Site of France. The area covers 85,000 acres and a few villages. You can’t see all of it. Here’s how to do it right in one go. Park at the Barrage de Bimont. Walk across the top of the dam to the trails. The perch gives you stunning vistas of aquamarine reservoir and the summit. There is no way to continue with a stroller. Folks who don’t use hikers come here just to picnic at the dam. There’s no shame in that.
For those with baby carriers, follow everyone else up the manageable gravel path. Keep left to ascend. The wider path to the right is a meandering stroll through fields of wild herbs and (in season) poppies. It’s a three hour hike to the top. The trail, denoted with red and white paint along the way, starts easy and it gets quite challenging. So you can let your small folk test their legs before putting them in your hiker. There’s plenty to discover along the way: lizards, butterflies, bumble bees, wild flower and more.
Once on the ridge, marked by a cross, you can keep walking, or stop for a picnic. Every French family/school group we encounter has baguettes tied to their rucksacks. The views from the top are worth the burn. You can see the Luberon, Mount Ventoux, the Alps and Cap Canaille, the vertical cliff by Cassis on the coast.
Insider tip: They sell maps with hiking trails at the book shops on Cours Mirabeau, and at the Aix tourist office. The best trail map is IGN Top 25 3244ET.