Driving The Jabron Valley
“From the Durance to the Luberon, from Mont Ventoux to Sisteron lives between the moon and the stars the Jabron Valley.
Giono is the mountain, the land of shepherds, lavender, olive trees …
A Kingdom of silence, a land of lights, of stars …
A valley where one finds the will to live.”
In my opinion, Jean Giono (30 March 1895 – 8 October 1970) was right on the mark when he wrote those words. The eastern edge of the Jabron valley is located just 4 kilometres south of Sisteron, in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. A friend had suggested that a leisurely drive along this 35 kilometer route would be nothing but rewarding. We decided to make the journey on a sunny June day, hoping to catch the lavender in bloom and beat the summer crowds. We were lucky on both accounts.
This route along the D946 winds through tiny hamlets, past grazing animals and fields of seasonal crops. At the bookends of the valley, are the town of Sisteron, which has been populated for over 4000 years, and the iconic Mont Ventoux. The source of the Jabron River is the Col de Pigière at 968 meters.
The eight villages found along the route, from east to west, are as follows: Bevons, Valbelle, Noyers sur Jabron, St Vincent sur Jabron, Chateauneuf Miravail, Curel, Montfroc and Les Omergues. These hamlets are small, to say the least, with only 1463 inhabitants spread among the villages. The tiny outposts are nestled on both sides of the valley along the gentle flow of the Jabron River. The region is relatively flat, surrounded by the hills of Haute Barronnies and the peak of Montagne de Lure at 1850 meters.
This valley’s economy is focused on agriculture. Travelling foodies can find fresh almonds, truffles, sheep, wheat, goat cheese and honey. Much of the produce is organic or at least grown in a manner that respects the techniques of previous generations. There are two weekly markets in the summer months, in Montefroc (Thursday evenings) and St Vincent (Friday mornings). We drove through the area on a Monday so, unfortunately, did not have the opportunity to indulge in the local produce.
History buffs can visit the ancient churches, chapels and châteaux while exploring the region. These old villages have survived occupation, religious wars, the revolution and the negative impacts of urban expansion. The first recordings of the hamlets date back to the 11th century, although signs of human activity have been discovered prior to that time. In the town of Valbelle, les grottes des Peyrourets (grotto) were used early on, confirmed by archaeological finds dating from 1800 to 700 BC. The first recorded mention of Noyers sur Jabron was in 1168, under the name of Nogueriis. St Vincent sur Jabron in 1031, was located slightly higher up the hillside, not exactly “sur Jabron” that occurred following the Hundred Years war. If history is your passion, this section of France will not disappoint.
Possibly the best feature of this region is that the valley is criss-crossed by uncrowded hiking and biking trails. Other outdoor activities include; horse back riding, fishing and skiing in the winter. This small valley is still unspoiled by the crowds found in the Luberon, the Verdun Gorge and the coastal beaches. This is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Each village is unique, unspoiled and scarcely inhabited. It is as if time has stopped and the Internet has not been invented. In some cases, the hamlets can only be reached by secondary roads. My favourite village was Curel (whose population in 2008 was only 51) for the impossibly tiny cobbled street and traditional, regional architecture. Be prepared, if you are planning to do this drive, as there are refreshingly few retail stores or restaurants along the way.
Our afternoon spent driving la Vallée du Jabron, and stopping for photo opportunities, was thoroughly relaxing. We were fortunate, as the summer crowds had not invaded the area, so our drive was neither hurried nor congested. However, I doubt that even in the peak of the tourist season that this area suffers from big crowds. If you ever are in the region, I encourage you to check out the Jabron Valley.