•Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04200) • Population: 55 • Altitude: 1100 m
St Geniez is a sleepy little village in the hills 16 km northeast of Sisteron. There's not much to the village itself; the main attraction is the beauty of the surrounding countryside: rolling fields of grain and grazing horses, rising to wooded hills and rocky ridges and distant mountains.
The D3 from Sisteron to St Geniez is a good road, but a bit narrow in spots and pretty twisty, so the 16 km takes about a half-hour to drive. It's a beautiful drive, though, so you'll be poking along anyway. The road passes through a narrow gorge, called the "défilé de Pierre Ecrite", named after the Roman-writing stone located here (more below). The Rally Monte-Carlo 2000 came through here, so there were a few hours of high-speed cars and a lot of noise echoing from the canyon walls.
The local year-round population (we were told figures from 25 to 70) expands to 2-300 in the summer. Village commerce is a single restaurant-café, happily open year-round (except for a week or two in February). Beyond the beautiful countryside, attractions are great hiking trails and horseback riding, along with mountain biking, botanical trails and paragliding. There are a couple of Gîtes for lodging visitors and hikers; the main one being Le Dromon.
Our visit on a sunny Feburary day coincided with the annual week's closure of Le Dromon restaurant-café. The proprietress volonteered, with great cheer, to provide us a meal of spicy saussage, fromage de chevre (from nearby village of Mezien) and a great omelette. Oh, and a good pichet of vin rouge of course. The goat cheese was pretty serious stuff, drier but not as strong as the Banon cheese.
We set off after lunch to investigate the hamlet of Les Naux to the south, after hearing about its history from the internet. The first part of the road took us past L'Estachon to the farm at Sorine, where the road became a narrow and un-level dirt track. The whole family at Sorine assured us the road was passible, if a bit difficult, and we continued on. Our Alfa road car isn't the best for this terraine, but with good weather and a bit of very slow and very careful driving we managed. Les Naux appeared to be completely abandonded, so we continued on further, intentending to stop and visit on our return journey, assuming this road couldn't actually "go anywhere" (a fair part of the "road" is also the GR6 hiking trail). It turned out we were wrong on all counts, so will have to come back again to visit Les Naux.
Just past the horse farm at La Colle we had decided to turn around, when we met a man driving out from the other direction (in a much more suitable 4x4 vehicule - so those things really can be useful). He assured us the "road" actually got better soon and described the route for us. He was the friend of the keeper of the 12th-c prieuré at Vilhosc, and told us to stop by and give his name for a guided visit. As it turned out, we took so long with our slow journey that when we got past Les Meuniers and Entrepierres to Vilhosc, we decided to skip the priory as well and go on to the beautiful old Pont de la Reine Jeanne that we hadn't seen for several years.
This day was a typical discovery-visit for us: we saw wonderful things and met nice people .. and ended up discovering even more things that we'll have to go back for another day.
The Pierre-Ecrite is a large stone face inscribed with 5th-century Roman writing, located along the D3 road between Sisteron and Saint Geniez. This is a pretty famous Roman artifact, and much has been written about it. At the Pierre-Ecrite site, information panels describe the stone very clearly (in French and English).
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History of Saint Geniez
Prehistoric: Ruins of an oppidum are located at the Rock of Dromon, southeast of the current village.
Gallo-Roman: Roman occupation was also at Dromon, to the southeast. The route from Sisteron to Saint Geniez (and to the mysterious Théopolis) passes through the Défile de Pierre-Ecrite and the 5th-century Gallo-Roman stone inscription.
Medieval: A feudal castle was built at Dromon. When it was destroyed (we don't know when), the village was moved to its current location. A monastery was founded at Chardavon (2 km southwest) in the 11th century, and was destroyed by the Wars of Religion in the 14th century. The village was abandoned in the 15th century, following the ravages of Raymond de Turenne. Some growth must have occured after the Revolution, because Chardavon was attached to the commune of Saint Geniez in 1861. In the 19th century (at least) the village was called Saint Geniez de Dromon.
• GPS: 44.245039, 6.052818
IGN (1/25,000) #3339 ET "La Motte-du-Caire"
Didier Richard (1/50,000) #28 "Montagne de Lure, Val de Durance"
This is a wonderful place for hiking, with possibilities for everything from multi-day hikes to after-lunch strolls.
The GR (FFRP guidebook #401) has information about the GTPA (Sisteron-Entrevaux) hiking trail that passes through here. It suggests a 3-day hike including (1) Sisteron - Saint Geniez, 6 hr; (2) Saint Geniez - Thoard, 7hr20; (3) Thoard - Digne, 4hr30.
The GTPA trail from Saint Geniez south to Entrepierres also coincides with the GR trail.
The GR6 Hiking Trail through Saint Geniez is on the section Sisteron - Seyne-les-Alpes and Méolans-Revel.
• "Mèlan" (the commune of Le Castellard-Mèlan) is about 10 km southeast of St Geniez, towards Thoard.
North of the village there's a 90-m hike to Pas de l'Echelle, and a 2h30 hike to Chapelle de Dromon. Both hikes are described (in French and English) on panels in the village center. Petite Randonée (PR) trails are marked with yellow, including the Trianon.
La Route du Temps - The Written Stone Trail is a 90-minute (2.5 km) hike from the site of the Pierre-Ecrite to Saint Geniez, following along the ridge north of the road. The hike is described on panels at the Pierre-Ecrite site, and in the guidebook "La Route du Temps"
Transportation Saint Geniez
Department 04, Alpes-de-Haute Provence Buses
- See Beyond's Alpes-de-Haute Provence (04) Bus Schedules for downloading Alpes-de-Haute Provence bus-lines map and bus-line schedules [pdf for each line] (link for PDF files).