There are probably really obvious things in Edinburgh you haven’t yet done. I know I’ve never been inside the castle, or to City, and I haven’t been out to North Berwick since I was seventeen. You can always put things off when you live somewhere- you’ll do it next weekend, or next weekend, and now it’s too cold and rainy and you’ve got deadlines and a hangover.
Not so on your Erasmus year. You’re here for a year at most, perhaps only a semester, and there are fistfuls of people in the same situation as you who want to profiter de leurs temps ici. So, you go climb a mountain.
Mont Ste Victoire stands at 1,011 metres high, which is quite a trek when you’re starting from sea-level. A bus fromt he middle of town can take you to the base of the national park and past wonderful lakes before you plunge down woody, scrubby paths and skip across the crests of interlinking hills to finally get to the top.
This is where we find the lovely whacking great metal cross pictured above. Erected in the 1870s, this was seemingly carried up the mountain by people so devoted to the Glory of God they would cart a ten-foot metal structure up a kilometre into the air. It took us just over two hours, and all we had with us was sleeping bags and alcohol.
You probably won’t find a better place to watch a sunset around Aix. We were at the same height as the clouds, with nothing taller than us for miles around to obstruct our view. But once the sun went down, so did the temperature, and the night’s sleep looked chilly. Luckily, the aforementioned devotees also whipped up a church while they were here, and a nice big dining hall, which now serves as camping space for weary mountain-climbers and drunk Erasmus students. Sharing it with French boyscouts and other clusters of locals just out for a casual weekend stroll, the hall was actually pretty toasty.
The bus to the base of Mt Ste Victoire leaves from the Gare Routière and costs a euro. The walk up is hard but rewarding, and in the morning you get to wake up spooning a table with all your friends complaining about the crick in their back. Yes, wandering back down again with half a litre of alcohol still in your blood system is not ideal, and may give you what my flatmate affectionately called a “rum-cold”, but if that’s the price we pay for campfire songs and open-air raves with French strangers, I say ça vaut la peine. You’re only here for a few months, so go climb the mountain, meet the boyscouts, profiter.