Photographs and text by Corey Amara.
My cousin Mary came to the south of France with three of her childhood friends to celebrate their high school graduation. Yesterday, I offered to take them around. I rattled off a long list of possibilities that I thought four, teen age girls might like: Shopping in the city, shopping at quaint, old villages, taking a boat ride on the Mediterranean, going to the calanque, seeing the oldest port in Europe, shopping for perfume, taking a boat to the Chateau d' If, bowling, water-slides, laser tag, Nice, shopping, visiting museums, shopping, sipping coffee at a few pastry shops, shopping, going to the beach, St. Tropez, or hiking up to the top of St Baume to see the grotto of Mary Magdalene.
Those four teen age girls took me by surprise when they said they wanted to hike St. Baume. I was dumbfounded, "You don't want to go shopping? Really?"
Sacha looked at me puzzled, then asked, "Mom, out of all their choices they chose to hike St Baume?" Then he shrugged mumbling, "Girls are hard to figure."
On the bottom half, on the right side of this photo, you can barely see the site of the grotto and monastery's facade.
Under a blistering, hot sun nature's canopy offered a cool refuge. Along the way birds gave us constant cheer. *"The variety of flora is rare in France and unique to Sainte-Baume. The woodlands weave an air of enchantment. The sacredness of the forest has protected it for over two thousand years. Regents have consistently forbidden tree felling."
A striking passage splits a stone in two, opening its hard core to be transformed. The girls ventured into the heart of the stone, I smiled imagining how the stone must have felt a gentle breeze enter its veins.
The trail is about two miles up. It is not difficult, the girls hiked up in flip-flops. On a side note the last time my friend Annie hiked up she was 86 years old.
The last part of the trail is a staircase carved in stone. There are a couple hundred steps. Since this part of the trail is suppose to be hiked in silence, and since we were hiking to Saint Mary Magdalene's grotto, I thought it fitting to offer each step as a prayer. I told the girls if they wanted they could say the name of someone they loved, or someone they knew, who needed their their prayer as they walked each step.
I found my steps being named: Daisy, Ladelle, Joana, Uncle Frank, Tamara, Colette, NieNie, Shelley, Dee.... three hundred steps, each had a name.
The top of Sainte Baume it is more beautiful than any chic shop in France.
At least they thought so, and I agreed.
* For more about the trail to Sainte Baume and the Grotto of Mary Magdalene. Dahna Barnett's Mystic Passages.