Skip to main content

Hike to Saint Pancrace Chapel from Digne-les-Bains

Hiking along a section of the Refuge d’Art trail

featured in Activity reviews Author Stephen McGurk, Provence Reporter Updated

It was a very hot day when we decided to set out for a hike from Digne les Bains, and after a three course lunch with a cheese course to finish, we weren't feeling like moving around too much.

Thankfully leaving the start of the hike until after lunch meant that the heat of midday was starting to subside, and since we were on a tight deadline to catch our last train out of the mountains later that day, we continued along Avenue des Thermes to where we were told the path started.

The first part of the hike was the toughest; having to scramble over rocks on a steep incline with a full stomach after lunch. The receptionist where we'd eaten had mentioned that there is another slightly longer, easier route along a gravel path, but I had decided not to take that option.

Along the way there are art installations designed by Andy Goldsworthy and to see all of them takes what is said to be a fantastic 10-day walking tour called “Refuge d’Art”. There are refuges to stay in along the way and the hike spans across the entire mountain range.

The marker posts going up towards St. Pancrace Chapel have information about the history of the Réserve Géologique of Haute Provence, the rock formations, native animals and the flora; so whatever your interests, the mountain provides. The path was also an old pilgrimage route for people from the surrounding regions and there are some religious artefacts and constructions along the way.

The majority of the hike is pretty leisurely with a nice mix of inclines and the odd decline, there are plenty of open areas where you'll be exposed to the sun, but also a fair amount of shady spots to shelter in when needed.

Just over one hour should take you to the chapel from the Thermes hotel (where we had started) and there is another peak to be reached just two minutes further up which delivers a view over Digne that really highlights the terrain around the town. Stopping to comprehend the vast views and diverse landscape along the way is guaranteed to get the mind racing and there is always a good reason to stop every few hundred metres, whether it’s to enjoy the scenery or sample some of the aromas of the flora or to enjoy the contemporary art installations or ancient constructions.

We walked under canopies of forest-green branches and through sprigs of lavender and thyme with our own conversation running along with us all the while. On approaching the beautiful little chapel you can head around the back to ring the bell, sign your name, leave a message and light a candle.

It’s always satisfying getting to the top of any hike and there is an area near the chapel where you can sit down and enjoy a well-deserved picnic underneath some foliage.

The walk down felt considerably shorter and is a chance to enjoy the mountain range from a different perspective.

It’s not a tough hike by any means but you should definitely have some water and a snack at hand to keep your energy levels high. It can be blustery at the top so an extra sweatshirt might come in handy for cooler days and comfortable walking shoes are a good idea.

There is a free car par at the Hotel Les Thermes where you can begin the hike and the chapel hosts some services and celebrations throughout the summer.


Map of the surrounding area