After the Roman festival in Nimes, and before arriving in Provence, we decided to take a short detour to visit the Pont du Gard. This is a Roman aqueduct built almost 2000 years ago and still looks in pretty good condition. We drove up from Nimes and stopped in a small town called Remoulins where we planned to park up the car and go for a cycle taking in the aqueduct en route. Before we started Sarah was in need of a caffine fix so we decided to wander into Remoulins for a quick coffee. It was a short walk up to the town centre and across a pedestrian crossing towards the town square. Suddenly Steve heard Sarah scream “STOP”!! Over the next 1.6 seconds several things went through Steve’s head…. “why is Sarah screaming?”, “Why am I walking through thick mud?”, “Why are those men looking at me very angrily?” Then things started to make sense. We had walked straight into a group of workmen laying new concrete across the town square. Sarah was ahead and had taken just a couple of steps but Steve had continued striding on and overtook Sarah…..a step too many!! The work men were shouting something incomprehensible to which Steve replied something in school boy French about there being no barriers. We quickly walked out of the concrete, totally embarrased, and back out of town …. No caffine fix for Sarah!! So if you ever visit Pont du Gard and stop off in Remoulin, you may see our footprints in the town square !!!
We did manage to get our cycle in, part of which was across the aqueduct. It was a great experience in a beautiful area. Apparently the Tour de France will cross Pont du Gard later in the year, probably a bit faster than we did though as the concrete shoes were slowing us down a bit!
So it was off to Provence. We’re not going to bore everyone too much with the detail of the daily cycling we have done here but to say it is a beautiful place is an understatement. It is easy to see why it is so popular, especially during the summer when you can imagine the roads being full of tourist traffic and the villages being crammed with people, but at this time of year it’s a paradise for cyclists. We encountered minimal traffic, the weather was perfect and the town’s were pretty much deserted (except on market days).
We based ourselves in The Luberon, which is a mountain range in central Provence. Initially we had a few days to the South of the area and moved to another campsite to the North to allow us various types of cycling routes. For anyone who has not been to the area before, we would describe it as a mix of rolling hills covered with vineyards, poppy fields, apple and cherry orchards. Later in the summer the area is also renowned for its pretty puple fields of lavender which was just starting to show through. It’s so picturesque that Sarah could not stop taking photos! The area is also famous for it’s hill top villages scattered around the countryside, most of which have Roman origins but were developed significantly in the Middle Ages and are full of characteristic narrow streets.
We spent a lot of time cycling between the different villages including Loumarin, Bonnieux, Rousillon, Lacoste, to name a few. Sarah once again used her colourful language as Steve favourite saying became “Just one more hill and then we’ll head home” One day we cycled 69 miles and climbed over 7600 feet…. Sarah is no way as fit as Steve and had good reason to use the colourful language when she got off the bike after being in the saddle for 6 hours!!!
Without doubt our favourite village was Gordes. It is really stunning both close up and from a distance with a castle, several shops and there is a cafe that sells great ice cream right in the centre, with all the normal flavours plus a few extra….. lavender ice cream, tastes like it smells!!
During our time in Provence one thing has loomed large and that is the beast of Mont Ventoux! Wherever you go its there, looking down on you, The Giant of Provence, The mystic mountain, The bald mountain, it has many names. Made famous by epic encounters in the Tour de France including the death of a rider near the summit, one thing is for sure Mont Ventoux, is big and steep, very big and very steep. It tops out at almost 2000 metres and has gradients of 10% and more. So when our campsite was so close to the base it was inevitable Steve would cycle up. In the past he has done many of the major climbs in The Pyrenees and The Alps but Mont Ventoux is his favourite, he has been up 3 times in the past. He loves the cycle up but it’s also an incredible decent as it doesn’t have as many hairpin bends as some mountains so it is consequently a bit faster. Steve hit his fastest speed ever on a decent a few years ago when he passed 100 kph. These days he’s a little less reckless and feathers his brakes around 90 kph! After 1 hour 39 minutes from starting the climb he made the summit (not his fastest time, but not far off) he is getting on a bit these days! Then 25 minutes after leaving the summit, he was back down. Job done!
While Steve was messing about on the mountain Sarah was out on a cycle of her own along the Gorge de Nesque, yet another incredible route. She bumped into a large group of cyclists from a French cycling club and promptly joined in the middle of their ride. They were very friendly and although none of them spoke a word of English (and Sarah’s French extends to “Où est la bibliothèque”) she cycled with them for over an hour and had a great time. When their paths parted, they all stopped and took photos of the crazy English cyclist out looking for the library!!
Our campsites in Provence have been exceptional and as a special treat to get us away from sleeping under canvas on one of the sites we rented a “pod” for a couple of nights. This was great fun and although it still had no toilet or shower it did have cooking facilities, lights and a real bed! It looked like a cross between a Swedish sauna and a hobbit house and we loved it.
We have had an absolute ball in this part of Provence, and for sure we will return again sometime, possibly in July one year to see the lavander and sunflowers in full bloom, but for now it’s time to move on. Next stop Italia!
“Sarah, if you ever got to the library, what would you do? Surely all the books will be in French”!!