Tuesday, 22 May 2007

We did it! (continued)

Filed under: Cycling — Michael @ 21:44

This is the second part of the trip report for our tour in southern France. The cast of characters were three, Andreas, Thomas, and myself. The tour went from Avignon to Nice. Part one is described in the previous post.
I had started this whole thing with the suggestion that we tour to the Gorges du Verdon. This is a deep canyon, the deepest in Europe, formed by the flow of the river Verdon. It is in parts some 700-800 meters from the canyon rim to the river below. So with the promise of spectacular scenery and being situated in the Provence region of France, with good food and good wine, it seemed like a good destination.
Actually the idea came from the owner of the local bike shop. One day while discussing touring he said we had to see the this area. In fact he said it was the duty of every bike tourer to ride here where the French basically invented bicycle touring over a hundred years ago.
It took a couple of years but we finally made the trip. The organization, as I mentioned in part one, will be discussed in a later post. Now on with the rest of the journey…

We ended the first part in Aiguines, just to the east of the Lac de Sainte Croix and at an altitude of 823m. We had discussed earlier in the day whether we would take the route on the north or south rim of the canyon. Andreas asked at the tourist office in Moustier and from the limited information we received there it looked like the south rim would be better. The main northern route does not stay as close to the rim but has an extra loop that, though probably striking in terms of scenery, adds another 23km.
We left Aiguines and almost immediately began climbing. It was quite steep with a grade between 8 and 10 percent. We had only gone about three kilometers when we stopped briefly at a spring. The sign said we were already at 1100 meters. We could now look back at the lake.
Gorges du Verdon - the climb
The climb continued for a couple more kilometers and we had our first view of the canyon.
Gorges du Verdon - the canyon
We were at approximately 1200 meters. It was quite a spectacular view. And what a great feeling to be there as a result of my own efforts.

I wanted this to be just a trip report but I have to share an anecdote here. A bit later, we were stopped at a view point when a bus pulled off and a couple of dozen people climbed out. We watched as they snapped pictures, gushed at how beautiful it was and climbed back in the bus. It had been all of four or five minutes. The driver even left the bus running the whole time. After they left, Andreas made a comment about the tour bus being a rather inferior way to see things such as this. I said that that was pretty smug and asked whether we can really be so sure that their impressions of the canyon were somehow inferior to ours because of the way they had experienced it? We looked at each other for a few seconds before bursting out laughing and shouting “yes!”.
Gorges du Verdon - wir drei
Here we are. Left to right, myself, Thomas, and Andreas. And yes we were feeling rather smug.

The weather was perfect. The route was fine with very little traffic and we savored the day, stopping often and just marvelling at the grandeur.
Gorges du Verdon - die strecke
With the canyon behind us we continued for a few more kilometers on a high plain until we arrived in Comps sur Artuby.
Comps is a small village with a single hotel, the Grand Hotel Bain. This hotel has been run by the family Bain since 1737 and it was quite a treat to stay there. We celebrated our journey that evening with a very fine meal (and a couple of bottles of good red wine from the Var region) in the hotel restaurant. Yeah, life can be pretty good.
With the hardest part of the tour now behind us, we set out the next morning in high spirits and had a relatively level ride on a high plain through farm and ranch land. After stopping for lunch we continued east with mountains on our left and plains to the right for some time before noticing that the route markers also had elevations. Without realizing it we had been riding at over 1000 meters and by late afternoon we began to descend.
We decided to stop and look for lodging at a small village named Gréolières. Here, the one hotel in town was closed and I asked at a small artists studio that also had a sign for “chambres”. The old woman there said her place was booked for the night but she called another and he had rooms. So we peddled for half a kilometer or so back the way we had come and had fine rooms for the night. The owner offered dinner as well but we decided to walk back into the village and after watching the paragliders flying from the cliffs that towered above Gréolières we had lamb in one of the two restaurants there. The next day would our last of the tour.
At breakfast we learned from our host that we were about 45km from and 800m. above Nice and that it was literally all downhill from there. We were very happy to hear this and took our time getting underway. And he was right. Except for the occasional short climb out of a shallow valley it was all descent. The high point was the Gorges du Loup. Certainly not as grand as Verdon but impressive nontheless.

Gorges du Loup
We stopped for lunch in Tourettes sur Loup a very well restored medieval city and definately worth a visit.

Underway again, passed near Vence. We turned off our route to take a look at the town. A weekend fair was underway and there was a festive feel to the place. However, our brief detour got us a bit lost and we ended up arriving at the coast at Cagnes sur Mer. The last few kilometers were along the beach and that meant slow going. But we were soon at the Nice Airport, where we had started the journey eight days earlier, and we knew the way to the hotel where we had stayed when we arrived and where we would spend our last night in France.

That was the tour. It was great but, for me, was not easy. But maybe that is what drives me to do these. Well, philosophy can wait for a later post. However, it must be said that I couldn’t have done this alone. It is with the companionship of others that a tour like this comes alive and I want to thank my fellow riders, Andreas and Thomas. We did it!

The next post will detail the route. Stay tuned…

Monday, 7 May 2007

We did it!

Filed under: Cycling — Michael @ 23:31

Over the next few days I will be posting some impressions of our tour in southern France. We experienced a lot in that week. It was a great tour and a great time but there where down sides and I want to discuss them as well. But in the first couple of posts I will try to provide a basic tour report.

Spectacular, demanding, beautiful, exhausting, exhilarating. We began the tour in Avignon and ended in Nice. (We flew to Nice and then took a train to Avignon. From Nice we flew back to Germany. But more later about that part of the tour.)

The tour stats:

where: Avignon to Nice
when: April 23 to April 29, 2007 (7 days)
total distance: 371km (average 53km/day)
Saint Michel l’Observatoire
Comps sur Artuby
From Avignon we rode to Cavaillon. The first twenty-or-so kilometers were along a heavily-trafficked main road. It was loud and dusty, and the poor air made these first few kilometers a less than pleasent start. We were finally able to turn off the main road and for the last four kilometers to Cavaillon the road was peaceful and wound through green fields. Ah, this was more like it. By the time we reached Cavaillon it was midday and time for lunch. The local outdoor market was just closing down for the day so we quickly bought local sausages (pepper and herb), bread and cheese and of course melons. After eating in a small park off the market, we were again underway.

At Cavaillon begins the “Tour du Luberon” (click here for a PDF broshure showing the route). This is an established biking tour, well marked, on good roads through really beautiful countryside. We took the north route and from Cavaillon the route quickly begins to climb. In little time we were riding along quiet mountain roads with views to the green valleys below.
We ended the first day in Lacoste.


The distance covered was 56km and already it was looking like this was going to be a more demanding tour than I had thought. And it had been hot, over 30°C. No problem getting rooms at the hotel there. After showering we met up and took a short walk through the village before having dinner on the restuarant terrace overlooking the valley below. A fine first day.

The next day, Tuesday, we continued on the Luberon route and made it to Saint Michel l’Observatoire. We had riden 70km with a long climb at Reillanne and I was beat. It was another hot day and, as would prove to be a constant, the route was definately not flat. But the landscape is beautiful and the tour route runs through many small villages where we could stop for a cold drink.

In St. Michel we stayed at the very nice Hôtel l’Observatoire. The restaurant there served up some fine food too. After dinner the hotel owners suggested we take a stroll up to the old church set above the village center. They told their dog to show us the way and the dog, a big old Shepherd, gladly led us on our walk.

On Wednesday we followed the Luberon tour as far as Villeneuve and then we headed east finishing the day in Valensole. Another 56km day and gratefully not quite as much climbing as the day before. It was about 5:40 when we got to the “center ville” and of course the tourist office closed at 5:30. Andreas asked at the hairdresser just down the street if there were any hôtels and though there were none, the woman did have a list of “chambres de hôtes” (literally “hosted rooms”, sort of like bed & breakfast places) we could try. One was named Mas les Marronniers and since Thomas and I had once stayed in Belgium in a B&B with the name Au Vieux Marronnier we decided to start with that one. After a delicious bit of raspberry tart from the bakery next door to the hairdresser we were off to find a bed for the night.

We rode for a couple of kilometers down a small road and finally saw the sign for Mas les Marronniers. We got to the house and it first appeared that no one was around but a few minutes later a woman came from somewhere and we asked if she had rooms for us. With little overlap in languages, it took a while to determine that no, she didn’t have any guest rooms available but we could sleep in the main house in the rooms that used to be her children’s. We thought “why not” and when she said we could join in with her other guests for dinner (roast lamb!) we readily agreed.

Dinner was indeed an experience. The home-cooked meal was delicious. The guests were from a number of different places (a couple from Italy and another couple from New Caledonia!) and even with the language difficulties it was great fun.

The next morning we thanked Christiane for her wonderful hospitality and continued on our way toward the Grand Canyon du Verdon. A high point along the way (literally!) was the village of Moustiers Sainte Marie.

Moustiers Sainte Marie
Here we had lunch and strolled a bit through the narrow streets before setting off again. Not long now and we would be at Lac de Sainte Croix. This artificial lake is at the mouth of the gorge formed by the river Verdon and meant, for us, the beginning of the Grand Canyon. It was quite a sight when the lake came into view.

Lac de Sainte Croix

Soon we were crossing the bridge over the Verdon and with one last climb we arrived in Aiguines.


Here we stayed at the appropriately named “Altitude 823” hotel. It had taken us four days to get here and we were really tired but excited that tomorrow we would be riding through the Gorges du Verdon.

(end of part one — to be continued)