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…


  1. Maybe I should officially mention, that we were not doped in this Tour de France, except when you count french wine and food as doping!

    I really enjoyed the whole tour – thanks Michael for organizing it.

    Comment by Thomas — Thursday, 24 May 2007 @ 22:47

  2. Hallo everybody out there…

    so what may I add useful to your already
    comprehensive report? Maybe my personal impressions.

    First of all, yes, it was an extraordinary, relaxing,
    inspiring and ambitious week and next to some luck we
    had (wheather!) it was really a team effort and thanks
    for the companionship!

    Special thanks to Michael for keeping the tour thing
    alive the last years when some of us became busy with
    the next generation, roles changed and will change
    (having noone specific in mind).

    To me, the tour was very balanced in a positive and
    enjoyable sense: the wheather, the place, the sports,
    the team and the language: except for the first every
    aspect had to be earned a little, and finally was
    worth it very, very well.

    The wheather: was simply perfect, if not kind of
    “ironically perfect”: when our plane took of heading
    for home, the rain started (Thomas was hit
    by 2 drops).

    The place: awfully beautiful nature, the flourishing
    fields in violet (not lavender, which is later in the
    year), red (poppy) and yellow (?) like an
    impressionistic painting (or was it the other way
    around?), in Provence merging slowly with the
    foothills of the Alps (thanks leo 😉 ) and finally
    feeling like real Alps (wind, stones, meager (?)
    trees at 1200 m), not to mention the Gorges du Verdon,
    simply breathtaking. Earned by: the first km from
    Avignon on a bikepath (!) next to a highway, having in
    mind the 6000 dead people per year in Germany in
    normal traffic (made me feeling a little uneasy), and
    the last downhill climb to Nizza on the last day on (!)
    an highway. A price not too high, but a price.

    The sports: oh yeay. Challenging. Days 2-4, Luberon:
    good preparation for what should follow. Up and down.
    Partly easy, partly with a feelable “training
    effect” 😉 (no, no, there’s nothing like irony in
    there). Days 5 and 6: heading slowly for “it”, and
    then climbing. From about 400/500m to 1200m on only
    a very few km. But after the previous days it was not
    a question of “yes” or “no”, but a matter of pace,
    motivation, team spirit and energy housekeeping. Days
    7 and 8: downhill, downhill, downhill – wow (the really
    little uphills inbetween we did not feel anymore 😉 ).

    The team: from the nationality point of view: I think
    the american/german-mixture was good for France. There
    were situations where the one or the other nationality
    was an advantage, as you can guess. Luckily we didn’t
    encounter people who had prejudices against both,
    but most often we were welcomed all three. Maybe
    the highlight was at the Marronniers, where our
    amiable host raised the glass upon Europe (whereas
    America does not (yet 😉 ) belong to Europe exactly,
    which was pointed out a few seconds later that evening). From the “social” point of few we had a
    little “climb”, too (3 people *are* already a group),
    but that climb, too, made us more of a team than
    before, at least that’s my impression, and was worth
    it and was achieved by honest and open contributions
    by all of us 3.

    And finally, the language: next to the obvious fact
    that our rather shallow knowledge of french
    (re)deepened a little in these days, we learned a
    few new words with a true new meaning: after day
    6, we were all “verdoned”, but we felt like real
    “Gorges” (to be read and understood on an
    onomatopoetic (thanks leo again) level).

    Alltogether: 5 stars (* * * * *) of 5
    read: recommendable!


    Comment by Andreas — Monday, 4 June 2007 @ 10:14

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