Thursday, April 24, 2014

Time is Ticking in Provence

Part 1 (Tuesday)
Our Bons Vacance is fast coming to an end and it is ironic as we gaze in wonder at so many historic sites that time waits for no honeymooning couple.  Trying to do Provence justice in 2.5 days in a hot hatch might be fun for the driver, but for someone who needs time to absorb the detail, it just doesn’t work.  Tuesday morning we left Carcassonne early and drove through the rain, to hit Arles in time for lunch.  Mike basically dragged Sarah from pillar to post trying to cover as much ground as possible, the plan for the day is what you would probably called optimistic verging on the impossible, but in the end we saw a great deal and we know this is a region we will return to one day to really take it all in.
Most notably, it is a much more mountainous region and the Romanesque influence is obvious, but more on that later.

After Arles, we headed through Fontvielle.  How I would have loved to stop here and just soak in the atmosphere, but we were on a mission.  Les Baux de Provence was our first proper stop and before you even get to the “cite” the landscape is breathtaking, and so are the roads.  We loved the Dordogne, but this region is even better, with it’s endless vineyards and olive grove covered hills with the Central Massif mountain range as a backdrop.

Les Baux has a spectacular position in the Alpilles mountains, set atop a rocky outcrop that is crowned with a ruined castle overlooking the plains to the south. Its name refers to its site: in Provençal, a bauç is a rocky spur.  5 euro to park and the obligatory 9 euro each to enter a site like this and we were there for 3 hours soaking up the abundant history and stunning vistas.

Next was St Remy de Provence but again time was against us as Gordes was the goal and it was worth it.  We also took in Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, you have probably seem the idyllic groves of lavender as a signature image of France.  It is hard to put words to describe the little valley the abbey is situated in, but the colours and fresh air with a tinge of lavender as the bushes begin to bloom in early Spring revitalised the senses.  Gordes was our last stop and all I will say is that when Sotheby’s and Christies are the only two real estate agents in town, you know it must be something special. You just have to see this place, if it is the last place on earth you go to.  We bought two Pink lady apples, the size of grapefruit and munched happily as we called it a day and headed for our unit in Avignon.  Arriving at 7pm, our host Sophie and Frederic (and their two adorable children Calista and Ulrich) welcomed us with open arms, we did a quick shop for groceries cooked dinner and collapsed into bed.  

What a day!

Part 2 (Wednesday)
The day started early with Mike getting up to drive to Malaucene to do a loop of Mont Ventoux.  Again I struck it lucky with sunny skies and warm temps and I was at the Ventoux Bikes just before 9.  Sure enough, Jean Christophe, had my bike ready on a stand perfectly dialled to my dimensions.  A Dogma 65.1 with 11 speed EPS and compact cranks no less.  You beauty! I’d never ridden an electronic group before and I loved it.  Just give me a Citroen DS5 and a Dogma with EPS and that’s all the toys I need!
The ride was simply awesome.  The climb relentless!!! I had set myself a goal of 1:30 and just missed it, but I reckon the last km probably took me 8 mins, the finish gets steep! Upon summiting, I was buzzing and lifted the bike above my head, a few minutes later a Mirage jet fighter came over the summit, the pilot rolling the jet as he passed by at eye level.  What a blast. There were heaps of cyclists and the sun was shining, I finished sweating heavily in just a jersey.  Quite suddenly the clouds closed in and I put on every bit of clothing I had for the descent over the other side.  Closed to cars, I was descending through two metres of snow on either side and it got very cold and visibility was down to 20m.  Before long I rode out from under the cloud back into the sun and enjoy the rest of the descent back into Malaucene at a good speed.

Meanwhile Sarah had been exploring the old city in Avignon and we met back at the unit for a beautiful lunch of soft cheese, cold meats and fresh crusty breads.

The afternoon was free and Sarah suggested a visit to Pont Du Gard.  The Pont du Gard (literally: Gard Bridge) is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge that crosses the Gardon River[4] in Vers-Pont-du-Gard near Remoulins, in the Gard département of southern France. It is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50 km-long (31 mi) structure built by the Romans to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes).

An absolutely stunning aqueduct bridge built in the 1st century AD, this is one of Frances most popular tourist attractions and was added as a world heritage site in 1985.  The museum is also very tastefully designed and full of really interesting artefacts and information.  Even the Mediterranean garden is well worth the visit, even if the signs are a little confusing and we thought we would never get out!
On the way home we picked up more groceries and cooked an authentic Provencal meal with beef, pasta, tomatoes, aubergine and of course a lovely bottle of Luberon red wine.  My goodness we seem to have no trouble polishing off a bottle with dinner on this trip (well not with every meal!)

And that my friends and just about it for today.  

Tomorrow we are on the train back to Paris and Friday we fly home out of wonderland and back to reality.   There will be one more post from Paris, just to sum up this trip and thank a few people without whom this would not have been possible.

Perhaps most importantly this trip has given Sarah and I the time together to re-evaluate who we are as individuals and as a couple and to recalibrate how we relate to each other, how we bear with each other and continue loving each other.  I still love you very much Sarah Deane and this holiday has been so much better than I ever imagined possible.  

Keep Riding


Pics for Part 1


Arles is a town in renovation mode

The Chapel in it's hey day...

...and now

The road to St Remy

The Abbey just outside Gordes....I seem to be sporting  new hat!!!


View from Gordes

The hot hatch, DS5

Patisserie in Gordes
Pics for Part 2 (Excuse the poor colouring the pics, I think I turned on a filter!)

Another rider rugging up for the cold descent


Pont du Gard

Can you see Mont Ventoux in the distance?

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