The guidebook said to start early, because traffic would get heavier around 10, so we got a relatively early start, and after a short pedal, we had a fun looping descent and then we saw it, the Gorge. The book called it the "grand canyon of France" and while it might not be as impressive as the Grand Canyon in the US (not that I've seen it except from an airplane), it was still very pretty. We wound around one side of it to a bridge, that is effectively The Bridge, which was pretty impressive, and then we wound up the other side of it climbing up to the high point of the day. It wasn't as much climbing as the first day, but it wasn't flat either. However, in addition to frequent gorgeous views of the canyon, we also were rewarded at the top with Madeleines from some impressed French tourists who were driving up in their RV, and while Clara was waiting for the rest of us, she made friends with an older Italian and with her Spanish, they could kind of understand each other.
|The problem with beautiful, bright sunny days is they make for harsh lighting for photos|
From the highpoint, the road leaves the gorge but the scenery was still rather nice, and there is a big, blue reservoir that is rather lovely and pleasant for swimming (although only I can attest to that). We stopped in a small tourist town, Aiguines, for a lunch break, but mostly ate food we'd brought, supplemented slightly with food from a small, expensive and unimpressive shop. The town had an unusual chateaux, though, which was near the park we stopped in.
We then headed North-ish up past the reservoir and crossed it where the river flows into the canyon. The river is a bit wider there, and there were people boating on the turquoise water into the canyon. It would have been tempting had we not had all of our stuff and bicycles in a not easily-securable manner.
That night, we made it to the town of Moustiers Ste Marie, which was absolutely lovely. It is definitely "discovered" and I think we were many decades younger than all the other visitors, but it was well worth the visit. The town is cute and perched above it is a pilgrimage chapel, and rugged hills reminiscent of Utah, so we went for a short hike before dinner (those of us who didn't feel like napping). The only drawback was that all the restaurants were quite expensive, and we inadvertently picked an expensive but fancy one where the food was delicious but portions were, shall we say, not meant for cycle-tourists. Oh well. At least we found another amazing artisan bakery just next to our hotel. Yum!
|The view from our hotel room balcony. Not too shabby.|
|Looking back towards town from our hike|
|Appetizer at the fancy restaurant. Yum!|
The next morning, my birthday, just happened to be market day! I love markets, and this one was particularly awesome, if a bit small. We got olives and cheese and sausage and fruit and candied dried fruit and cookies and would have got so much more if we hadn't had to schlep it all with us. Alas, the downside of bike touring. But artisan pastries, french cafe au lait, and market. I can think of few better ways to spend one's birthday morning.
|I wanted ALL those cheeses!! But only if someone else would carry them...|
That day's riding was less notable than many (not bad, mind you, just no stunning gorge), and we ended in a larger town (Manosque) and stayed in an "extended stay" type hotel with kitchenettes in our room. We wandered around town a bit, but largely spent our time there riding around the outskirts looking for the (very nice) bike shop to aquire a few items we needed and get some minor service done...(just an aside, cyclists, if you ever want a fun Charades phrase, try chamois cream; we got funny looks and weren't successful at a sporting goods type store in Nice, but managed to both communicate our need AND get said product in Manosque). We also managed to find a nice bakery and got some gorgeous and delicious pastries for birthday dessert.
The next day we were effectively switching between two recommended routes from our guidebook, and had a short day of riding. One benefit of being off the recommended route was riding through a cute village totally off the tourist path. There was a chapel at the top that we had all to ourselves and there was not a post card in sight anywhere in the village. After we rejoined the book route, though, it's not like we were fighting the crowds either, though. We stopped at a ruined monastery called the Prieure de Carluc and pretty much had the place to ourselves there, too.
|Part of the Prieure. It was really a fascinating place. It is strange sometimes wandering around a place that has been ruined for centuries, imagining when those holes in the rock were filled with the roof beams, and the place was filled with monks.|
We rode to the town of Apt and got there in time for lunch AND right as the market was closing. We thus had to limit our market acquisitions, but riding up Mt. Ventoux was only a few days in our future, so we were starting to get careful about loading up our saddle bags, even with food, so we just got some bread and a melon and such. We ate lunch in a restaurant about a block off the main square and it was one of the best meals of the trip. I had a lasagna that was not tomato-y at all, but creamy and meaty and delicious. Since we were going to cut off a few days of the guidebook recommended route through the Luberon, Clara and I took an afternoon ride to visit two more villages, Roussillon and Bonnieux. Rossilon is famous for its Ochre cliffs, but it was a zoo of tourists and tour buses, so we looked at the cliffs and then went on as fast as we could. Bonnieux on the other hand was quite lovely. We shared an organic crepe and went up the hill to a fancy church and, although we would have loved to wander the streets for longer, we had to cut our visit short to meet back up with our husbands for dinner, a dinner of cheese and bread and tomatoes and melon and such that, though simple, was so yummy.
OK, so we took tons of pictures, and all of those km of riding that I'm not describing were generally winding in oak forest or through fields (some lavender) and we could see mountains in many directions, and the sun was shining and we had tasty snacks and...so basically, yes, you should be jealous. Until you book your own trip, that is.
|Our cute "off the beaten track" chapel|
|The ochre of Roussillon|