Cycling Trip through Provence


Oct 24th, 2013, 09:16 AM
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Cycling Trip through Provence

Cycling through Provence - A harrowing and rewarding experience.

We began the trip in Paris and stayed the Renaissance Vendome. It is a boutique Hotel in a quiet part of the 1st. Outstanding rooms and outstanding service. I have stayed here before and know the area.

We met our friends in Paris. They had not been before so we walked the city, the gardens and enjoyed exploring some neighborhoods.

Notable Restaurants we visited – Le Petit Pontoise. I enjoyed this restaurant at the GTG last year. It is near Il St Louis. It is small and reservations are a must. The Lamb is out of this world.

Chez Francis – A touristy stop but good. We had a table with a perfect view of the Twinkling Eiffel Tower. We had the Dover Sole which was very good.

Ok, now for The bike trip - - it was through Trek Travel. It is a bicycle co that offers bike tours all over the world. Our friends asked them to help celebrate their Anniversary and they selected the destination and bike tour group. We were happy to go!

I trained all summer for this ride but a few of the steep inclines (mountains) on some of the rides about killed me.

Day 1

We piled our luggage in the taxis and headed to Gare de Lyon. From there we enjoyed the Observation car on SCNF for a 2 hour and 44 min journey to Avignon. Trek Travel picked met us there and shuttled us to Mazan – about 40 min away. There were only 9 people on this trip, so we were happy about that. I was hoping for an intimate size group.

Hotel - Château de Mazan. -- - only a short distance from the base of Mont Ventoux - stands Châteaude Mazan. Originally built in 1720 during the Regency Period, the Château soon became the property of the notorious Marquis de Sade. It is a beautiful restored hotel and is quirky and fun. The rooms were large and offered amazing views. Service was impeccable.

I will share what we had for dinner shortly.

As soon as we were settled we met our two “guides” so we could get fitted to a Trek Domane™ 5.9 carbon road bike – light as a feather! I brought my own pedals and clips and saddle. They provided a helmet. Once on the bike I was in heaven! This bike is the Ferrari of bikes. You feel you can conquer all mountains! Well, we needed a bike like this because we did climb several mountains. We did a 16 mi loop that consisted of three very steep hills the first day – a warm up for what was to come.

In the evening we had a “Social Hour” to meet the other cyclists on the trip. We sampled a local Rose’ wine from the region and enjoyed regional cheeses and Chacuterrie.

I have to detail the dinner as it was incredible – Provencal dining at its best!

Amuse Bouche – Roasted Quail with apples and Port Cream
Mediterranean Prawns Cassolette with velvet Crab foam.
Braised Beef Cheeks in Red Wine and vetetables
Short Bread with Nectarine Chutney

**All of this with endless wine from the region.

If you are in this area of Provence I would highly recommend staying here for an evening and having dinner here. They are equipped with areas to store bikes even if you are not part of a biking group.

Day 2

Trek Travel provided breakfast for us every day. Chateau Mazan provided the typical fare and it was delicious – Lots of fresh fruit, breads, egg dishes.
Every morning our guides filled our water bottles and checked out the bikes. The SAG wagon stopped about once an hour or so and had fruit, energy bars and water for us. At the end of a ride they had wine sometimes!

Mazan to Bedoin – This was about 30 mi ride today.

We peddled to the Open air market which was very large. We parked our bikes at a local bike shop and headed to the market. The Spices , Lavender, table clothes, cheeses, Olives and Olive Oil and local soaps were just the beginning! There must have been over 100 vendors! We sampled the best cheeses and Olives and chocolates!
We decided to sit down and eat something light for lunch. We found a little café that had only salads. I am not sure what I told our server but she brought 4 beers to our table. We did not have the heart to send back.

After we made our purchases and enjoyed the market we headed back to the bike shop where our guides and the SAG wagon were. She collected our purchases and we jumped back on the bikes and remained in the picturesque valley and wine country of the up-and-coming Gigondas and Vacqueryas regions. Two in our group decided to do the very challenging ride up Mount Ventoux – It is renowned throughout the cycling world as one of the most challenging ascents in the Tour de France.

One of the men in our group was 76 years old! He climbed it! He did every Avid option that was offered. He was a machine! He lives in a state with no mountains so I am not sure how he trained.
He was quiet and charming and we all adored him!

We shared the road with cars – there were no bike trails. This made me nervous on more than one occasion. The people in this area are used to cyclists and are patient but they follow you only inches behind you at times!

We cycled through vineyards, sampled grapes right off the vine! Farmers were more than happy to give us a taste! The valley was scenic dotted with gorgeous chateaus and small villages that are postcard perfect.

Back to Chateau Mazan. Again, we were treated to an amazing dinner. The hotel has a patio where me sampled more regional wines and met other cyclists and shared stories.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 09:19 AM
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Day 3
The Gorge de la Nesque – This was my favorite ride! It was an uphill/mountain climb the whole way.
Some claim it is the most beautiful ride in the Lubéron. We biked for approx. 40 mi today.
An enormous limestone massif, the gorge has been carved over millenia by the meandering Nesque River.
Remains of Neanderthal inhabitants have been discovered in this river valley and its beauty immortalized in Frederic Mistral’s poetry. With cliffs measuring 600 feet, the climb is rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views. It was about 36 mile climb – about 4300 feet. Around curve was jaw dropping views and heights. There were few cars on this road.

There were 3 or 4 tunnels carved out of the mountain. They were short so it was not dangerous.

We biked into Sault – a cute town perched on a hill with amzing views of the valley below. Trek Travel provided us a picnic lunch that included several salads, Chacutterie, cheeses, olives, sandwiches, tortes and more! This is where I fell in love with Mustard with Truffles!

We explored this small town and mostly enjoyed the panoramic view of the valley. Afterwards, I biked the area around Sault for about an hour. There are wild boars in this area but I did not see any! Others took a more Avid option of riding up the north side of Mount Ventoux. My husband chose this option. He said the inclines were at 8% for as long as the eye could see. It became an arduous task and no fun after a while he said.

Hotel - - | Hostellerie Val de Sault

It is a three star hotel with Asian accents. It is nestled in among trees in Lavender country. I liked the Buddhas the owner had everywhere! The rooms are very small. The bathroom is tiny. The room had a balcony that overlooked lavender fields and mountains in the background. The bed was not very comfortable. I would not return here. It is about 20 min bike ride out of town.
The restaurant was award winning and we enjoyed a fabulous dinner of salmon. It had a very cozy bar area with interesting antiques to enjoy a drink before dinner.

Breakfast the next day was noteworthy. The Chef served several bread puddings that were out of this world.

Day 4 - Sault to Gordes

This morning was cold and very misty and foggy out. We wore our warmer bike clothes - Arm warmers, jackets and hats under the helmets. We said Good bye to the peacocks that lived here and started out for the climb to the heights of Col de la Ligne. It was a very hard climb! We then descended down the edge of the Vaucluse Plateau where we arrived in the magical heart of the Lubéron, where quiet roads led us through breathtaking valleys and villages. This descent was one of my favorites! It was a gentle descent and not as steep and harrowing as many others. We passed more lavender fields - it was heavenly. You could also smell so many spices that were being harvested here.

We headed to Gordes where we would stay the next two nights. Gordes is a romantic medieval village perched high on a cliff overlooking the valley. We stopped for lunch and explored this little village. It is supposed to be the most photographed village in Provence!

Hotel - Hôtel le Gordos - situated in the heart of the Luberon Valley. - it is lovely base for biking. It is gorgeous stone provençal villa with flowered gardens and spice gardens. There is a terrace and pool to relax after a hard day of biking. The rooms are clean and have large windows to open and enjoy the view. The bed was comfortable The bathroom was simple and had a shower stall.
It is about a 5-10 minute bike ride from the center of town. It is down a steep hill. Going back into town by foot or by bike for dinner would be an effort after biking most of the day.

The SAG wagon dropped us off in town so we could explore some more and have dinner. There were few tourists this time of year which was nice.

La Trinquette = Restaurant for dinner. We did manage to make reservations here. It is very small , but the views and the food are exceptional! We met 2 other couples and decided and shared many plates! We had scallops, Chicken skewers, steak, just to name a few. The wine suggested by our server was from a small vineyard nearby and was really quite good and inexpensive. This was a highlight dinner ! Don’t wear heels to this restaurant as you have to navigate a very steep cobblestoned walkway to get here!

to be cont...
annesherrod is offline  
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Oct 24th, 2013, 09:30 AM
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nice report
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Oct 24th, 2013, 10:13 AM
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I followed this on FB, but am glad for the details here. You were in our favorite part of the world! I remember you asking me if we had seen bikers while we spent our time in The Luberon when you were considering doing this trip. I remember thinking that I could never do it as the proximity of the cars to bikes freaked me out and I was in a car!

Good for you for doing this special trip! Looking forward to more...
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Oct 24th, 2013, 10:30 AM
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Great report. We were staying in Caromb a few years ago and had dinner at Chateau Mazan. We enjoyed that part of Provence but like the Luberon better! Was the lavender still in bloom?
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Oct 24th, 2013, 02:23 PM
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The lavender was mostly gone except in the one area I mentioned... right outside of Sault. I was thrilled to be able to see it and smell it! I can not imagine how wonderful it is in full bloom all over!
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Oct 24th, 2013, 02:26 PM
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We were in Puyvert (just outside of Lourmarin) the end of June and it was just starting to bloom. It was awesome....a couple of weeks later would have been even better.

I'm with DebitNM on the biking, though. I'd be very afraid on the narrow twisty roads with cars zooming past.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 02:29 PM
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Day 5 – Gordes to Lacoste Loop – 35 mi

A very steep climb back to Gordes and then a very steep descend to continue … Orchards of cherry trees and vineyards line the route as you pedal to Roussillon. Again, there were steep hills to negotiate some being at 8% grade. We rode over the Pont Julien, a 2000-year-old Roman bridge that spans the Calavon River. A spectacular view of the Château Lacoste is seen from this route.

Roussillon is a spectacular village, with the colorful old buildings and narrow medieval streets. The village center is fairly small, so wandering the streets to discover the many lovely sites doesn't take very long. A favorites was the square with the pair of old buildings and the 19th-century clock and bell tower with its (campanile), bells and ancient sundials. The day we visited there was a small Market going on.
It was very chilly on this ridge so we all stepped inside for something hot to drink before continuing. This was the coldest time. Mostly we were in short sleeves.

We biked on to Bonnieux for lunch - Bonnieux is one of the many historic "hill villages" in the region. Dating back to Roman times, it rests on top of the Luberon hills. It is quite small. Here we ate at a notable bistro - Le St Andre’. I had Nicoise Salad and my husband had an incredible pasta dish. We had a pear tart for dessert.

From here we biked about half way back to Gordes where most of us got in the SAG wagon and went back to the Hotel. After some time by the pool we got ready for our cooking class with a World Class Chef tonight!!

The class was given at Le Clos de Gustave - It is North of the village and is owned by Chef Jean Didier. He was from the Alsace Region and was very handsome. Our guide interpreted most of what he said. His Sous Chef was on hand to help out as well. He opened up his restaurant for us and here we learned how to make simple, fresh and flavorful dishes like tapenade made from his own Olives! Butternut Squash soup, mushroom Risotto, stuffed chicken breasts and a sinful Walnut cake. We enjoyed all of these drinking local wines.
They served us something called Angel peepee at the end of the meal! A light refreshing wine served in a very petit glass after dinner.
I recommend this restaurant if you are in the area. It offers sweeping views of the valley from the outdoor terrace and incredible and thoughtful dishes. His wife sells handmade aprons and Olive oil that is fun souvenir.

Day 6

This is the last day of the trip. The only option for today is short morning loop to the tiny village and towering cliff of Lioux. Above the village is a huge line of limestone rock (falaise de la Madeleine) It is quite huge and part of a Regional park. This was a short ride – less than 16 mi.

We packed our bags and met in the lobby to say Good Bye to our guides and the others from the trip. They showed us a slide show of the past 6 days. Mostly we looked sweaty in our biking gear. It was not a relaxing trip, but we ( well, maybe just me) pushed ourselves to the limit and was so grateful for the experience.

The shuttle took us back to Avigon where we caught the train back to Paris.

Some after thoughts …

I want to go another bike trip, but I think I might prefer a self guided trip next time for many reasons.

I want to be able to stop more to soak in the beautiful scenery, to cycle to little out of the way villages/chateaus , bistros etc…
As much I liked going fast and hard I don’t want someone else to set the pace next time. Once that person sets the pace you really have to keep up with them and I felt I missed a lot.

I think it would be fun to map out my own tour and do the research.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 02:31 PM
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Judy -

Some of the roads were pure hell to negotiate - some were badly paved but mostly it was the cars coming so close to us. Thankfully we did take many roads with very little traffic. I guess there were less tourists out and about too!
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Oct 24th, 2013, 03:10 PM
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Your great TR brought back happy memories of the 3 times
we based in Caromb; Dh has cycled all the routes you took
and I( the only non-biker) walked from Caromb to Mazan!

We loved our times in the Vaucluse and the guys were happy
going out every day on their own routes - going up to
Domaine Durban in B-de-V and coming down with panniers loaded
w/ muscats...another great part of France.
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Oct 24th, 2013, 03:42 PM
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annesherrod, this year we were there close to high season and I would not have wanted to be any of the bikers we passed. Off or shoulder season would be quite different, I assume. Sounds like a great trip.
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Oct 25th, 2013, 07:46 AM
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One little side note - This bike Co will give a significant discount on purchasing any new Trek bike within one year of the trip. I would love the one they offered on this trip but the price is very high. I am not loyal to this brand at all.
In fact, I prefer Specialized Brand.
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