In the early 1990s, as a newly married couple, we spent our first holidays in the Vaucluse. Back then we were able to spend our time pottering slowly, visiting where we wanted, when we wanted and having long slow lunches. We had found a delightfully quiet camp-site ‘a la ferme’ just outside Lagnes and quickly fell under the spell of the area, passing the weeks walking, visiting the local markets and discovering the fantastic cycling that the area has to offer.
We’re not obsessive cyclists, but love being able to explore the area on bikes, in fact we probably know more nice cycle-rides in the Vaucluse than we do here in Devon. The weather is usually kind, even out of season (although I have to admit that cycling into the Mistral can be hard-work). The small back-roads are generally quiet and on the whole French drivers are much more respectful of cyclists than we have found elsewhere. Like walking, cycling gives you the chance to explore the area at a slower pace, enabling you to really experience its scents, views and colours.
The Vaucluse is great for cycling, even with the youngest early-riders. There are lovely, flat off-road trails along the valley floor, in particular the Veloroute du Calavon, which runs along an old railway line http://www.provence-cycling.co.uk/cycle-path-of-calavon/apt/tabid/9301/offreid/7ace0664-83ac-4505-b507-5703f82db869/details-cycle-path-itineraries.aspx from Coustellet to beyond Apt (a great way to get to the fantastic Saturday Apt market).
Another delightful trail runs through the ‘Foret Des Cedres’ along the top of the ‘Petit Luberon’ where you can choose to go a few hundred yards at first and further as stabilisers come off and legs get stronger. The great thing about these trails is that the riding surface is good and you can safely potter along without having to worry about traffic. There are also some stunning views and great picnic spots, such as ‘Pont St Julien’ just below Bonnieux and Lacoste.
As our boys have grown we have found ourselves exploring further afield, cycling parts of the clearly-signed 236km circular Luberon trail and also the Ochre trail towards Rustrel. These routes are well marked and take you through tranquil lanes, away from the main roads that run through the area. Full details of these routes can be found at http://www.provence-cycling.co.uk/ or leaflets available from local tourist office.
Provence-cycling is a great web-site for anyone wanting to do any cycling in the area – with details of many trails, ranging from beginners through improvers to competitive routes, all with downloadable maps and information sheets to make sure you can plan routes well in advance. The site also has a useful section on hints and tips, places to visit and cycle-friendly accommodation providers.
It’s fair to say that the nature of the area means that there are some hills, but again the roads and lanes are quiet and the hill-top villages are great places to stop, rest your legs and have a well-earned drink, ice-cream or, of course, lunch. There is also a great sense of satisfaction that comes with arriving somewhere under your own steam, somehow it feels so much better than just getting out of a car & looking round.
Our boys are now 16 & 13 so the challenges have got bigger, with last summer seeing us tackle and get to the summit of Mont Ventoux (see earlier blog )
It took us a few hours and a few packs of Haribo, but the boys are talking about doing it again this year, but quicker – I’m already trying to get cycle-fit as I know I will be the old slow-coach this time around!!
Finally of course you can’t discuss cycling without mentioning the Tour de France, which we managed to see for the first time this year. This is a truly incredible event with an atmosphere to match. We cycled out to a sweeping bend in the road just outside Coustellet and were amazed at the crowds of people who were already there, who cheered as we cycled past to find a spot to stop and watch. There was a real carnival atmosphere, particularly when ‘La Caravane’ of advertising & very funky vehicles, passed through throwing give-aways to either side of the road, which led to rugby-type scrums as children and adults alike scrambled to collect them.
Then some time after, we noticed the helicopters approaching in the distance, hovering above Gordes (with a back-drop of heavy storm-clouds) before sweeping towards us above the peleton.
The whole thing seemed to be gone in an instant, but the excitement of seeing the tour and spotting some of our favourites was worth the few seconds it seemed to take for everything to disappear around the next corner. As soon as they had passed the spectators packed up & moved away & we cycled home, arriving just as the first drops of rain fell, watching the Tour finish for the day in an incredible rain-storm.
It was a great afternoon and one that we look forward to repeating …… perhaps one day we’ll cycle up to join the crowds on Mont Ventoux, a truly classic stage where the atmosphere always looks incredible.
Right! That’s enough reminiscing it’s time to get back the planning rides for this year.
Sharing this blog via #AllaboutFrance & Lou Messugo blog as we now start planning next year’s cycle from home on Dartmoor to the Med- we must be mad!!