Last week Andy and I were sitting at Menerbes overlooking the view when two people on electric bikes pulled up beside us and were trying to identify the villages on the hills opposite. We got chatting and they explained that they had just hired the bikes and one said how wonderful it was and that she would now be riding a bike until she is 100.
They commented on how much more they felt they were seeing of the area, just from being on 2 wheels, rather than in an air-conditioned box, just trailing from one place to another. Their sheer delight was plain to see as they cycled off up the hill to carry on exploring.
This got us chatting. We love cycling around the area and have always realised that the journey to get somewhere is actually (for us) more enjoyable than just being there. You experience so much more, the scents, the light, the slight inclines, the views that open up for moments between trees, the birdsong and the joy of hearing the first Cicada of the year. We’re happy using our own power to get us around, but are already eyeing up electric bikes for the days (that will inevitably come), when we need a bit of extra help up the hills around here. It will certainly take a lot to stop us pottering on our bikes.
So with that in mind I thought I’d share a ride that we did for the first time last week …. one that will certainly need electric assistance in years to come I’m sure.
We started at Simiane La Rotonde, happily munching breakfast and drinking coffee, overlooking the poppy-strewn lavender fields opposite the boulangerie.
To be honest, having some idea of where we were going, I would have been happy to stay there all day, but that clearly wasn’t an option and we pottered off up the old road that snakes up the side of the hill towards the ‘Rotonde’, giving Simiane its name. Stepping back in time at Simiane La Rotonde
It’s a gentle climb up to the village, thanks to the hairpins and then once past the Rotonde the road continues to climb gently, meeting the main road that runs across the top of the Saint Christol Plateau, towards Revest Du Bion.
The roads across the top of the plateau are always a surprise, in that they are wide, well-surfaced and incredibly quiet …. at times it is almost as if you are on a cycle path, rather than a main road.
The road makes its way through lavender fields and woodland, with a large number of Sweet Chestnut Trees whose leaves are used to wrap the local Banon cheese. In fact Chestnuts are so important to the area that each October the village hosts a Chestnut Festival, which is big enough to rival the summer Lavender Festival in nearby Sault. A lovely day at the Sault Lavender Festival
All along the road you catch glimpses back across to Mont Ventoux, but that was not our destination….
Instead we carried on cycling through the town and headed out along the road signposted to the Col du Negron. I’m still at the point where the word ‘Col’ fills me with a little bit of dread, but I needn’t have worried. The road climbs very gently through beautiful landscape that was reminiscent, in places, of the lower Alpine pastures – a feeling accentuated by the sight of Eagles circling overhead.
This was a beautiful ride through a beautiful, peaceful and unspoilt area, the fields dotted with wild flowers and the verges filled with the bright yellow, highly scented Broom bushes.
Although it clearly hadn’t always been as tranquil with a small memorial marking the spot, near the summit, where 3 members of the local Resistance had been arrested in February 1944
From here though, we easily reached the Col, stopping briefly to enjoy the moment…..
…..before cycling on around the corner.
I think it would be fair to say that nothing on the way up had prepared me for the view as we started to drop off the top. It was utterly stunning…
Gone was the gentle rolling landscape, to be replaced by dramatic mountains and rocky outcrops disappearing into the distance, with the sight of the road, snaking down the hill to a distant road in the valley below.
Every corner we turned saw a different view and all Andy could hear was squeals of delight from me and utterances of ‘Wow just wow’ as we snaked our way down to the road below.
Once at the bottom we turned left onto the main road and continued to descend to the valley floor, leaving the ‘Alpes de Haute Provence’ and entering ‘La Drome’.
To be honest this is where a better look at the map may have helped us, as we thought the road simply ran along the valley floor, descending gently down to the town of Montbrun Les Bains, near the foot of Mont Ventoux. We couldn’t have been further from the truth as the road descended, then started going up again with signs for the Col de Macuegne appearing ….. 2 Cols in one day … really?
So once again we started to climb, I can’t complain as it wasn’t steep or difficult, but just rather unexpected. The bonus though was passing a field filled with Shepherd Dog puppies, simply stretched out in the shade lazily wagging their tails, whilst their mother kept a close eye, especially when we started to make cooing noises at the cute little pups. The sight gave me an excuse to stop for a moment, before we continued onto the top of the Col.
Here the road splits with a turning that takes you on across the Col de L’Homme Mort towards Saint-Trinit or the main road, which continues onto Montbrun. We opted to head down to Montbrun only realising (as we cycled on) just how far we had to descend.
Once again the views were utterly jaw-dropping, with the vast, imposing bulk of Mont Ventoux dominating the skyline and the sight of the road snaking into the distance dropping down through the spectacular landscape.
I must have had a grin as wide the Cheshire Cat’s as we swept down the road, dropping through the village of Barret-de-Lioure, where there is a stark memorial in memory of 3 local members of the Resistance who were executed there in February 1944….
……then on down the hillside…..
……finally arriving in Montbrun-Les-Bains just in time for a spot of lunch. Happily we stopped at the O’Berge de L’Anary just at the entrance to the town and enjoyed a moment to catch our breath and have something to eat (2 course Menu du Jour 14e) whilst we chatted over the ride so far.
Refreshed we carried on through Montbrun, a pretty little town with a natural Thermal Spa (note to self – must find an opportunity to visit that) and onto the last part of the ride.
Following the road out back towards Aurel and Sault we crossed from La Drome into the Vaucluse, marvelling at the glittering road surface as we cycled along. I can only imagine that the surfacing stone used has a high proportion of quartz, as it sparkled in the sunlight ….. something we’ve never noticed in the times that we’ve driven along the road.
We then climbed up into the pretty village of Aurel, past a much-photographed Lavender field, still to show the first signs of turning purple
And on into Sault to enjoy a sit on the wall and a look at the view of the valley below the town across to Mont Ventoux, leaving the climb up there for another day (in fact only 4 days later, when we rode to watch the inaugural Denivele Challenges race there.)
From Sault it’s a nice climb back up onto the Saint Christol Plateau, from where we headed back across to Simiane to finish the ride.
I can put my hand on my heart and say that was a truly stunning ride and opened our eyes to the cycling that we can do by heading across into the Drome, which isn’t actually too far away. In total it was just under 83km and we climbed 1376m , although because of the views, it bizarrely felt as if we had climbed further. You can have a look at the ride and the others we do around the area by following me on Strava
It goes without saying though that it won’t be too long before we head back across in that direction to do a bit more exploring and like the people we met at Menerbes we’ll hopefully still be cycling there when we’re 100