There is one ride we do again and again, the only thing that alters is the way round we do it and where we have breakfast.
It’s a ride that takes you to some of the prettiest villages in the area, pottering along the quiet back roads, with incredible views and lots of places to stop where you can catch your breath and simply watch the world pass by. It’s one that we do so often I don’t really give it a second thought, until recently, when I realised I have never shared it as one of the ‘Beyond the Veloroute’ rides.It tends to be our ‘Welcome Back’ ride… One that just feels so comfortable that it’s like putting on a comfy old pair of slippers… Without fail it makes us smile, relax and immediately feel ‘at home’ again.
I don’t really know why exactly it makes us feel like this, perhaps it’s the comfort of knowing the route like the back of our hand, just knowing which way to turn without having to look at a map.Perhaps it’s knowing the spots where we can stop and sit for a while to watch the view, views that are so familiar that they seem to be ingrained into our souls.
Perhaps it’s just become our routine and there is a simple comfort in that…. Whatever the reason this ride is a delight and I know it will be the first one we do together whenever we arrive.
This way round takes you via Bonnieux for breakfast at the boulangerie, which has recently changed hands and is now run by a nice young couple and is closed on Saturdays out of season……
The alternative is to go the opposite way to Roussillon and breakfast in the friendly boulangerie there (closed on Mondays out of season), either way is lovely.
As ever it starts on the Veloroute du Calavon for us as we head towards the traffic lights by the bridge in the centre of Apt and then take the road that forks left up the hill towards the hospital. This road continues out of town and if you stay on it, it takes you up to the Col du Pointu, where we watched the Tour de France a couple of years ago and will be featured again in this year’s Paris Nice race ‘Chapeau’ to The Tour de France .
We however prefer the quieter road, turning right opposite the hospital and taking the old road that snakes along the contours of the hill, climbing gently towards Bonnieux.
The open views across the valley from here are beautiful and as we climb, watching the road ahead disappearing around distant corners we can’t help but relax.A little way up the hill is the bend where the character Fanny Chenal, played by Marion Cotillard, in the film ‘A Good Year’, (our go to feel-good film for its views of the area) is forced off the road whilst on her bike… In fact on Strava there is even a segment named after her….
Then Bonnieux comes into sight, perched on its hillside, looking out across the valley….
Inevitably this is our breakfast spot, sat in the boulangerie watching village-life, which becomes frenetic on Fridays in mid-summer when the market spills across the main road and brings even more visitors to the village.
From here we head out of the village, snaking down the hill towards Menerbes, ignoring the junction to Lacoste, but enjoying views of it as we climb up and onwards towards our next stop.
The climb here is short, but is then followed by a wonderfully log and gentle descent, skimming along the side of the Luberon, past vineyards with a nice view across an olive grove towards the Abbaye de Sainte Hilaire
You even whizz past a large Blue Whale in the heart of an old orchard
All things that you probably wouldn’t notice if you just drove along the road in a car.Soon after the Whale, you take a left hand fork, taking you along the road that brings you up into the back of Menerbes, following the road to the right of the War Memorial, past the boulangerie (just in case).
Menerbes is a beautiful little village with a fascinating history Meandering around Menerbes and set on a rocky promontory there are incredible views in every direction.When the sun is low in Winter we head to the benches facing the Luberon in the square infront of the church at the highest point of the village. Here the sun warms you on bright days and the views back to the folded flanks of the Petit Luberon are beautiful…..
In summer though, we head to the front of the village and sit on the wall overlooking the valley, with its incredible views across Vaucluse Plateau to the distant Mont Ventoux. From here you can see Gordes, Goult and Roussillon on their hilltop perches and we can (and often do) sit here for ages, just chatting and watching the shadows shift across the view.
There are so many ‘happy places’ for us in the area, places where we just love to stop, take a breath and enjoy the view and this is one of the best.Once we drag ourselves away though we head down the narrow road and across the valley floor to Les Beaumettes with its unusual Troglodytic house, set into the rock above the village.
and continue on towards Saint Pantaleon, following the perfectly smooth, gently climbing road before turning right past the Musee du Verre et Vitrail arriving by the beautiful little 12th century church in the centre of the village.
Dropping out of the back of the village towards Gordes, we cycle past little farms, vineyards and last year, spectacular fields filled with wild-flowers in Spring….
…before reaching the bottom of the hill, turning right along an old single track lane, where there are great views back across towards Gordes on the hill above.
Even though here you are in the heart of the prettiest villages, you feel as if you are miles from anywhere, rarely seeing a car or even another bike…..
Following little lanes we make our way back along the valley, passing through vineyards and little hamlets, noticing little things that make us smile, or in some cases raise an eyebrow, such as this farm gate adorned with the trotters of long-dead Sangliers …Before taking one of our favourite roads that heads back up towards Roussillon. This isn’t the main route, but a peaceful back lane that climbs through lavender fields and has incredible views across towards Gordes and Joucas…
Again we rarely meet a car (apart from regular encounters with ‘La Poste’) and at the top you head into the shade of pine trees growing out of the bright ochre soil….
passing an ochre rock that almost appears to have been carved by Barbara Hepworth, with its unusual hole that has been worn out over time…..
…..before turning left and heading on through the pine woodland, which is filled with the screaming of Cicadas in the summer months, past a lovely old cabanon with its faded, painted advertising sign for Menier chocolate…..
..and finally on into Roussillon, for a drink from the friendly boulangerie and a sit on the wall overlooking the ochre cliffs below.
Again this is another of those ‘happy places’ , somewhere we can sit for ages, just watching people go about their day. There’s always something to watch here, especially in the summer when it’s busy with tourists or it’s market day with the bright stalls filling the little square outside the village hall …. in the summer (in particular) you can’t under-estimate the joy of arriving by bike and not having to worry about where to park a car….
Of course there is also the resident Golden Retriever, who just seems to spend his time ambling around the cafes and square, or may equally be found waiting patiently and very hopefully by the back door of the boulangerie …. he’s certainly one of the village characters.
Then, once we drag ourselves away it’s a sweeping ride downhill past the Conservatoire des Ocres a nice little museum explaining the Ochre industry, which is housed in an old stone ochre-processing building. Then onto the main road back down towards the Veloroute and Apt, passing the fruit processing factory for Apt Union, which may not be attractive, but always smells divine and we pass by taking deep breaths of the fruity scents trying to decide what fruit they are working on that day …..
…before a short potter back along the cycle path to where we started, often with a baguette (grabbed in Apt) on the handlebars, which isn’t really a normal road-bike accessory!
As I mentioned at the beginning, this is a ride we never tire of. It’s just under 70km long and is such a lovely way to spend a few hours, pottering on the bikes, chatting as we go, putting the world to rights and simply enjoying the views of the area…. and I can’t imagine a better way to burn the calories from our breakfast croissants either!
The nice thing is that it’s lovely to ride all year round with the colours changing with the seasons; from the wild flowers and poppy fields of Spring…
The vibrant, scented lavender fields of the Summer…..
The vines with their bright leaves and heavy bunches of grapes in Autumn…..
To the muted colours and absolute peace of Winter…..
If I was asked to suggest a ride for anyone as a taster for the area, this would probably be it as it’s on quiet roads, takes in some of the prettiest villages and gives you a great sense of the beauty and sheer joy of cycling around the area and I always look forward to doing it again….. and again….. and again
You can take a look at the route and hopefully follow it by taking a look at the ride on my Strava account Little round the valley route