The Paris-Nice cycle race is coming to our favourite roads

Today was just one of those beautiful Spring days that just fill your heart with joy and make you start thinking of the long summer days ahead, so my thoughts of perhaps popping across to L’Isle sur La Sorgue market went out of the window as soon as I threw open the shutters. It was a day to get out on the bike again.

Sunrise boded well for a nice day

So after walking Millie and saying hello to our new rather ‘horny’ neighbours….

Our new goat neighbours

…I threw on my kit and headed off. When I say ‘threw on my kit’ it was more a military operation to make sure I had enough layers on, as although the sky was blue, the thermometer was showing a little over 3 degrees, so far too chilly for bare knees yet.

I thought I would just head up to Bonnieux for breakfast, as the boulangerie there (always one of our favourite stops ) has recently been taken over by a young couple and the croissants are rather lovely, before doing a gentle loop back via Lacoste. It had the makings of perfect morning.

The morning quickly got better when I came across a gathering of classic cars in the lay-by at the bottom of the hill, including 3 wonderful old 2CVs. These cars have always turned my head, but we have finally bought one (Rose) and will be bringing her down in a couple of months time. It seemed the perfect opportunity to have a chat to the owners and pick their brains about things we need to know once she arrives, which bearing in mind that she’s nearly as old as me, will inevitably involve sourcing spare parts and finding a good mechanic.

Gathering of classic cars in the lay-by at the bottom of the road

It goes without saying that they were chatty, helpful, interested in what we were planning to do and gave me some pointers before they all got in their cars to head off on a drive around the Route des Vins and a club lunch, which sounded like a very pleasant way to pass a Sunday.

As always the ride up to Bonnieux was just lovely, once I left Apt I didn’t see a car until arriving in the village. The wind had died down after the last few days and the clear air made for spectacular views across to the still-snowy summit of Mont Ventoux.

A snow-capped Ventoux in the distance

After a rather lovely breakfast in the warmth of the boulangerie, filled with the gentle chatter of people discussing the day’s news and gossiping over their coffees, I thought I’d have a change of plan. The day was far too beautiful for a quick loop and I fancied a treat so decided to head on down past Menerbes to go for coffee and cake at the quirky ‘La Vie En Rose’ at Coustellet.

This route would also take me along some of the route being taken by the Paris Nice cycle race, which passes through our area on Friday and of course we’re planning where to go, to watch it.

On Friday the riders in the Paris Nice will be hammering down this hill near Lacoste

We’ve been really lucky over the last few years with the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and Tour de Provence passing nearby, but this year the Paris-Nice is doing a stage, taking the riders along some of our favourite roads. The peleton will be heading through beautiful villages that we know like the back of our hands and past views that we just love to stop and stare at, before doing a final loop that takes it through our local village to finish in Apt at the end of the 160km stage.

I know it probably sounds a bit silly, but I love the fact that we ride the same roads that professional cyclists ride along. It’s a sport we love to watch and take part in, but whereas a football fan will rarely (if ever) get to play on their team’s pitch, we can just follow the routes, roll along the same tarmac and enjoy the same rides as the people we love to follow. The fact that we’re in our fifties, cycle at our own pace and have no aspirations to race doesn’t matter, what does matter is that we can do it, albeit an awful lot slower!

I always wonder if the riders in the peleton see anything of the countryside they travel through, or whether they are simply so focused on the race that the views, scents and sounds just slip past unnoticed. Whereas for us that is what the cycle is about, being immersed in area and being able to stop when something catches our eye. From the shifting light across the distant hills…

Shifting shadows from Viens

To blossom covered trees filled with bees busy at work…

Spring blossom busy with bees at Auribeau

I know I’m biased, but this will be a particularly beautiful stage to watch as it meanders through the cherry orchards below Venasque, before heading up the Col de Murs and on to Gordes, where unlike us the riders will just hammer past the viewpoint, whereas we tend to take the opportunity to sit and look at the view with our legs dangling over the edge….

Sitting at the viewpoint in Gordes

Rather than heading to Coustellet it turns down the lovely sweeping descent that leads to Les Beaumettes, I now realise why perhaps that has been recently resurfaced and straight on towards Menerbes, past the little olive grove that last year was carpeted with poppies…

Poppy filled Olive grove below Menerbes last year

Before heading up the long gentle climb towards Bonnieux. I cycled down this today and the views along this stretch of road are beautiful, both up towards the village, which if the cherry blossom emerges before Friday will look even better….

It would be lovely if the cherry blossom emerges before Friday

And further along as the views open up towards Bonnieux and Lacoste…

Looking across to Lacoste

Bonnieux is always beautiful, although I can’t see any of the pro-riders popping their bike against the wall to take a quick photo …

Early morning in Bonnieux

Then instead of heading down the main road to Apt from the Col de Pointu, the route then takes the riders across The Plateau des Claparėdes, through the lavender fields, starting to show their soft green leaves now, but a riot of colour in the summer. It’s a great place to see the lavender fields and tends to be much quieter than some of the other better-known places.

A lavender field just below Saignon

From here the route sweeps down into Apt under the stunning village of Saignon, which has just been named as one of Vogue’s top 30 iconic places in France….

Saignon perched above the lavender

Before heading out and on up to our village of Caseneuve, which sits on the opposite side of the valley with incredible views of The Luberon and beyond. Happily we live at the bottom of the hill, as it is quite a climb back up through the bends to the village, Chateau and beautiful Oratory at the top…..

The incredible view from Caseneuve

From here it goes along to Saint Martin de Castillon, yet another spectacular village, sitting high on a rocky promontory above the valley with stunning views across to The Grand Luberon, which looks as if a huge piece of fabric has been casually thrown across it, falling in soft folds across its flanks, although I have a feeling this detail will be lost on the racers.

Looking out from Saint Martin

And finally back up Andy’s favourite climb, firstly through Castellet, then on into Auribeau, a peaceful little place with great charm at the base of the Mourre Nėgre, with jaw-dropping views towards the low Alps, which were bright white with snow, when we cycled up last week..

Snow capped low Alps & Saint Martin from Auribeau

Normally we do this climb close to the start of our ride, which is hard enough, I can’t even start to contemplate having to do it after having already ridden 150km and climbed a couple of thousand metres!

Then happily it’s all downhill back to the finish in Apt and it’s great to see that our local town will be the final focus for the stage.

Apt is a wonderfully vibrant town and will be a great finish for the stage

I know I got diverted from today’s ride, but unfortunately my efforts to get cake in Coustellet were dealt a major blow, when I found La Vie en Rose was closed when I got there.

No cake today….

These things happen and at least it gave me the opportunity to ride some of the route ahead of Friday when the roads will be filled with team cars and some of the best-known riders will be following the route we love.

A first glimpse of Bonnieux

Hopefully the photos have whetted your appetite to see more of the area in the coverage of the event, I have a feeling the riders won’t get the chance to appreciate it.

Follow the route, enjoy the scenery and cheer on the riders (as we will be doing)… We ride these roads so often and know what they will be tackling. I take my hat off to them as it certainly isn’t easy….

PS… If you look carefully as the landscape flies past you may even see a Blue Whale …..

The Blue Whale between Menerbes & Bonnieux