The first time we visited Provence, over 30 years ago, we arrived in a desperate effort to escape the rain that always seemed to dog our snatched, two week holidays in France. At that time we were simply ‘holiday cyclists’, and with a busy working life at home, we only really got out on the bikes when we were away, so it was always an absolute joy, although we were inevitably only just getting cycle-fit by the time we had to head home.
The peaceful lanes of the Luberon allowed us to weave our way between the villages, passing through vineyards and stopping in the shade of trees to catch our breath. We didn’t cover huge distances, we didn’t need to, our days were much more about enjoying the process of moving between places and relishing the simple joy of arriving in a village after managing to climb the hills.
Very quickly we realised that the process of travelling to the villages and markets was what we enjoyed most, experiencing the arrival in such a different way to simply driving in by car. We would perhaps visit a couple of places each day, sometimes even just one, whilst watching people emerge from the car park, just walk around for a short time to take a few photographs, before getting back in their cars and driving on to the next place on their itinerary. It all seemed so rushed.
Cycling just slowed the process down for us. We found we could spend a couple of hours exploring the lanes on our way to a village, immersed in every view, scent and sound of the Luberon, before arriving and feeling able just to sit and watch life go on around us. Our days were gentle, slow and so perfect that they quickly became the norm, and set the pattern for our future holidays together and subsequently as a family.
I still remember the first time I cycled to Gordes that summer, and the sheer effort of pushing the pedals on the 6km climb from Coustellet. It felt as if the road should have been lined with people cheering us on and I was so elated when we reached the viewpoint overlooking the village, that I felt as if I had won the Tour de France.
We sat for a long time on that stony outcrop, looking across at the houses clinging to the hill below the chateau and took in the view of the Luberon Valley, stretching into the distance under a blue sky and even then, we knew we had found somewhere special. It is still one of our favourite views and I never lose the childlike happiness of arriving at that point and sitting there immersed in my own thoughts for as long as I want, whilst visitors dash off their bus, to take a quick photo, before heading on again.
For us, I suppose it’s a form of slow tourism, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. Since that first holiday in Provence, we have continued to leave the car behind as much as we can and spend our days exploring on the bikes.
Fortunately, now we have the luxury of time that allows us to head off in different directions, finding new lanes to ride along, searching for different views or peaceful spots, to sit and watch the world pass by. We’ve followed roads we didn’t know existed, discovered the hills of the Alpes De Haute Provence…
Criss-crossed the Luberon itself….
And even ridden up Mont Ventoux by the light of the full moon just to watch the sunrise from the summit …
What we have realised is that we still enjoy the process of just getting somewhere, and that the most important thing for us is simply to enjoy the ride, stop when we want to stop and to take the time to get further under the skin of the area that we love. It doesn’t matter if we ride the same road two days in a row as inevitably the light is different, the wildlife is different and it is still a wonderful place to ride – it never ever gets boring.
The other wonderful thing about cycling is the need to keep our energy up, so we have the perfect excuse to stop for breakfast, choosing which viennoiserie to have and knowing we can enjoy every mouthful (and crumb). In fact we are at our happiest chasing croissants, rather than chasing cols!
This second breakfast (we always have a little something before leaving home), has become a fixed part of our daily rides and we have some real favourites as a result, that often inform the decision on which way we will be heading on a given day, based around the days they close each week. We used to be caught out by the different closing days of the local boulangeries, but after riding the 19km uphill to get to our favourite at Simiane-La-Rotonde on a Monday and finding it closed, we now know the closure days in each village and so decide on our rides accordingly.
We also enjoy planning our routes around events that we know are taking place, as arriving in a village or town, when the market or fair is in full swing is always a delight. It gives us a chance to lock up the bikes and wander around the stalls, stretching our legs, happily trying the tasters that are offered as we pass by and watching the general hubbub that comes when the streets are closed and filled with stalls or activities.
Over the last few years, we have cycled thousands of kilometres exploring the area around the Luberon. Finding routes that take us off the beaten track between villages, which have enabled us to travel deeper into the area we love and have resulted in us finding plenty of new places to stop and enjoy the view.
Whatever bike you ride you will enjoy cycling around the area, and if the hills are a bit of a worry, there are plenty of places to hire electric-bikes too. We’ve chatted to a few people who have been riding E-Bikes and it’s been fantastic to see their enthusiasm for being able to cycle for the first time in years.
Once, sat on the wall on the front edge of Menerbes (one of our favourite sitting spots as the view is incredible), we got chatting to a retired lady visiting the area from San Francisco. She and her friend had hired E-Bikes for the day and they were smiling from ear to ear, chatting about how different it was to explore by bike (after visiting for many years by car). It was just a joy to chat to them as they were clearly seeing and experiencing the area as we do, and as they went cycling off down the hill she shouted back ‘I’m going to be doing this now until I’m 100’ – and to be honest, on an E-Bike I can’t see why she won’t.