The mountains are calling… there’s a little voice inside my head that’s constantly talking – where to next? Which country has the most compelling draw, is it the panoramic scenery, the rolling hills or simply just the joyful feeling of exploring?
This autumn I had the pleasure of going on a fantastic intrepid cycling adventure. I always like to find a new destination to explore and this time the lure of the Verdon Gorge and Ventoux were too much to resist. So after a few weeks of research, checking the expected weather forecast and speaking to friends, I booked my fourth trip with Marmot Tours, accompanied by a couple of cheeky reprobates aptly named Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man.
You may be surprised to know that the premise for this trip was to have a holiday, which is where I should probably define, that what a ‘holiday’ means is only cycling four to five hours a day, opposed to seven or eight! And doing 1,500 – 2,000 metres of climbing a day, opposed to a minimum of 3,000 for six days on the trot.
My flights booked, bike bag packed and trolly dolly in tow… my journey to Provence and the Verdon Gorge was on track.
Back in the saddle
Our midday arrival on Sunday 30th Sept allowed for a gentle spin. So with my allen keys at the ready and bike re-assembled – myself, Jo, Dan and some others in our group headed out for a short little leg warmer, followed by a coupe of beers and chat in the late afternoon sunshine. I have to say, this was a great way to ease into our holiday. Here’s how the next six days unfolded…
Day 1 – Saint Maximin la Saint Baume to Moustiers Saint Marie
(98km with 1,494 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
A gentle, beautiful day as we roll through a host of villages – Esparron, Varages, La Verdiere, Montmeyan, Quinson – in the Verdon National Park. Nestled comfortably by the lake side, we stop for lunch – a few of us enjoyed a lovely plat du jour (which comprised a fabulously fresh salad with charcuterie, pan-fried trout with garlic potatoes, followed by a sensationally sweet slice of pecan tart), the perfect set-up for a leisurely afternoon. The rose was good too!
Day 2 – Ride into the Verdon Gorge
(108km with 2,464 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
Today we passed sheer drops and experienced vast vistas as we meander through the Verdon Gorge. We also felt the full force of the Mistral as it rolled and rushed over ridges, for 10km or more as we cycled through the lavender fields – it was actually quite hard to stay upright. More delicious food, local beer and rose are on tap in the evening to replenish stocks for the days that lay ahead.
Day 3 – Moustiers Saint Marie to Sisteron
(102km 1,074 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
I absolutely loved today – a few minor undulations and swift descents in amazing scenery. A rambling ride that concluded with a swift peloton swinging around the bends into Sisteron – thank you Jet Pack Jo and Dan the Man for the generous tow. Arriving in the early afternoon permitted a walk around The Citadel of Sisteron to learn some local history and understand more about geology of the land.
Day 4 – Sisteron to Malaucene and the vineyards of Gigondas
(120km with 1,468 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
On departing Sisteron I took a slightly alternative route (not intentional), thankfully a fellow rider navigated us back on track. All week the scenery has been epic, yet today it was turned up a notch. Climbing to the top of the Col de la Pigiere (968m) and Col de Macuegue (1068m), then descending through the Gorge de la Nesque was quite stunning; the views are truly something else. Epically expansive evolving hills spill into the distance and revealed glimmers of what was to come…
I gave a massive thank you the German couple that saved me by refilling my bottles with sparkling water – my saviours in the blazing sunshine.
Day 5 – Ventoux Double
(84km with 3,093 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
Malaucene to Bedouin to Malaucene. To be fair I wasn’t intending on making a double ascent of Mont Ventoux (1911m), it must have been the sunshine and euphoria of making it to the top once that made me think, well I’m here, so let’s try the other side. A small matter of three hours later I make it to the summit for the second and final time.
Several others were going for the Cingles Challenge – meaning all three ascents – from Malaucene, Sault and Bedouin. That challenge is something way out of my league but it was brilliant cheering them on as they flew past me at Chalet Reynard. It’s a must to stop at the Tom Simpson memorial.
Day 6 – Malaucene Loop Parc Regional des Baronnies Provencales (95km with 1,420 metres of ascent) – view on Strava
Today is our last day in the saddle. To be fair my butt is asking for a day off, as are my legs, arms and back – but my heart and head say ‘you know you want to get out there’. And although I did manage to do the entire route in reverse (don’t ask), taking in the Col d’Aulan (845m) and the Cote de Bluye (578m), I did manage to meet my fellow pedal friends for a mouth-watering lunch.
Other cyclists that day included the Haute Route riders – I don’t think I’ll ever be mad enough to take that on – there were some extremely weary faces passing in the opposite direction.
All day the summit of Ventoux loomed in the background. It never ceases to amaze me the distance and quite frankly, the incredible terrain we cover when on two wheels. For me, there’s no better way to explore.
Until next time… a fond farewell!
Without doubt, it is the encouragement; kind words, humour and patience of our guides Gavin and Merve from Marmot Tours that made our trip go smoothly on all counts. As usual, whenever you need them they appear – like magic – out of the heat haze or mist with bananas, banter, jelly sweets, M&Ms, cake, crisps, and most of all a beaming smile.
I wonder where I’ll explore next?