Cycling through Provence – Days 1 & 2

The morning of our first day of cycling started with the usual procedure – wake up, pick up something for breakfast, final pack-up, check out of hotel, head to the meeting point. We ended up at the same bakery as the previous morning and ordered allongé coffee (long espresso), croissant, and a single-serve quiche for each of us, and bringing it back to our studio. It’s convenient that we have a microwave to heat up the quiche, and it’s even nicer that our room (#2) is on the ground floor, looking into the courtyard garden. Each room facing the courtyard has its own two-person patio table right outside of the room, which is a lovely place to have breakfast, or just hangout. The courtyard has so much foliage, along with a lemon tree and a big apricot tree. The only nuisance is that our boutique hotel seems to be attached to, or in seriously close proximity to, an operational clock/bell tower.

Luckily I think it’s only set to gong during waking hours. I also think a “flock” of Common Swifts live in the tower as they are incredibly noisy in the early morning. I figured this out thanks to the Merlin Bird ID app on my phone.

Taxi’s in Avignon don’t seem to be plentiful. The hotel manager called the taxi for us during our check-out, but we waited at least 10-15 minutes (the manager had to call a second time). Luckily the Avignon train station is not far and we arrived (just about) right on time. Trip leader, Camille (pronounced, Kah-MEE), was there to greet us. The group is a nice size with 16 of us (unlike our last trip with 26 people), and I quite like the personalities in this group. Everyone is super chill. There are a couple other Canadians on this trip, but more surprising is having two of the leaders from Canada.

One main difference with this trip is that we didn’t eat lunch as soon as we got off the shuttle bus. Our bikes were ready and waiting for us. After being quickly introduced to trip leader Elsa, and van leader Francis, we started loading up our trunk bags. This staging area, approximately 45 minutes from Avignon, gave us a quick taste of what we could expect to see in the region – lavender!

As usual, hubs and I brought our own pedals and saddle, so Francis was on hand to help us get set up while hubs mounted the GoPro.

Usually we are introduced to a delicious picnic lunch before we start riding, but this time we were given packed baguette sandwiches to take with us to enjoy as a picnic lunch after riding for about an hour to an ancient Roman aqueduct known as Pont Du Gard. It was a very lovely spot to enjoy lunch!

The ride was easy on day 1, which is a nice way to ease in to the rest of the week.

It was a flat ride, and although it’s quite warm, I now understand what the sales agent meant by “it can be hot, but don’t worry, you have the winds!”. As most cyclists detest (head)winds, the mistral winds do manage to keep you feeling cooler, unlike in Andalucía where it was stinking hot with no relief because the air was still and stifling.

After our picnic lunch, we hopped back on our bikes and continued on. The next section was along a bike path and through a tunnel that had funky lighting!

Cycling day 2

Day 2 is also now in the bag, and it was a more challenging day. I opted to do the entire ride (long option). I don’t regret it, but there was a moment where I started to worry that I wouldn’t make it on my own. There were climbs, but it wasn’t the actual grade of the hill that did me in. It was the fact that there was some wicked head and sometimes cross winds that made it feel like the granny gear just wasn’t enough. 

Before lunch, we had a coffee stop in Eygalières, a great social stop and a place to get my next caffeine fix after a climb, and before the next little uphill.

Post coffee, we enjoyed some riding through vineyards with mountains in the background. I never get tired of these landscapes!

Like I said, we have a great group on this trip. It’s likely the combination of wonderful people and the ability to get to know everyone when the group is smaller. It feels like we’re never too far from each other. And one thing our trip leaders are great at is working hard to stay ahead of us so that we don’t miss those easy-turns-to-miss, especially when it’s not far from our lunch stop.

I’ve likely mentioned this before, but one of the many things I love about Backroads is that they inject interesting non-cycling activities into our days. Today we took a tour of an olive oil production facility in Mouries. How fitting, as Mouries is nicknamed the olive oil capital of France. After the tour, we walked across the street to enjoy their olive oil at lunch. It was a wonderful meal, from start to finish. The main course was this fresh salad with juicy pieces of chicken, and strips of apple, lightly drizzled with olive oil.

Dessert was creative with a savoury element – love! They presented us with honey ice cream with dehydrated olive sprinkles on a bed of popcorn. Creme caramel. Olive oil jam.

I wasn’t sure how I’d get back on my bike after this meal!

My biggest struggle was after lunch, trying to get to Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux. I ended up hiking it (walking my bike) up the last turn. Had I known that as soon as I turned that corner, I’d be meters from our stop. When I got to the Backroad’s vans, Francis pointed out that I had three more gears! Like, wha??? I swear, I was sure I had used up all of my gears. And the funny thing is that I had mentioned to Nelson as we battled our way up, that I felt like I was missing gears or something. I was watching his legs spin, making it look so easy. I figured that I just didn’t have that kind of leg power. I dared not look down at my rear gears as this uphill was a curvy road and I weave a little when I look down.

When we arrived, I was sweaty and exhausted. I was also quite certain we were the last ones to come through, which made me feel disappointed in myself. As I changed out of my cycling shoes into my sandals, I was thinking that we should just keep riding so that we wouldn’t arrive at the hotel too late. Hubs was reassuring me that everything was ok, and that not everybody chose to continue riding after lunch, so being the last ones at this stop didn’t mean anything. Camille walked us to the entrance of the quarry. I had zero expectations as the leaders didn’t really explain what this exhibit was about. Camille had downplayed it, maybe on purpose. He described it as a limestone quarry, with not much to look at, except for the art they project in the quarry. The write-up in the itinerary only describes this as an “ambitious multimedia exhibit celebrating some of the world’s great artists inside a large stone quarry.” I hadn’t researched this ahead of time, so I thought we’d see pictures of pictures. Just before we were ushered inside, the lady told us we could take photos, no flash, and she put her fingers to her lips to signal that we needed to be quiet. We walk in and it’s pitch black. I can’t see anything. If you threw your hand up in front of my face, I’d walk right into your hand. I know there were people that walked in before me, so now I’m terrified. I stop in my tracks because I don’t know if there are steps or where the walkway is. I am grabbing for Nelson, almost in a panic, and he tightly holds my hand. I’m sure he was just as confused and then BAM! Beatles music blasts all around us and the place lights up. My mind is completely blown. My senses are over-loaded. This was INCREDIBLE! It was trippy. It was stunning. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

With the space filled with all this light, we started to walk and came to realize that this space was enormous. The images were different on each “wall”, so you’d see something different depending on where you are standing.

And at the end of that “performance”, there was a pause before the next show (coming up – Picasso’s work) and we could see that this was indeed a quarry.

All my biking worries were washed away in this place. We stayed for the Picasso works before heading back outside.

Feeling rested, cooled down, and ready to roll, we got back on our bikes and not too long after we got going, I looked back and snapped a quick photo.

I did it! I survived day 2 on the bike.

I didn’t have a whole lot of time between arriving at the hotel and getting ready to join the walking tour of the town. We met in the restaurant of our hotel and our guide was a friendly, knowledgeable, and passionate guide. I believe she also authored a book.

It was a funny experience. We all wanted to learn more about St. Remy, but we were all pretty exhausted from the ride. I caught myself nodding off, but apparently others did the same. We were all fine as soon as we got up and started the walking portion of the tour. She brought us to one of the original arches of the walled town, and compared it to an old photo.

Are walking tour ended in this little space between buildings, where we tasted more rose wine before all going our separate ways for dinner. It’s still not my favourite type of wine.

Walking down the narrow laneways, we came across a lavender bush (not sure if this was lavender or lavandin – a hybrid), but we hubs and I thought we saw a giant bumble bee. Upon closer inspection, it was a hummingbird! And we only knew to take a closer look because someone in our group had mentioned to us that on the first day when we were setting up our bikes, he saw a hummingbird in the lavender bushes. 

Dinner was on our own that evening, and after a quick stroll down some side streets, we settled on Les Variétés where we both ordered a seafood main. I had seen this dish come out when we were standing out front reviewing their menu. It was this dish that made me want to eat here. The funny incident is a nearby table ordered it and when it was brought out and placed in front of one of the guests, her expression was priceless. She had this look of horror and disgust that lasted for quite some time. And then they told the waiter that this was not what they were expecting and requested that the fish be de-boned for them. I quite liked the presentation. It was different, and who doesn’t appreciate being served a whole fish?

Hubs ordered the prawn risotto with grilled cuttlefish. The prawn was very good, but he found the cuttlefish a little salty.

I’m truly exhausted. Hubs has already crawled into bed and is fighting hard to look awake as he waits for me. I should hit the sack as we have more riding tomorrow. We are going to sleep soundly tonight!

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