Saturday, September 28, 2013

Provence part 2

Here's the next installment about our 2-week trip to Provence, covering September 10th and 11th.  After a day sunning and swimming and seeing the sights in Nice, it was time to start riding.  SO, I had never planned a bike tour before, and although we had some skype/cell conversations in planning the route, I was the one with the guidebook.  We loosely followed 2 routes from the Lonely Planet "Cycling France", the "Grand canyon du Verdon" and "the Luberon and Mt. Ventoux" but we never started in the recommended cities and didn't want to fight with bikes on trains, so there was a bit of adventuring involved.

We knew that we were starting the first day in Nice, and we had reservations that night in a town called Comps sur Artuby, and another one day ride in the book covered a bit of that terrain, so we wanted to go up through Vence and across the plateau de caussols, but the details we needed to work out once on the ground.  In Nice, we found a few scales of maps and Patrick brought a Garmin GPS (I totally want one now) and Monday night, we used their tried and true method of ride planning, which we more or less did the rest of the trip.  Patrick had brought a highlighter, so we highlighted the cities we needed to go to/through and the most promising route, along with possible side-trips and any alternative routes in case a particular road turned out to be too busy.  From the maps alone, there are roads of different colors from skinny little white roads, to yellow, to orange to red, and then special red ones that are the equivalent of interstates.  Clearly you can't bike on the interstate ones and the white ones are the best bets for low traffic, but the orange and red ones can be a bit of a toss-up.  Sometimes they are low traffic and have nice shoulders, and sometimes they are busy.  The white ones, though, can also wind about and climb a lot more than the larger roads going the same direction, so planning a route in an area you haven't visited takes a bit of guesswork, and a bit of weighing options (given the distance, time, etc. do we want to do more climbing and more km, or do we want to ride with more traffic?). Then, that day, Patrick kept the maps and the GPS and did the on-the-bike navigation.  He had a handlebar bag that made map access easier, and really, we mostly went off the GPS, just consulting the maps for more general progress checks, etc. The first day, we totally lucked out; even the red roads near Comps were very low traffic with good pavement. 

The first km were easy
The only problem, however, was that in the planning, we knew it would be a longer day (75 miles or so) but what I hadn't taken into account was how much climbing there was going to be.  We went up. A lot.  I guess it figures, since Nice is at sea level, what with being on the coast and all, and it is surrounded by huge hill/mountains, which we were heading into.  I guess the moniker "perched villages" should also have given us a clue that climbing would be involved; you don't have perched villages on a was a long, hard day, but was totally worth it.

Tourrette-sur-Loup, perched village number one of the trip

Gourdon from below our level
We started with 5 or so very flat km, riding along the beach to the airport, because there was a river we needed to cross and there are very few bridges across it.  Then, we headed up to Vence and through a few perched villages and around a gorge and then Sasha got a flat (our only flat of the trip, amazingly) and as we were changing the tube, we saw these crazy buildings perched way up on the top of a hill and said "good thing we don't have to go up there"...until 2 hours of climbing later, we looked out and there it was.  Oofda. And then, here's the kicker, it had looked like the highest thing around from below, but then, after we stopped for a very late sandwich in Gourdon, we kept climbing. And climbing.  Poor Sasha; hadn't realized what he was in for that morning, but he powered through it and eventually we reached the highpoint and had a few more hours of riding through a mix of forests and ranchland, but eventually, we saw signs for the Artuby river, and reached Comps.  So, I hadn't realized this, but I think the name Comps sur Artuby is like Marburg am Lahn.  The town name is Comps (or Marburg) and then the "sur Artuby" or "am Lahn" tells you which river the town is on, and is a way of differentiating in case there are multiple towns with the same name.  Not a bad system, really.  Perhaps some US towns should try it.

And then after Gourdon, we just kept climbing!!!
 Anyway, Comps is a cute little village with (as far as we could tell) one tiny convenience store, two cafe/bars, one nice bakery, and one hotel with a restaurant, and one more restaurant over by the gas station a bit outside the village.  We stayed in Comps 2 nights. We ate both nights at the hotel, and I think the food was some of the best of the trip.  The first night was a bit of a disappointment because we misread the fact that you could get pate OR omelette OR salad OR soup with a fixed price menu (we thought it was pate OR omelette WITH salad and soup) and the omelettes were runny, but the main courses were delicious and they had about 10 desserts to choose from.  The second night, we knew what was what, and I had a slightly more expensive Provencal menu with a salad with 2 kinds of duck and walnuts and then rabbit in this tomato sauce with olives and stuff and sorbet, and as I said, probably best dinner of the trip.  I'd totally go back and get that same thing.  I think Patrick took some pictures, but sadly, I don't have them, so you'll just have to imagine the food.

Stone bridge; I wonder what it used to connect?
The next day, we did a loop from Comps and thus were able to do it with only 2 lightly filled paniers for the 4 of us (to bring jackets and non-cycling shoes, snacks, etc.) which was nice.  We visited 3 perched villages, all of which were gorgeous and, while obviously not "undiscovered", there were cafes and restaurants and a few quaint little shops, but not row after row of tourist junk, and we saw relatively few other tourists.  First up was Bargeme (OK, there's an accent mark in there somewhere, but you get the idea).  We passed it on the ride into Comps the night before, along with this cool old stone bridge that looks like it serves 2 isolated farms.  It was a fair bit of climbing up to Bargeme, although not as much as the previous day, but there were cool old stone ruins and a pretty old church and tons of old stone houses and such.

Bargeme and Sasha

The next two towns were pretty much more of the same, so I won't go on at too great lengths about them. Mind you, that's not a complaint; it might be possible to stop in too many Provencal perched villages with medieval ruins and yummy food, but I can assure you that we did not hit the point of overload in 2 weeks. 
Chateaudouble; this picture doesn't quite do the town justice. It was cute.
Sheep? Where are the sheep? We want to see sheep!!
 One of the highlights of the day, though, were SHEEP!!!  You may remember that I love sheep and it turns out, Clara does, too.  They are fuzzy and cute and taste delicious and their milk makes amazing cheese, so seeing these signs made us very excited.  We were not disappointed.  It turns out that they use sheep sort of like lawn mowers, keeping the grass down on the sides of the roads. Sasha, if you let me get sheep, maybe you'll never have to mow our hypothetical future lawn!

No wonder the road margins are so well trimmed.
So, to get to Chateaudouble, we had to climb up to the village, but we'd had a nice, long descent that we had to get back up to get back to Comps. Oh well.  At least we didn't have all our stuff with us.  Clara and I did, however, stop at a dairy and pet some goats and buy some small goat and sheep cheeses, which we had for pre-dinner snack and lunch the next day.

We got back to Comps in time for Clara and I to take a short walk up the hill before dinner to look at the churches on the hill above Comps.  There were 3, and the lighting was gorgeous, so it was a nice end to a nice day, especially if we include the delicious dinner that followed.
Comps sur Artuby and church near dusk.

No comments:

Post a Comment