Monday, 16 October 2017

Our Very Own Tour de France - Day 53 - 56

Pont du Gard to Vallon-Pont-d'Arc

Friday 13th and Saturday 14th October 2017

On Friday morning we left our campsite by the Pont du Gard and travelled to the to the fortified city of Avignon with a vague hope that the Motorhome Chausson dealer there might be able to replace the diesel pump for our central heating and hot water system - but once again the answer was a big fat NON!  So now I think we're pretty well resigned to managing without these luxuries (unless we have electric hook up) until we get back to England.  However, our trip wasn't completely wasted because it wasn't far off the route anyway, and while we were there we popped into Lidl to do some much needed restocking - all the 🍷🍷  had ran out!

Our detour also allowed us a glimpse of the massive ramparts that enclose the town and as we were passing by we also realised that it is from here that the famous French song that we all sang as children came from  - Sur le Pont d'Avignon!

From here we aimed T4rdis2 at our next main destination which was an Aire near  Mont Ventoux, and all we really expected to find was the massive mountain itself which we know and love from watching several years worth of The Tour de France!  But we were very wrong, the mountain is surrounded by lots of other lower but mountainous ranges, and I really don't know where to start in describing this area.  Our base was just outside the hamlet of Sault-du-Vaucluse, and on Friday afternoon we took a short walk into the town to get our bearings and to visit the Tourist Info Office which provided a plethora of  information concerning the many ways we could spend our time - but the 2 days that we planed to stay was definitely not long enough!

Besides Mount Ventoux one of this region's other main claims to fame is lavender production.  The town of Sault is said to be the birthplace of lavender, and as we walked through the streets the very strong floral aroma, and the many shops selling lavender related goods such as honey seemed to confirm this.  And another thing that we learnt about while we were there was the importance of the bike and cycle routes in the region.  At the tourist office we were given a map that identified at least 35 planned cycle routes for all abilities - and it didn't even include the trek up Ventoux - and in almost every direction you looked you could see cyclists in full regailia  Lycra who had obviously been taking advantage of them!

So now we had a bit of a dilemma - where should we go in our one full day (Saturday)!  Originally, we'd planned to tackle some of Mont Ventoux's slopes, but the summit stands at 1909 metres and 17 miles up, and in parts the gradient is 10.7% so our chances of getting very far were non-existent - it really is for elite or very strong athletes only! Additionally, we planned to drive over the summit on Sunday, so in the end we scrapped that plan and replaced it with a much more enjoyable one that allowed us to ride through Les Gorges de la Nesque - and this could have been a 40 mile circular ride but we made it a 'there and back' and reduced it to 31 instead.

At the beginning of our journey we traversed along the gently sloping roads that drop down towards the gorge and as we did so we passed by the huge lavender plantations - all bare of flowers at this time of year but they must be spectacular when in full bloom!

Sniff deep and you might be able to smell it!
Whoops!  I think this might be a stolen screen shot pic!
And then not long after that we were in the beautiful gorge itself which was quite spectacular because it looked as if God had been spray painting the hillsides with lots of fantastic Autumn colours!

You can just about see the road where it clings to the hillside
Our first coffee stop in the grandiose canyon was at the Castelleras Belvedere (a view point) which faces the Rocher du Cire (we think rock of wax)!  Here several French bikers were singing there National Anthem - maybe to hear the echo of their own voices - or maybe it was of some other significance - but either way everyone was quite amused! Also, apparently, at the bottom of the gorge in that spot there is a troglodyte chapel that dates from the twelfth century but as it's only accessible by foot, and as it was such a long way down we missed that out!

Rocher du Cire

And from there it was forwards and onwards, uphill and down-dale  and through several burrows tunnels along a narrow balcony road that allowed us to admire more of the breathtaking vistas! On the way I'd taken quite a few pics of John but when he tried to take one of me he missed on his first go!

But he got me on his second attempt 😂😂😂

Mont Ventoux - a very long way up!
In the end we agreed it had definitely been the right decision not to ride up  Mont Ventoux because it would have been well beyond our capabilities - so for today we just admired it from afar - and tomorrow we'll have the pleasure of riding up it's slopes in the comfort of T4rdis2 and be able to admire it's grandeur without trying to half kill ourselves in the process!

Sunday 15th October 2017

And what a ride it was!  We left the Aire at Sault, and almost immediately we were on the lower slopes of the great mountain - and here the landscape seemed to cloaked in a huge skirt of many colours!  In the bright sunshine the Autumnal colours shone brightly in every direction that we looked!

But as we rose up the steep incline this soon gave way to a pristine but barren white landscape that looked like something that might be found on the moon!

It's nick names include 'The Beast of Provence', 'The Giant of Provence' and
'The Bald Mountain'
Apparently, Venteux means 'windy' in French so it would seem it's very aptly named - when the Mistral is blowing wind speeds have reached as high as 200 mph and it is said that it's likely to reach 56 mph on 240 days of the year!  But we must have been quite lucky because although there was a stiff breeze it certainly didn't blow us off our lofty perch and in the lovely hot sunshine we were quite glad of it's cooling effect!

On the way up we passed by a memorial to the British cyclist Tommy Simpson who collapsed and died during his attempt to climb the mountain in the1967 Tour de France at about 2km from the top.  It would appear that the tradition of leaving a memento in his memory is still going strong!

And there were also several other memorials on the white stone slopes but there was nowhere to park so we couldn't stop and look.

However, once we reached the top we found plenty of space so we took full advantage and wandered full circle to thoroughly appreciate the 360 degree panorama - and it almost looked as if we could have stayed the night on the huge scree plateau (right below) but it was a bit early in the day to put down our ⚓! 

However, we did pause for coffee before starting our descent, and then again about half way down for lunch!  And after that we made our way towards an Aire in the town of Malaucene, but when we got there it seemed they were having a motorcycle motor-cross event so there was really no room at the Inn in their very busy 20 space motorhome parking area - and parking for vans in any other place in the town was banned!  As well as us there were also several other vans circling and vying for space and it seemed fairly unlikely that  any of us were going to get suitably parked for the night there - but we knew (and it seemed they did to) that there was another Aire about 6 miles down the road.

The full Aire at Vaison la Romaine
This resulted in John adopting a bit of a Sterling Moss attitude - we set off in a convoy of 3 big vans with us in the middle - but as we all appeared to be heading for the same place the race was on to see who could get there first to secure a spot to spend the night.  In the end we came second (the third van stopped at a roadside stall) - but it was a good job we hadn't dawdled because we just managed to nip into the last available space - it would have been a very long drive to the next Aire  if we'd been pipped to the post!

Monday 16th October 2017

This morning we left our Aire at Vaison la Romaine and set a course for yet another gorge - this time The Gorge de l'Ardeche with the particular mission of seeing The Pont d'Arc.  But to get there we had to pass through part of  the Rhone Valley where we found staggeringly massive vineyards.  At times there were vines of many varieties for as far as the eye could see - apparently the region stretches for over a 150 miles and forms a corridor between the Med and Northern Europe with the River Rhone at the base of the valley.

Chateau Suze-la-Rousse

Along our way there were also dozens of Caves  (outlets) where wine could be purchased - and we were a little tempted, but at the mo our cellars have sufficient supplies so we just motored on by! However we did smile when we passed the University of Wine in the town of Suze-la-Rousse which was founded in 1978 - it's amazing what you can get a degree in these days!

Then it didn't take us much longer before  we found ourselves entering the Gorges de l'Ardeche - a series of gorges that the River Ardeche has scoured out  over the millennia to form deep canyons in the rugged limestone.  Apparently, the whole area is riddled with caves and tunnels, many of which have huge stalagmite and stalactite formations, but to be honest, the drama of what we could see above ground was enough to satisfy us.

The gorge runs for nearly 19 miles from the lofty St Martin-d'Ardeche, and near it's end it descends down to Vallon-Pont-d'Arc where we'd found an Aire to spend the night.  However, as the day was still young our plan was to have a quick lunch and then spend the afternoon cycling back up through the gorge with lots of stops at the view point!

But that didn't quite work out!  I think I've already mentioned our resident gremlin!  Well today he hopped on the back of John's bike and played another filthy trick on us at about only 7 miles into the gorge - and just after we'd  ridden up a very steep hill!  John's bike has had a creaky crank for  a while - a fact that was recognised by the firm who sold them to us just before we set off on this tour, and one that they promised to fix when we get back.  But today the 'creak' developed into a horrible grating noise with each turn of his peddles - so be honest - it looks as if it's buggered for the time being!

However, on our short ride we did achieve our objective of seeing the Pont d'Arc which is a natural arch that is a 197 feet wide and 177 feet high!

Now, if you've been keeping up with our posts you'll know we're rather fond of Gorges, so tomorrow we're going to beam down into another one - this time The Gorge du Tarn, but to see what we get up to there you'll have to tune into our next post!
So for now it's Bye 👋👋👋 from us 😙

Oh and PS - Just so it's not late  Happy Birthday Paul for tomorrow xxx

Click here to see our French camping spots