En France; Week 2

Leaving Carcassonne, today’s journey was about 350 km. In the name of it not taking all day (and because we had to be at our destination within an hour of a time I’d set with the property owner), today was going to be very much a motorway day. As luck would have it, this also included my favorite piece of French motorway; The ring around/avoiding Montpellier. I’ve sat baking in the heat waiting for the toll in the past so wasn’t looking forward to it this time. Plans to see the Millau viaduct were shelved when the detour time & distance was calculated. I’ll have to keep that for another trip.

Several entirely uneventful hours of road passed, the most exciting of which was having to unleash a barrage of obscenities at an idiotic French driver as he allowed his car to roll backwards and almost collide with the bike at the aforementioned toll booth. We did eventually get off the motorway with an unscathed bike and onto some lovely quiet back roads, thereby allowing my blood pressure to return to normal. Finally we arrived in Lardiers, our base for the next week.

Lardiers is up in the hills and (as far as we could tell) appears to be surrounded on all sides by picturesque towns and landscapes. Being high up in the hills and close-ish to the Alps, we also had a taste of home in that you could never really tell what the weather was going to do from one minute to the next. In the week we spent in & around the area, we were caught in no less than 4 thunderstorms. I was almost becoming accustomed to riding around in lightning and had just about reached the comfortable situation of not soiling myself every time there was a lightning strike directly in front of us. Just about, but not quite.

Even something as mundane as going grocery shopping in this area is spectacular. No matter which way we rode out of the town, we were presented with views like the above. There was also a market in a nearby town (Forcalquier) which seemed to attract every human being within a 150 mile radius.

Now that I’m going back over the photos after nearly a year and trying to think of what to write about them, I’m reminded of a seasoned motorbike tourer we met once that said he’d “done France”. I still can’t imagine how that’s possible unless you’ve walked down every winding street of every little town at least twice. I can obviously accept that different people have different priorities, I just don’t think the sweeping statement is a particularly accurate one. I’ve lived in Ireland for 30+ years but I’d never consider for one minute that I’ve ‘done’ Ireland. Anyway, onward…

As you might expect, there was too much to see in the area to cram into just one week. Before we arrived I’d already set a couple of destinations; gorges and mountains. Nothing new there. Lavender was a priority of course. But it’s all the things you find in between that soak up the time and make you wonder where the week went.

One of the first day trips was of the ‘mandatory to remain rubber side down’ variety. I mentioned in the previous post (which was ohh, eons ago now) that I’d gotten quite over enthusiastic in the Pyrenees a few days previous to arriving in Provence. It was only when we arrived at our base for the week that I found both tyres pretty much on deaths door. Certainly not enough to get us home, never mind home via a few hundred miles of twisty Alps. With that in mind, a phone call was placed to a nearby BMW dealer. After a lot of gesturing (yes, gesturing on the phone) and putting on my best French accent, I managed to secure two new tyres. It did mean backtracking all the way to Avignon but as I said, it wasn’t optional. It was sitting in the BMW dealership, waiting for the tyres that made me appreciate the dealer network. I barely knew the French for tyres (and seemingly knew less about how to pronounce the word) but the understanding folks in the service department sorted us out in relatively quick time (for a hefty price mind you, but it is a BMW dealership after all).

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Above, Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, where lavender fields run right up to the walls of the abbey. Well, when the lavender is in full bloom anyway. We visited in June so we were a little bit too early to get full bloom this high up in the hills. Above that, a little lower down in the hills on the way to the abbey where there was a lot more lavender.

Another day trip brought us out to Gorges du Verdon, originally intended to be part of the route into the Alps but in hindsight, it was better as a day trip.

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Now I’ve never really been bad with heights but having stuck my head over this railing, I may have to reconsider. The (I should point out) 3 foot high railing, the only thing stopping you from a brief vertical flight followed by certain death.

It may have been better as a day trip but I think next time I’ll budget a longer day. There is a whole other section of the gorge we didn’t get to this time around. Onto other sights and sounds however, this time Mont Ventoux.

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I had been eyeing up this location for a few days as it seemed to be on the way to or back from all our day trips. The weather wasn’t playing along, some days we’d be riding by and see a giant thunder cloud hanging over the mountain, other days we’d be in the thunder cloud and just want to get back to the house and into a bottle of wine. Late into the week, it was finally decided it’d have to be ‘today or never’ and we set off. Thankfully, the weather held off and our biggest problem of the day was spending some time following someone that didn’t seem to understand how corners work.

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The mountain is a Tour de France location apparently, just in case you ever head up there and wonder why cyclists outnumber motorists by about 100 to 1. Thankfully once you get out of the forest in the lower section of the mountain, the roads are wide and perfectly surfaced so we didn’t get caught behind the world and it’s mother struggling up the steep slope. The top of the mountain looks like it’s had a visit from the big bad wolf, who has huffed and puffed and blown all the plant life away. Not a tree or blade of grass to be found anywhere on the upper section of the mountain and considering how green and lush the bottom section is, it’s quite a stark contrast as you make your way up to the top. There is one hell of a view from the top though. Worth it for that alone.

We spent the remaining couple of days stopping in varied amazingly picturesque little towns and locations (very few of which I can currently name now that I’m writing this over a year later).

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Perhaps the most surprising of which was Simiane-la-Rotonde, only a short hop away from our regular grocery wine shopping route.

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We even made use of their nice shaded terrace, as the heat was beginning to do strange things to my sanity.

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Unfortunately the week passed all too quickly and it was time to get back on the road for the final leg of the trip around the outside of France. If we had the opportunity to stay in this particular part of Provence any longer, I’m quite sure I’d have joined the coffee sipping, chain smoking, perpetually lunch eating locals as one of their own.

So it’s goodbye to Lardiers and onward to the Alps.

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