Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’Azur

After three days of siestas and gentle sightseeing in Arles, Chris’s cough was finally abating, and my knee wound mainly healed. We set off inland. After weeks of travel on canals and coastal cycle routes, these next few days gave our legs a welcome taste of climbs, our senses some curves, and our eyes a feast of landscapes.

Lunchtime in Arles

Lunchtime in Arles

2014/10/24-26: In Arles
For the first day, Chris mostly slept, though we did manage to buy new gloves and socks for me to replace lost luggage. During the next two, we used a pass that allowed us to visit four monuments and a museum. There is much to choose from in Arles: Roman, Medieval, or modern. We had a gander at a roman forum, a cloister hung with tapestries, and an art gallery featuring a collection of Picasso sketches. We strolled narrow streets, the Jardin d’ete, and along the Rhone. We found a bistro nearby where we ate several excellent dinners.

Roman Forum

Roman Forum

Beef stew from Camargue bulls with local red rice

Beef stew from Camargue bulls with local red rice

2014/10/27: To Lagnes
We rode across Les Alpilles, which area small gentle range of hills, stopping at Baux-en-Provence where there is a castle perched on a ridge. It’s is the Toussaint school holiday, and the place was crowded, so we ate our lunch perched on the wall, and descended the ridge through olive orchards.
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In Lagnes, we found a chambre d’hôte and met over a good dinner with a Cumbrian couple of our vintage who have done similar travels to ours. We were in contact because they have kept detailed journals a web site for touring cyclists called Crazy Guy on a Bike. They have done a route across the Mediterranean similar to what we are planning, and their words of wisdom were timely and welcome. Thank you, Pauline and Hugh.

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Lavender

2014/10/28: To between Manosque and Valensole

Following the old railway line on the voie verte.

Following the old railway line on the voie verte.

A voie verte took us eastward toward Manosque where we shopped for dinner ingredients. We climbed through forest toward Valensole, and came out onto an open plateau of lavender fields. There wasn’t much cover for a discreet wild camp, so as desk fell, we backtracked to the more forested area to find ourselves a dry gully.

As we set about making dinner in the falling darkness, we discovered the stove pump had failed. Chris managed to get it working again with a quick grease injection, but we wouldn’t have attempted any more serious repair in the dark. It was a lesson in finding one’s campsite a bit earlier on these short late fall days. We weren’t relishing a supper of dry noodles.

2014/10/29: To a switchback in the Gorges de Verdon
We set out across an area of lavender fields, and descended to a reservoir lake at the foot of the Gorges de Verdon where I braved the water for a brief swim. Then we began our climb, slogging up to a 1200 m pass by late afternoon. We were ascending to the Corniche Sublime, an escarpment along the southern edge of this deep limestone canyon. The views across and downward were better at each turn, and fall leaves were yellow and russet. At one point, a military helicopter passed very low above us.

Evening view down into the gorge

Evening view down into the gorge

Dropping about 200 m from the pass, we followed a track leading into the forest from a switchback. We began to set up a discreet camp, having seen signs that said camping sauvage interdit. As we finished supper, we watched the lights of a vehicle lurch along a small road just a little lower down. It paused, we heard two loud explosions, and then it retreated to the main road. We are near a military area, and I later learned from a local that there were “de grands manoeuvres” taking place.

2014/10/30: To Thorenc
Well after dark, a caravan had parked on the track right near us. We were far from the only ones who had discreetly camped au sauvage. As we began our chilly descent, there were quite a few people brushing their teeth beside their vehicles. There was nearly no traffic; it was our private road, and our own spectacular views.

Descending into the mist in the gorge.

Descending into the mist in the gorge.

After a few climbs, we reached Comps-sur-Artuby where we stopped for coffee and paninis with a very jovial local group of hunters. We continued along the Lane valley past grazing areas for sheep, and turned uphill to the tiny ski village of Thorenc, were we knew (thank you, smart phone) a small hotel was open. After two long chilly nights, and with temperatures dropping even lower as we climbed again, it was a treat to be tucked in warmly.

2014/10/31: To Bastia
We knew we’d barely need to pedal as we plummeted almost 1300 m to Nice, but the landscape was also a treat for the senses that took us by surprise. The hills are limestone, with ruins or fortifications from when the area was the stronghold of the Knights Templar. There are slot canyons and waterfalls that plummet to the road, which passes through tunnels as it clings to steep valley sides.imageimageimage

We began to see road cyclists, likely on day rides from Nice, and a few touring cyclists too. We’d had several options for our descent, but we felt we chose well. This area is cyclists’ heaven when more northerly areas become too chilly.

We knew the ferry to Corsica left at 2:30 p.m., but had expected to stay a night in Nice and cross the next day. The descent had been fast, but our take on Nice was that it was not quite our scene, so we barrelled on toward the ferry. A quick stop at a waterfront bike shop left us reeling: 36 euros for two bikes worth of brake pads. This is a high rent district!

We bought ferry tickets and lined up, getting on last. A fifteen year old lad was prevented from boarding as he could not document his parents’ permission for him to travel. Many foot passengers boarded with dogs, and even more dogs emerged into passenger areas from cars. One burly fellow in camouflage trailed three huge and ferocious looking animals — something like Great Danes on steroids. When the call came to return to vehicles, there was a crowd conversion that resulted in frightening threats of dog fights and a human shouting match.

We disembarked in the dark, and found a hotel here in Bastia. Chris’s last post shows we were happy to proceed southward across Corsica to Sardinia. Last night, we were hit by some information that sent us back to the drawing board.

Bastia Harbour

Bastia Harbour

This year, unlike previous years, the ferry from Bonifacio, southernmost Corsica, to Santa Teresa, Sardinia, stopped running at the end of September. Now the only way to leave Corsica by boat is from Bastia, where we’ve just arrived. The only way to reach Sardinia from here is to travel to mainland Italy and go from there to Sardinia.

Our route plan is up in the air again, but the end result may be a more leisurely pace of travel and an earlier arrival in Greece.

M

2 responses to “Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’Azur

  1. Thanks for another fascinating post with great pics. Sorry to hear about your ferry problems – at least you speak French and can more easity negotiate a solution. I don’t suppose there is a friendly local fisherman… ! (I assume everyone speaks French: Presumably there are also Corsican speakers? Can you understand any of them, Ms Polyglot? (I also assume that when it comes to understanding camping prohibitions, Chris is presented as the linguist who didn’t understand the sign … sorry Chris!)
    Ah, Knights Templar…. I’d forgotten them (they don’t fit into my 1066 or 1666 historical regime ;-).

    • I suspect a boat to Sardinia might be arranged, but we are loathe to ride 500 mountainous kilometres toward that level of uncertainty. I think we’re going to ride a loop from and to Bastia, and catch the only boat with the most easterly destination which is Livorno. Tuscany here we come. There is always a Plan B and C and D and more.

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