NOTE: You can click on any of the small pictures below to see a larger version of that picture.
In July 2000 we did a self-guided bicycling trip in the South of France. A self-guided trip means that while a company (in this case, Randonnée Tours of Canada) set up the routes, hotels and rental bikes, and arranged for our luggage to be transported from one hotel to the next, we were otherwise on our own. No group, no leader, no sag wagon to pick you up if you were tired. We had done a self-guided trip the year before in the Czech Republic, and so we knew it worked well for us.
The trip we chose was in Haute Provence, a region referred to as Drome Provencal (see map right), as it borders on the region just to the north of Provence, called Drome. Here are all the charms of Provence, minus most of the tourists. Because it is at a higher altitude, this is where all the lavender grows, and we were lucky enough to be there in prime lavender-blooming time, which is mid-Jund to mid-July. It is also hillier than most of the rest of Provence, and so gave us a more challenging ride. Better to work off the calories from all the fantastic dinners!
We began our trip in Vaison-la-Romaine, a charming town in the north of Provence. We stayed at the wonderful Hostellerie de Bellfoi in the medieval quarter. Vaison is well-known for its Roman ruins,
Day 1 - Vaison-la-Romaine to Poet-Laval
The next morning we set out through Vaison heading north. Mostly we rode through beautiful countryside, surrounded by vineyards and an occasional castle in the distance. We climbed up through the village of Vinsobre, which has its own wine appellation. We were in the region of Nyons, famous for its olives and olive oil. It is the only olive in France to be granted an appellation like wine.
We thought we saw our first view of lavender, but it turned out that it was "lavandin," the "cheap version." This is the stuff that's used in inexpensive bath oils, etc. to make it smell like lavender. The destination for the day, and where we would be staying for the next two nights, was the village of Le Poet-Laval.
Total kilometers for the day: 65
This is a MOST charming 12th century village that is one of "les plus beaux villages de France," an official accolade given by the government. It has recently been restored, and there is only one small hotel and not much else.
The hotel, Les Hospitaliers, was an absolute delight, with a world class restaurant that is outside on the roof. Six course gourmet dinners were about $28 a person!
There was a wonderful pool built into a hillside terrace, and the whole place was as peaceful as you could possibly imagine.
The views were extraordinary from everywhere.
When we arrived there was a "hand organ" festival going on, so we made our way to the top of this hill village (no mean feat) to the sound of organ grinders! There was a bit more excitement the first afternoon we were there as there was a wedding taking place in the beautiful church at the top of the hill.
Day 2 - Into Drome
We rode up a monster hill for five or six kilometers in the intense sun, and finally came to the top of the Col de Pertuis ("col" means mountain pass), at which point the scenery changed distinctly.
The hills in the distance were bigger, and more jagged. These are the foothills of the Alps. We were out of Provence for the day and into Drome. We rode down the other side of the pass, and were treated to delightful vistas of rolling hills and castles.
The highlight of the day was our stop in the lovely village of Saou, where dramatic crags towered over quaint stone buildings. We had a drink in a charming cafe called L'Oiseau Sur Sa Branche (The Bird in the Tree).
We did an extra loop at the end of the day, visiting the artist colony at Puygiron. We returned for another delightful evening and delicious dinner in Poet-Laval.
Total kilometers for the day: 83