It sounds so good; a week of warm weather, fine food and wine, a bunch of great people from around the world and some pedalling. Will the reality be as wonderful as my overly-romantic imagination suggests? Come with me and find out!
“Where is it?” is a good question to start. It’s where the Rhone River meanders towards the sea. The small city of Avignon is an important historical centre. During tough times in Rome, several Popes lived here because it was safer and nicer (The local wine and women were the big attractions for Popes back then. Naughty Popes!).
This diary entry will be in a new style – a whole week at once, and mostly told by the camera. Ready? Let’s start at the start in Avignon, getting off the fast train (the TGV) from London. Clockwise, this is the Hotel les Cedres, a rustic and comfortable place on a hill overlooking Avignon, a cafe in the old city and a view from outside. For a city of Papal housing, the place is quite modest in size and decoration.
The cycle tour started the next day. A couple of lads named Bernard and Pete from Chain Reaction tours ran the show, with Pete leading the way. We rode north from Avignon to Orange (pronounced “oar – onge”, and preferable roll your “r” so that you sound like a purring cat).
Next, some happy snaps from the trip to Orange (roll that “r”), and something that looks a lot like the Arc de Triumph.
Next day, we check out the Roman theatre in Orrrange. It is big, it is in great condition, and there’s an excellent audio tour. After a picnic lunch we carry on to Uzes for coffees, beers and a visit by an official Tour de France tractor. Fantastic. That’s Laura, from Santa Cruz, California. Smart, sassy and pretty.
The hotel room in Uzes was interesting. It was so small that I bought a cat to see if I could swing it, but it died of heat exhaustion before I got a chance. No air con. It is 30 degrees outside but it was more like 40 (105F) in my room. Fortunately, there were no curtains in my East-facing room, so the carcass of the dead cat was automatically re-heated in time for breakfast.
Did I mention that the WiFi didn’t work? My family are beginning to wonder if I’m alive. Maybe they’ve seen the cat on the news?
Before I can say “Coffee and two croissants”, we are on the road again.
The Pont-du-Gard (Wikipedia) is a Roman era aqueduct – an amazing feature – and we have a picnic underneath it for lunch. Our leader Mr Pete McGee knows the local produce and delivers a hell of a good feed for next to nothing. Everyone overeats. Yumm. Then I go to sleep on a rock, providing visual amusement and holiday photographs. Just a guy asleep on a rock. Nothing to see here, folks.
To some degree (pun) we are all affected by the heat, though team Australia can do ok as long as I drink lots. Team Ireland (Siobhan and Daniel) are very uncomfortable. Every piece of shade is enjoyed. Giselle, from team Brazil, looks very comfortable in the photo below. Strange.
On to Beaucaire, which is nice enough and a much better hotel room.
Thursday 4th June 2015. It’s warm again, but the riding is lovely on the way to St Remy.
Next day and it’s open farming country and easy riding until it gets hot. Lunch is another picnic, facilitated by Pete. For a few Euros he puts on a hell of a good spread.
We climb a little to a nice fort village to have a cool drink. There have been so many that I can barely recall them. Could it be Gourdes or Menerbes? Just as well I’m using the GPS application OruxMaps to record the cycling paths. When I get home, it’s a just click of a button to see each day’s ride on GoogleEarth. Wherever we were, the day ended in Roussillon, where the ochre cliffs are a feature. See the photo of Laura and Pete, bottom right. To the left is Sylvia, a member of team Brazil.
On the last day we complete the loop by returning to Avignon. Before leaving Roussillon, we take lots of photos; the last day has arrived almost before we started. The cycling is good, with quiet roads, warm weather and just a couple of hills. Lunch is very nice, among hills and water wheels and cold clear spring water, but the last 20km (of about 50) involve traffic and car exhausts until we find ourselves on the Rhone River and next to the Pope’s house.
So that’s it…..my French cycling adventure. It was a great thing. Unfortunately, the photos don’t convey the laughs, the food, the wine, the moans (hills) and the sweat. Also, I have forgotten so many bits of the story that this is only the barest of bones of what actually happened. Somehow I have barely mentioned team Canadia, who quietly spun their way along the roads with no fuss.
Would I recommend a trip like this? As a holiday, I’d give it an 8/10. As an adventure, it’s a 3/10. More like ham and apple pie than buffalo and tamarind.
A huge thanks to Chain Gang and my fellow travellers, for making every day a lot of fun.
Au Renoir. Bloody spell checker. Au revoir!