What about Nice?

Yesterday it was very cold out on the bike; today the rain added its pennyworth, so cold wet and very windy, I was only too glad to be home.   

When things go wrong in my life, I do not fret over them that would be wasted energy, spilt milk, move on. But of course, the time and effort put into trying to get to where you wanted to be before it all went pear-shaped, is never a total write off.

The plan was, knowing that I would always want to do something with boats, in the years running up to my retirement. I bought the old folk boat for the purpose of using it as a live-on-board home. When complete I would sail over to France, join the canal system, and travel down to the south of France, into the Mediterranean, and from there the Canal du Midi, and with my saving and sale of my house, I would buy a plot of land next to the canal bank and plant a vegetable garden, the fruits of my labour would be sold to passing trade from my waterborne home and at the local market. That’s the plan.

Okay, she needed a few new planks (actually twice as many as first thought) some new ribs (more troublesome since they were mostly hidden behind miles of brightwork that made up the interior of the boat.) new, standing and running rigging, a new mainsail, and none of this would come cheap. However I had given myself a few years to do the work, had some savings, (well at least at the start of the refit) and was still earning a wage, so some disposable income too, as always, I would be leaning on the job, but

Why France?

A warm climate, the Mediterranean, non-tidal so you can sail at most any time you please, (although it can be a bit fickle, weather-wise, as Paul found out.) most yacht owners, who sail in the Mediterranean over the summer months, bring their yachts into the canal system over winter, much cheaper than in a marina on the coast. (It would have cost me around £70.00 per year to house my boat on the canal if things had gone to plan.) The canal chosen was the Midi, a 240km waterway in Southern France, connecting the Garonne, running from Toulouse down to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean.

I did retire, I did finish my three years refit of the boat, I did sail it afterwards, however, not in the Mediterranean, but the North Sea out of Grimsby.

Yes, but what about ‘Nice’? 

I needed to do a reconnaissance of the area, near to where the canal and Mediterranean collided I set out for Sete. I soon became worn out with tourists, heavy traffic the south coast is no place for a bike. With time on my hands before I would have to fly home from Nice, I decided to return to my old hunting ground, and boarded a train for Aigueze, in the Rhone valley.

Aigueze to Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 29 miles

In the centre of the town, the game of boules is played under the shade of the plane trees, as it has been played down through the centuries, at the terrain de boules, and area laid out especially and a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

Dominating the landscape of the area is Mont Ventoux; it hangs over you like a cloud as you cycle past picturesque vineyard after vineyard. The whole of this area is given over to the growing of grapes for winemaking; Chateauneuf-du-Pape is probably the best known of the wines from this area. The variety of grapes that can be grown as well as the percentage of alcohol is all controlled under the rules of ‘appellation controlee’. It is they who ensure that all wine produced and bearing the label Chateauneuf-du-Pape comes from this region.  On route you will cross over the River Rhone, I stopped at a little campsite, L’Art de Vivre on the banks of the river and practically in the vineyard.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape to Villes-sur-Auzon 24 miles,

As you approach Mont Ventoux, you will be thinking of the death of Tom Simpson in 1967 on the Tour de France. Simpson was the first British rider to wear the yellow jersey and had been World Champion. The stage finished in Carpentras, was attributed to the British rider Barry Hoban. It was agreed amongst the peloton that a British ride should take the stage as a tribute to Simpson. I could have gone off route and cycled to the top of the toughest climb on the Tour de France, but having seen these top cyclists struggle, I had neither the will nor inclination to ride to the top, so passed on by.

Villes-sur-Auzon to Sault 19 miles,

This is something a bit special, as you leave the vineyards behind and cycle the Gorges de la Nesque only 19 miles but this is spectacular, the road skirting along the side of the gorge, and through tunnels cut into the limestone rock. The honey produced here is a bit special too. It takes on the favour of Lavender and Thyme grown extensively in the region. Lavender is of course synonymies with Provence.

Sault to Forcalquier 33 miles,

The fields above Sault are where the world’s lavender is grown. I had gotten myself lost. I was supposed to go into the village, not by-pass it and come out in a totally new direction, I had continued on the road that I was now on. The road grew steeper and steeper until I thought I was climbing Mont Ventoux, although that was now way on the horizon. I found myself on a high plateau, totally covered in lavender, the scent in the air was overpowering. I found a small filling station and went in to ask for directions. The owner did not answer but pointed out the window to a lad filling a small van. I don’t know what was written on the side of the van but did recognise the name Jones, and that Mr Jones was something to do with electricity. Mr Jones was indeed Welsh and had come to lived and worked here in France, as a self-employed electrical contractor, and yes, the only way to get back onto my road was back the road I had just come, ho-hum, well at least it would be all downhill.  

This is beautiful pleasant cycling and not until you reach Le Rocher d’Ongles will the road open up again. This is a very fast road down through the valley, slightly downhill to meet the Laye River that terminates in a reservoir. you will see domed-shaped dwellings, dating from around 2000 BC, dry-stone built from flat slabs of limestone, called lauzes, they are everywhere, saved for prosperity and repaired using traditional methods. There is much to see in Forcalquier, including the Place St-Michel and its 15th-century fountain, and nearby, the Centre d’Astronomie, open to the public.

Forcalquier to Moustiers-ste-Marie 37 miles,

The Durance river valley divides Provence and from here it is a bit of a pull up onto the Plateau de Valensole, another sea of lavender. The area has a very different feel to it, more of a Roman influence, and is very Mediterranean. From the town of Moustiers-Ste-Marie, I travelled a few km to the village of Moustiers, well worth the climb.  Perched on the cliff-face, the river Raoul cuts the town in half as it tumbles it way down from the mountains. I journeyed here to see the chain and star. The story goes that a Knight taken prisoner during the Crusades, vowed that if he ever returned to Moustiers he would hang a silver star above the village, the current star was put there in 1882. The village was established by monks in the 5th century, living in a cave hollowed out of the cliffside.

Moustiers-ste-Marie to Balcons de la Mescala 25 miles,

The waters of the Lac de Ste-Croix reflected the blue of the sky this is a gorgeous area for France. The Gorge du Verdon is second only to the Grand Canyon in the US. You cycle all 25km of the gorge, with its emerald green waters below. The Parc National Regional De Verdon would make a great place for a fortnight cycling holiday. There is rafting, canyon and kayaking on offer too or why not, bungee jumping, from the Point de L’artuby, for those of an adventurous nature.

Balcons de la Mescala to Castellane 25 miles,

Again a spectacular ride, at Comps-Sur-Artuby you will plunge to the upper reaches of the Verdon River gorge. I chose to climb the hillier route from Jabron that ended in an exhilarating, almost free-fall descent around hairpin bends and over small stone bridges of the Canyon du Rayaup, this was suggested to me by a local cyclist; he said I would not be disappointed, he was right. I arrived early so had time to explore the Chapelle Notre-Dame du Roc, built-in 1703 and sits above the town, a thirty-minute walk.

Castellane to Greolieres 29 miles,

At the start of my journey from Castellane, I could now feel the weariness in my legs as I climbed to the plateau at over one thousand meters, before plunging once more through a tight limestone gorge, unfortunately riding on the right you feel very exposed with walls less than a wheel height to stop you getting to the bottom very quickly indeed. Beware of the ‘Mistral’ crossing the high plateaus and passes of Provence you will come across these might wind from the north-west, they have tremendous power in them and have been known to reach gusts of over one hundred kph.

Greolieres to Nice 28 miles,

The Gorge du Loup, it was all downhill from here and I had two days in hand, so it was a leisurely ride, stopping off to take a dip at the waterfall, it was breathtakingly cold but so refreshing. You will not be weary of things to do in Nice, so long as you like to do them surrounded by tourists. Nice has more art galleries and museums than Paris. The cycle paths can be tricky with give way signs everywhere, at the Promenade des Anglais, I dipped my wheel in the sea, the end of my journey, I folded up my bike and packed it away in the carrier bag, dumped most of my clothing pamphlets and reading material picked up on the way to lighten my plane journey home, spending my last day just sitting around watching the world go by, the last thing I wanted to do was to join it.                  

Stay safe.

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