Wednesday was our last day to tour around Provence. The day dawned with the Mistral wind in full force. We decided to head out and use our rental bikes one last time. Figuring that the hills around the town of Gigondas might give us a decent shot of avoiding the gale, we headed there.
After parking below the village, we rode our bikes up a short hill into the small central square of Gigondas. Gigondas is a tiny, out of the way town in the Rhone wine country. It is at the base of the Montmirail Massif, a hill area within in eyesight of Mt. Ventoux. The hills are capped by a distinctive rock out cropping laced with holes called the Dentelles (dentelle means lace). In amongst the hill and along the slopes, green vines tinged with the orange and yellows of the coming autumn and loaded with deep purple clusters of grapes nearing harvest are abundant.
In the village, there are four restaurants and a collection of wine “degustation” or tasting rooms scattered along the streets. The businesses are the only modern marks in a village of windy and narrow roads and alleyways defined by the rock and plaster walls of buildings accented by the pastel colored shutters so come in Provence. Gigondas is not on the main road, so through traffic does not pass down its few streets. The town has a relaxing, quiet, out of the way type of feel.
We poked around the town on our bikes and made some unsuccessful attempts to climb up and out of the village on roads that turned to alleyways that turned into the local residents back yards. Eventually found a route, of sorts, that headed up the hill. The road started narrow and steep. Grinding up the steep grade, we passed a couple of tourists whose apparently pleasant greeting of “bonjour” (good day) soon became correctly interpreted as “bonne chance” or good luck. As we contemplated what that meant, the road narrowed and steepened further and the surface became potholed. Next the asphalt was replaced by concrete as if the slope was now too steep to use blacktop. At this point, it was so steep that our out of the saddle efforts had to be closely gauged to keep our front wheels on the ground. It also was apparent that this was neither a popular tourist road nor a standard bicycling route. Elsewhere in Provence, we half expected to look over our shoulder and see a Backroads or other such cycling tour group cruising by. If Backroads chose this as a route, their patrons would have demanded a refund on the spot.
After repeatedly checking that map to reassure ourselves yet again that we did not, in fact, know exactly where we were, we continued on up the hill. Things got better, in part. The road now became less steep and more reasonable to climb. Then, out of the blue, a mountain bike ride started. The concrete was replaced by gravel that was soon replaced by the underlying rock of the roadbed with a little gravel tossed in to make the riding even more challenging. Our rental road bikes with narrowest of tires pumped up to the bitter limit to make it somehow possible to get up Mt. Ventoux, were a marginal choice for the lower part of the climb. On the gravel and rock, it was survival time. No doubt this little jaunt voided the bike rental agreement. As we continued, we made our best efforts to channel Jim Sullivan* (not something that I generally advise; we may need therapy afterwards), and persisted on. As it turned out, we actually did know where we were. This became clear as we passed the “col” or pass on the road. We also learned what the grey line with a dashed line next to it meant, in practice, on the Michelin road map. It did not mean bike route!
At the top, no one was around. We thought for a moment that we had found the one place on the planet that was unvisited by a German tourist (or “Huns” as Catherine refers to them). Around that moment, Becky found a camera that had been dropped by a visitor. OK, others had seen this place. Later, we turned the camera on. The menu language was German. It figures.
We continued on past the saddle and on down the hill amongst the vineyards whose tentacles of vine rows formed a web of green and gold amongst the drainages in the small basin. Further past the amused glances of hikers wondering just where the hell we came from, we happened on a road cyclist climbing up the now paved road. He was German. Thus, we pretty much assume that he was heading to where we had just come from.
Back on the tarmac, we completed the loop and ended back in the plaza in Gigondas. Under the shade of a big tree, we enjoyed the fine Plat du Jour from the only open restaurant and a glass of excellent Gigondas wine.
We lingered a while, but too soon we had to head out to drop the bikes off. Afterwards, it was back to the house to eat, pack up, and consume as much as possible of the remaining copious quantities of alcohol left in the house, lest it go to waste on our departure.
Thursday we are off to Paris, the first step on our trip home. We will miss Provence.
* Jim Sullivan (Sully) is a friend of ours who uses his road bikes to ride on the dirt trails around home. It sounds crazy (and it probably is, knowing Sully), but he is quite adept at it and can drop many a fat tired rider on the dirt.