Exploring Provence - The Gorge de la Nesque by Bike

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Thursday 9 October 2014

Exploring Provence - The Gorge de la Nesque by Bike

 Setting off early from the Malaucene aire (which was closing at 9am on Thursday to host a motorbike trials event) just a day after cycling to the summit of Mont Ventoux neither of us felt like journeying too far that day. Besides, the bright sunshine made the prospect of a long drive far less appealing than some more fresh air on our bikes in the rolling countryside of Provence. Armed with the brochures that had been kindly given to us by Graham and Freya in Martigny right back in June we had picked out an attractive loop that promised awesome views.

This 40 mile tour, close to the town of Sault to the south of Mont Ventoux, would take in the picturesque Gorge de la Nesque, a green and lush canyon up to 700m deep and carved deep into the Provence countryside.

Parking in Villes-sur-Auzon to enjoy a latish breakfast, we set off at 11am to pick our way through the rustic village and pick up the narrow road that would wind the next 20km up the Gorge, climbing 500m to the town of Monieux. Although an average gradient of 2.5% was far less daunting compared to our exploits just the day before on the slopes of Ventoux, my legs were still feeling decidedly wobbly. Plus, quite surprisingly, the first few kilometres were also a little steeper than I had expected at around 4% and the strong gusting wind made the going more challenging than anticipated. Oh well, at least that meant some flat sections must lie ahead.

Within just half an hour we had ascended some 150m and reached the opening of the Gorge itself, with shallow, tree lined sides deepening as they stretched ahead towards rocky crags in the distance. To our left the imposing summit of Mont Ventoux dominated the landscape and to the right and behind us the flatter plains of Provence stretched away towards the sea, covered in tiny farms, orchards and vineyards. With the sun beating down on us we felt as though we had stepped into a postcard and wondered if this landscape had changed at all over the last few thousand years. It wouldn't have looked out of place for a Roman legion to have appeared around the corner (except for the tarmac of course).

Pedalling on up the gentle slope, we made good progress pausing just once to apply some sun cream. The road was relatively busy with a few dozen cyclists waving and smiling at each other and it wasn't hard to see why this amazing road was so popular. As the Gorge deepened the tree lined slopes transformed into rocky overhangs and precipices. It was magnificent. After 2 hours we reached the head of the climb and stopped to enjoy the view right back along the Gorge and framing the Giant Ventoux. A marvellous place to just sit and enjoy the sun, which is precisely what we did.

At around 2pm we decided it was time to move on. The map we had outlined the way ahead towards Sault and looping back to Villes-sur-Auzon by another route, however, with tired legs we elected to take the easier option of retracing our steps instead. Not only would this be downhill all the way it had the added bonus of allowing us to enjoy the Gorge for even longer. At a leisurely pace it took just an hour to reach the motorhome and find that it had turned into a large hot box in the Provence sunshine but nothing a refreshing slice of watermelon couldn't solve as we sat pondering where to head to next. It had been another fine day in Provence.

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