When Peter Mayle wrote the 1989 best seller A Year In Provence, it was set in the area we were riding today. Called The Luberon, it consists of three mountain ranges – Le Petit Luberon, Le Grand Luberon, Le Luberon Oriental, (I’ll let you translate those!) and the valley surrounding them. A Year in Provence tells the story of Mayle and his wife renovating a two-hundred-year-old farm house outside Ménerbes, which is one of the Luberon towns we visited today. It opened the eyes of many English-speaking people to the joys of life in Provence.
Our ride today was a tough one. We visited four hill towns and then had to ride, yet another hill to return to our home base of Gordes.
Each town has a different flavour.
Roussillon is known for its fiery red cliffs of ochre which was used extensively for fabric dyes in the textile industry until the 1930’s. The most fascinating aspect of Roussillon is how in the space of ten kilometres, the whole landscape is completely different from neighboring towns. Every thing in Roussillon is a different hue of red or orange and it is beautiful.
On our route, we passed a first century Roman bridge, Pont Julien, which was used for car traffic until the 2005. It now forms part of the cycle route to Bonnieux.
Next stop, up another hill, is Bonnieux. A postcard pretty town with long-stretching views over the Luberon. A well desired stop for lunch. Here’s the view from our restaurant. Not too shabby.
Another ten kilometres down the road is yet another quiet hill town, Lacoste. It’s notoriety comes from being the home of the Marquis de Sade, The Lord of Lacoste. Virtually a ghost town, it has been rejuvenated as an art community by the French fashion designer, Pierre Cardin.
Yet another ten kilometres down the road, we found yet another hill town, Ménerbes. (All these hills! It’s getting a little repetitive, I think!) But it was well worth the trip.
There was a few things that I took away from the day. Firstly, I was surprised how quiet these towns all were, on a Saturday afternoon. Other than tourists, of which there were many, the towns were quite deserted. Many shops and restaurants were closed and few people milled about in the towns. I wonder what the “locals” do on Saturday afternoons. Have they gone into some of the larger centers for shopping or perhaps they enjoy quiet time at home, with families on Saturdays?
I also marvelled at how close these towns were to one another. We travelled 50 kilometres today and saw five towns. In the days before the car, of course, ten kilometres was a long journey.
On a comical note, we kept on running into the same people as we moved from town to town. We met a couple from Edmonton in Roussillon and as we rode up to Bonnieux, they passed us in their car and stopped to offer to drive me up the hill. There was a tall, blonde haired couple (German? Scandinavian?) who we saw in Roussillon, at the Pont Julian, and in Ménerbes. They looked a hell of a lot fresher than I did.
Another great day!
P.S. This is a little late. I’m posting it Monday, but we did this ride on Saturday. Trouble with the Wifi, which the French charmingly call the WeeFee.