The ever present wind prevailed at gale force as we left the seaside town of Valras Plage. For the most part they were crosswinds but for a few grueling stretches they were headwinds that would almost stop you cold in your tracks if you did not pedal constantly. The mix of seaside resort tacky and natural seaside beauty more than compensated for the inconvenient wind.
Our route occasionally took us inland to go around the large estuaries and wetlands along the coast. Gunshots from hunters of feral pigs and waterfowl punctuated the howling wind in places. Once we turned out of the wind we were treated to an easy glide along a canal towpath that has been re-purposed into a spectacularly beautiful bicycle route. At one point only the narrow path itself separated the Mediterranean from the canal. This section of France seems to have been a transportation network of canals that are still used today for mainly recreational or tourism travel.
The towpath was somewhat rough but no problem for our mix of road and gravel tires. However, near the end of the canal there was pavement that seemed to be where the commune stockpiled all of their potholes for convenient access. I think it was somewhere along this stretch that my flashing headlight decided it wanted take up residence. At least it seemed the most likely place given the bone jarring quality of the roadway.
After lunch it was mostly tailwinds all the way to the next village where there were extensive oyster farms and a series of establishments serving the salty produce in all its wonderful forms. My riding partner, Lee and I elected to sample a plate of the raw variety along with a cold glass of white wine to accent the flavor. Having grown up on the Chesapeake Bay and eaten raw oysters all my life I have high standards for the salty bivalves. My rating for this southern French product: Five out of five stars.
A few more wind assisted kilometers took us to the end of this second easy day in a row and to a nice room and a cold beer. Tomorrow it is back into the heavy duty climbs as we hit the hills.
I did not write a blog for our rest day in Montpelier. It was a rest day and after the hard ride the day before, I wanted a rest. It was a day for laundry, resting and the Search for Sock. Unfortunately, my only cold weather wool sock decided that it wanted a divorce while visiting the laundry. I asked around about her but no one seemed to know if she had hooked up with anyone else. Instead, I rebounded quickly by purchasing another pair at Decathlon, a well known multi-national, seller of socks and other stuff. I left the now unmatched spouse to sulk alone in my clothing bag. However, my wandering sock seemed to have second thoughts about leaving her mate and was reunited the morning of our departure just in time to catch a ride with me before leaving Montpelier.
Montpelier is quite a pretty city and I would not be doing it justice without sharing a few pictures before leaving the subject. After all, it is far more than just a place for socks to find themselves.
Leaving Montpelier we headed towards the sea and followed it for quite some distance along some great bicycle paths. The wind continued to be a nuisance by staying at gale force but mostly as a cross wind. Occasionally our route turned into it but the lack of a driving rain and the presence of strong sunshine made the day quite enjoyable. Seabirds and pink flamingos were occasionally seen as we rode along.
We ate lunch alongside the Midi Canal and watched a leisure boat with bicycles on board pass by. A short distance away a number of leisure craft and other canal boats were moored. It is a relaxed way to travel. Following the canal makes for a flat ride and it was nice to be able to enjoy the scenery free of any vehicle worries.
Our stay this evening is in the resort town of Valras Plage. It reminds me of some places along the east coast of the USA during the off season. More restaurants are open and more people seem to be around but the atmosphere is definitely relaxed. A good place to end a fairly easy day.
It should have been a fairly easy day. We had 127 kilometers to ride but the terrain was nearly flat. There should have been plenty of time to soak in the scenery. Instead, the day began with a pounding rain and the only thing soaked in was our bodies. Even with full rain gear the cross and head winds managed to drive the moisture into everything.
My day started with a navigation malfunction that left me without voice prompts from my phone. Normally this would have been a minor inconvenience but the rain made my glasses useless and the dim daylight made it hard to see my map. I finally had to find a dry place to stop and reset everything to get back on track. Then my gear cable broke.
While I had overhauled every component on my bike before the trip, the weak link in the chain was a new derailleur cable from China. Due to Covid there was not much choice in some bike components and this one managed to pop off the little nub that attaches the cable to the shift lever. Fortunately, I carry spares and the tools to replace them. Even more fortunately the rain had stopped and I only had a cold wind to contend with while doing the job. Twenty minutes later I was was back on course and looking forward to lunch.
The hardest part of the day came after lunch when we turned from having a cross wind into a five kilometer long section directly into a gale force headwind. If any rider said that they enjoyed that part of the journey they had to be fibbing or on medication. However, after that section we made an abrupt turn to travel along the Rhone a Sete canal and the wind, while still strong was not as much a problem. The canal had its charms with a barge making its slow progress past us and further on a few towns along the canal with some interesting canal boats moored to the shoreline. If the day had been nicer and our bodies less chilled we may have stopped to explore.
Upon reaching the Mediterranean once again we traveled along a maze of bike paths and over some rough paving slabs for a few kilometers before reaching some smoother surfaces for the last leg of our 127 kilometer journey. Wet, chilled and sore we quickly secured our bikes and headed for a warming shower. Tomorrow, there will be laundry.
We left our beautiful resort in the hills of Provence with a threat of rain over our shoulder. Fortunately and despite a threatening start, the clouds evaporated and we had a sunny day for our mostly downhill ride to our next destination. It was a well needed break after yesterday’s uphill grind. As I say, for every uphill there is an equal and opposite downhill. (most of the time)
Coming out of the first village was a restored windmill worthy of Don Quixote’s tilting efforts. Everyone stopped for a photo and I suspected that such a photo would be mandatory so I made sure I took one as well. It was postcard picturesque.
The rest of the ride was fast and entertaining. I am not either the fastest or slowest rider in the group. I just ride at my own pace and if someone else rides along that is cool and if I get dropped, that is cool as well. Today there was a group that was quite fast. In fact, they passed me four times. You might wonder how this happened as we are not on a circular course. The answer lies in making the correct turns. I am no genius at navigation. If you want an example, read yesterday’s blog where I provided entertainment to some village folks. However, today I was spot on and my friends not so much. I was entertained to see them reappear in my mirror from time to time.
However, no matter how we get there we all wind up at the same place. A roof over our heat, a cold beverage available for purchase and a great meal to be served. Life is good.
We left Nice and the French Rivera this morning for the long climb into the mountains that define the difference between the Rivera and Provence. The climb was one of the toughest I have done and made tougher by some of the bypasses Gergo routed in order to avoid a busier road. However, it was a Saturday and the roads were not that busy and because it was Saturday the smaller, narrow bypass roads actually had more. Overall we climbed over 1800 meters (6000 feet) during our 131 kilometer ride.
There was a little mountainside village that I spent some time in after lunch. Unfortunately, it was not by choice but they did have a lovely café that I wished had occupied my time instead of what did. The village is the connecting point for 5 different roads. My GPS was malfunctioning a bit earlier and I was not fully confident in the information it was providing. Both it and Ride With GPS on my cell phone would inform me that I was off course no matter which road I took. The real road was actually a very narrow alleyway that was partially blocked by construction. The first three times through town I only received some stares from the men near the traffic circle. The fourth time they chuckled. The fifth time they laughed out loud as I rode through once again. To avoid total embarrassment I decided to squeeze past the construction barrier, carry my bike over a step and around a curb and into the steep, uphill alley. I was rewarded with a chime from both navigation devices telling me that I was back on course!
Plenty of sights along the way from an old monastery to some sort of art gallery with large sculpted heads in their yard. The ups and downs of today’s ride also provided an ever changing landscape as we climbed and descended the many hills.
The rest of the ride was more of the same; big climbs and fast downhill runs all the way to the beautiful hotel nestled into the alpine hills of Provence. The scenery along the way was fantastic, as it has been this entire tour. I arrive tired and thirsty both conditions easily resolved with a shower and a few cold drinks.
Our second day in Nice was a rest day. I’m not sure we really needed one but due to the truncated nature of this tour, we had one anyway. There are worse places to spend a day then Nice. After breakfast at the hotel I set off to explore. First, was a surprise farmer’s market set up for a number of blocks along the main thoroughfare. This was not just a couple of fruit stand and someone selling jams in a jar. This was a full on buy your fresh groceries here kind of market. Everything from fruits to vegetables to fresh cut flowers on display and looking good. It is a shame that I just ate breakfast or I would have been tempted to browse my way from stall to stand.
From the market I marched off for the 40 minute uphill walk to the Henri Matisse Museum. Matisse spent much of his life in Nice and the museum has one of the largest collections of his works in the world. Along with his paintings, sculptures and other creations are a collection of works from his contemporaries. Henri’s son, Pierre was an art dealer in New York who greatly influenced the Modern Art Movement and the museum also features some of the artists who’s work he collected. It was well worth the 10 Euro admission to see this fantastic collection.
The museum is located in the Cimiez area of the city and where a Roman settlement once stood. On the museum grounds is an extensive archaeological dig that is still uncovering the ancient coliseum and baths that once stood there. This settlement dates back
to the year 1 AD and was a staging area for Roman troops before becoming a regional capital for the empire. The coliseum has been mostly excavated and standing inside you can get a feel for how gladiators, Christian martyrs and other combatants viewed the 4000 or so spectators there to cheer for victory or death. As Roman coliseums go it is one of the smaller ones but that would only mean that all those gathered to watch the carnage had excellent seats. Hope they remembered to bring along a towel.
From the coliseum I headed down to the French Rivera for some time to relax with a glass of local draft. The breeze was cooling, the scenery great and beer cold.
We left our hillside bicycle resort in Imperia, Italy for a 96 kilometer ride into France and the city of Nice. Along the way we continued to skirt the beaches of the Italian and French Rivieras. Once nice stretch of around 20 kilometers was over a well maintained bike and pedestrian pathway connecting a few of the resort towns. It was great to ride without worrying about motor vehicles. These pathways follow what may have been discontinued auto routes and the communities along the way have maintained the tunnels formerly used to cut through the rocky cliffs along the way. One tunnel was 1800 meters long, well lit and decorated with banners extolling the achievements of bicycle racers. The entire route seemed busy, even on a Thursday in September. Cyclists, walkers, joggers and active commuters alike seemed to gravitate to this safe recreational and transportation corridor.
The first two thirds of today were fairly flat on the bike path and seaside roads. However, our tour director and route planner, Gergo had arranged one of his “more interesting” routes for the last leg around Monte Carlo and into Nice. Crossing the border into France was a non-event with no one interested in seeing our passports or even bothering to ask us to stop. Shortly thereafter we left the coastal road for a route that bent and curved its way upwards following the contours of the high, rocky hills along the coast. The climb was mostly but not totally gradual and seemingly without end as we rose higher and higher above the Mediterranean and around the city of Monte Carlo. Three quarters of the way to the summit we had our lunch break by the side of the road and then back into the grind to the top. Panoramic vistas along the way kept spirits high and made the climb enjoyable.
As we neared the top Gergo had added a special treat, one extra climb through a nature preserve. From my viewpoint the only nature being preserved were some trees. Trees that blocked any potential scenic view from top. On the downward side, the rough, steep and narrow roadway required hard and almost constant pressure on our brake levers to slow our descent around the hairpin turns. The roadway outside of the preserve offered a longer and more gradual way down but having enjoyed all that the nature preserve failed to offer we had to endure the more rugged route.
Eventually we emerged from the mountainside onto the busy streets of Nice and the zig-zag route through town to our hotel. Tomorrow is a day to explore Nice before getting back into some serious climbing.
Getting out of Genoa was a bit tougher than getting in. Genoa (or Genova) is a large and busy city. Added to that was our departure during the tail end of a long morning rush hour. You needed to keep your wits about you especially as the motor scooters are a law unto themselves zipping in and out of the traffic flow in ways that are only predictable if your prediction is that they will do anything to get ahead. The outskirts were quite industrial with the shipyards apparently endless. After 20 kilometers of trying for 360 degree vision and radar like alertness we finally rode into nice surroundings.
Here we were able to experience the essential reason for why we ride. For dedicated cycle tourists the ride IS the thing and this ride along the northwest coast of Italy is one of the most breathtaking rides any cyclist can hope to enjoy. The road turns and scoops along the coast offering new vistas with every turn. It is like riding through a Hollywood movie and brings to mind some of those scenes where James Bond is in his Aston Martin heading to some lush Mediterranean resort . There are tunnels and rock cuts into the sides of cliffs as you wind your way along the coast. The towns are mostly small and touristy. Castle like homes perch on the sides and look out over the sea. The seaside towns have promenades along the sand and the usual assortment of establishments designed to part the tourists from the contents of their wallets. The vehicles along the way are well used to seeing many cyclists and they give you plenty of room as they pass. Plenty of time to soak in the eye candy.
After some days of hard riding (by my standards) today was a day for rest. Since I can only take so much rest without becoming restless, I decided to start my day with a walk to explore the town. Genoa is, like many European cities, ancient. It is one of the oldest continuously occupied cites in the world with evidence of of a settlement here since the fifth century BCE. Its location on the sea encouraged its development as a maritime power with trading connections unmatched by most other Mediterranean cities. It has been a center for ship borne trade and ship building for centuries. That status continues today with its busy port and shipyards among the busiest in the world. It is a popular location for cruise ships to return to for refitting and overhaul. The city also claims to have invented denim but is not known how much that first pair of blue jeans sold for or if they were skinny or relaxed fit.
The city is also known as the childhood home of Christopher Columbus. A restoration of his home exists just outside of the old city walls. Unfortunately it is a busy area and I was unable to get a decent picture of it. The area is also home to a number of beggars some of whom were quite obnoxious so I did not hang around.
Aside from a few badly positioned beggars and the usual urban graffiti, Genoa is a beautiful and well kept city. Once away from the industrial part of the waterfront it has a number of nice tourist attractions including a well regarded aquarium. Having seen a number of aquariums over the years I decided to give it a pass. The only fish I am currently interested in seeing needs to be on a plate with a side of roasted potatoes.
When walking around Genoa it is important to choose your route wisely. My walk past Columbus’ house and down along the waterfront was interesting with plenty to see but my route back was less of a great idea. To return to my hotel I chose the most direct route which is also a busy auto route. The result was a walk that included few places of interest and two fairly long auto tunnels that I was quite happy to exit. The route was also sort of a food and beverage desert. Luckily I was able to find a live preserving beer as I neared my hotel. Next time I will take the bus.
After yesterday’s climbs in the rain we were hoping for some better weather today. With rain still in the early morning forecast, we decided to delay our start by an hour to give it a chance to clear out. It was a good decision. The skies were mostly clear and the sun warm without being overly hot as we started on the first and steepest climb of our day in the mountains.
Today we climbed nearly a mile in elevation (1602 meters) but aside from the first 550 meters (1800 feet) it was far easier. First, we hit the climbs early when our legs were fresher and second, the climbs were far more gradual. Best of all, once at the summit and our lunch stop, the rest of the way was almost entirely downhill and what a spectacular downhill run it was. Nearly 30 kilometers of steady downhill grade all the way into Genova and our hotel for the next two days.
Along the way was some of the most spectacular scenery anyone could hope to see and only a minimal effort needed to take you to the next scene. This part of Italy makes the most of its real estate. Every few kilometers is a new little town for you to wind your way through in a matter of seconds. These villages cling to the sides of the mountain and sometime look as though a good shake could send them tumbling down into the gorge below. Where there are no villages there is the odd church or farm house hanging as if suspended from invisible wires to heaven.
Occasionally, there are tunnels but we usually avoided them if at all possible, especially if the road was busy. While there was some traffic on the long downhill glide, Italian drivers are quite savvy about sticking to their side of the road on the tight turns and switchbacks. As a cyclist I was always alert for the small rock slides and debris that were sometimes in my path. Overall, it was worth every bit of the effort it took to get to the top.