SummerTravel

One week of Cycling in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur

The week in Liguria was over – time to set sails for another week of cycling at the Côte d’Azur. Again, I was riding with the guys from Cycling Adventures.

But first things first. I’d like you to get to know more about the area in which I am riding my bike this week. That sets the whole thing a bit more into context:

Some facts about Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur:

Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur is one of the 18 administrative regions of France. Its capital is Marseille. The region is roughly coterminous with the former French province of Provence, with the addition of the following adjacent areas: the former papal territory of Avignon, known as Comtat Venaissin; the former Sardinian-Piedmontese county of Nice, whose coastline is known in English as the French Riviera, and in French as the Côte d’Azur; and the southeastern part of the former French province of Dauphiné, in the French Alps. 4,935,576 people live in the region according to the 2012 census.

This region has a total area of 31,400 km2. It has a wide variety of landscapes, from the Alps mountains to plains and coastal areas like Nice and Marseille, which form the majority of the land area. The region has a Mediterranean coastline, on which the majority of its population lives. It borders Italy (Liguria and Piedmont) to the east, Monaco (Fontvieille, La Colle, La Rousse, Larvotto, Les Moneghetti, Les Révoires, Saint Michel) in the south-east, and the French regions of Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes to the north and Occitanie to the west. The Rhone, Var and Arc rivers run through the region.

Côte d’Azur (French Riviera):

The region “PACA” is very famous for the Côte d’Azur (French Riviera), which spans the glamorous cities of Nice, Saint-Laurent-du-Var, Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, Cannes, Fréjus, Saint-Raphaël, Sainte-Maxime and Saint-Tropez.

Nice and the Alpes-Maritimes département are sheltered by the Alps. The winds are usually gentle, from the sea to the land, though sometimes the mistral blows strongly from the northwest, or, turned by the mountains, from the east. In 1956 a mistral from the northwest reached 180 kilometres per hour (110 mph) at Nice Airport. Sometimes, in summer, the sirocco brings high temperatures and reddish desert sand from the Sahara.

Rain can be torrential, particularly in autumn, when storms and rain are caused by the difference between the colder air inland and the warm Mediterranean water temperature (20–24 °C). The rainiest months are September (75,6 millimetres average rainfall); October (143,9 millimetres); November (94,3 millimetres) and December (87,8 millimetres).

When I arrived it had already 28 degrees on the celsius scale, while almost no wind. With the months of statistically most rainfall far away it should be fine. So I was pretty excited about what the rest of the week will bring.

From the terrain it isn’t as rough and steep as Liguria, so the climbs shouldn’t be as steep as they were last week. The roads are supposed to be of better quality, thus the perfect spring destination for any road cyclist.

The Cuisine of the region:

Food and gastronomy in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, commonly called “PACA” in France, play an important part in the regional way of life. This huge Mediterranean region is widely renowned to be a perfect balance between Italian, Spanish and French gastronomies. Apart from boasting lovely beaches, luxury villas and sunny weather, this part of the South of France indeed offers a convivial and colourful cuisine, including the famous Ratatouille, Nicoise Salad and Bouillabaisse.

As part of the Mediterranean region, and close to the Italy basin to which the County of Nice was even once attached, the region is marked by the influences of the Mediterranean cooking: use of olive oil, olives, as in tapenade, garlic, herbs (thyme, rosemary, sage, etc..). Vegetable consumption is important: eggplant, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, etc.. In the south and center of this region, lamb and mutton are widely used (both for meat and for sheep milk), as are the products of the sea. In the North and the Alps, the cooking is richer, with an abundance of meats and cheeses.

After the food some words about Vence:

Vence – our home for this week – is a commune set in the hills of the Alpes Maritimes department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France between Nice and Antibes.

Within the historic village, a medieval walled village, there are numerous interesting sights and monuments. The Peyra Gate was remodelled in 1810. The fountain was rebuilt in 1822 replacing an older one dating from 1578. Nearby is an oak, donated by François I and planted in 1538. The castle is today the Fondation Émile Hugues, a modern and contemporary art museum.

The cathedral was built in the 4th century on the site of a Roman temple. The stone of the western façade dates from 239. Another, on the right, was engraved in December 220. Other stones in the external walls represent funerary dedications. Also on the western side of the church, the Pierre du Tauroble evokes the cult of Cybeleand also the Great mother of the Gods of Mount Ida. A chapel in the cathedral has a mosaic by Marc Chagall, dated 1911. The rue des Portiques is a section of the old Roman road.

The town has a small chapel, up above the Cité Historique Chapelle du Rosaire (1948, completed in 1951), decorated with stained glass and other fittings by Henri Matisse, who owned a home in the village towards the end of his life.

Vence is famous for its spring water, which can be collected from numerous fountains in the town.

In total Vence has around 18.500 inhabitants and is about 39.23 kmlarge.

Day 1: Travelling to Vence and settling in

Today was mainly about travelling and some organisational stuff. Since I had some issues with my bike on the last two rides, I decided to use the time today to fix everything so that I won’t get into troubles the following days.

While the others went onto their first little loop, I went back and forth between the hotel and the bikeshop. Happily they had one mechanic speaking English. That helped a lot in the communication. So whenever you need help for your bike, ask for Stéphane, the mechanic at SPOC and everything will be sorted out.

I ended the day with a bunch of people from this weeks cycling group in the historical city center of Vence with a beer and a pastis.

So tomorrow I will start my first round and am looking forward to experiencing yet another cycling paradise in Europe.

Day 2: Along the Estéron Valley

That was definitely a loop that will be hard to top. The main part was along the picturesque Estéron valley, or maybe I should say above it. We started the day with some kilometres of easy rolling until we came to the point where the Estéron enters the Var.

From there it was a steady climb to Toudon, where we had our first break – first class catering included…

After Toudon we climbed a little further to Col St Raphaël. The downhill to Roquestéron, where we had our second break, was epic. After this stop there was one more climb, a long descent and in the end a short climb up to Vence.

Here some pics from this great tour:

No tour without the GPS track 😉

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Day 3: Cycling around Grasse – the Parfume Capital of the world

Today we did a loop more or less around Grasse. Grasse has become famous for being the world’s capital of perfumes. Still today many companies produce extracts and perfumes. The famous book  “The Perfume”by Patrick Süsskind is set in Grasse.

After starting in Vence, we cycled towards Grasse. We always stayed just above Grasse and had some nice views down to the city. Especially the view from our first coffee break was gorgeuos.

From there we went on to Cabris and a lake before ascending into the Massif du Tanneron. This massif is known for the occurrence of mimosas. Along the way there where so many, that I would have liked to be there in the blossoming season in March.

From Tanneron we went down to our second coffee break, where Elke again prepared a nice buffet. Since the street actually was closed we had to pass some barricades. The workers where obviously not so amused and called the police. This way, we had a first meet and greet with the French police. Very helpful and friendly people, I have to say. They told us, that what we did was wrong, but as long as we wouldn’t go up the same way again, it would be fine.

From there we had another two climbs until we came back to Vence again.

I didn’t have too much time to take pictures, but here they are:

And of course I am providing you with the track:

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Day 4: Up the Col de la Madone – in Lance’s footsteps

Today we had the Col de la Madone in our roadbooks.

Never been part of the Tour, still quite famous:

If you’ve ever read Lance Armstrong’s book “It’s Not About the Bike” (he was right), you’ll know that the Col de la Madone is one of the climbs that the Texan used to frequent in his preparation for the Tour de France. If he was able to set a good time up the Madone (read on to see what “a good time” was) he “knew” he was going to win Le Tour.

Dr Michele Ferrari would often be waiting at the top of the climb to take blood lactate samples and power meter readings to plot along his graphs. If Armstrong could hold the magic number of 6.8 watts/kg, then he was on track to win the Tour.

How we put this climb on our agenda:

Since I was not feeling ready to go for the long loop, Lukas, our head guide, was so nice and tailored a nice little alternative for me.

So here we go. From Vence we had a nice downhill to Nice. We took the cycling path along the promenade until we came to the famous Café du Cycliste. This was our first coffee stop. From there we took the upper Corniche with great vistas down to the coast. Well, that is only partly true for the time we stayed below the fog. So at least we got a view over Monte Carlo.

Then we arrived at the starting point of the climb – Menton. From there we climbed the 925 metres up the Madone. There things got really foggy. Sometimes we couldn’t see more than 5-10 metres ahead. But instead of the view to the coast there was a drummer with his drum almost at the top of the climb drumming and singing. Not so bad either, I’d say 😉

After that we descended to to our second coffee break, where Elke was waiting for us with her buffet. The first part was great or almost mystic, because the fog was streaming over the mountaintop and built a kind of tunnel through which we cycled. That was really spectacular.

After the break I went back to Nice (more or less purely descending). From there it was only a “little” uphill again to Vence.

Here some pics of the tour:

And as always I also do have the GPS track for you:

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Day 5: Rest Day – shopping and sightseeing in Nice!!

My legs where screaming for a little break. So I gave them what they wanted. One day off the saddle. What a relieve!

So I set off for Nice for some sightseeing (read: strolling around in the streets of Nice), shopping (I had to go back to Cafe du Cycliste again) and some relaxing time in silent parks and at the sea.

The best way to get to Nice, I found out, was to take the car to one of the Park and Ride facilities in the outskirts of Nice and take the tram from there. This is really convenient and only costs 5 Euros per day (the price of a daily pass for Nice´s public transport).

Day 6: Madone d’Utelle

Today’s schedule was mainly  about one climb, the one up to Madone d’Utelle. After starting in Vence, we cycled down to the Var valley from which we then transitioned to the Vésubie Valley. This was actually more a canyon than a valley. Really spectacular to cycle in.

After a short break at the end of the first 42 km we climbed up to Utelle and from there further to the Madone. The Madone is round about 300 meters above Utelle and gives you a great panonoramic view to the Alps and on clear days to the sea. Unfortunately, we couldn´t see the sea, but had a breathtaking view to to the Alps and the surrounding peaks.

One of the great things was the climb itself. The road up there is not just any construction work – this is really a piece of art. What a great climb!

Unfortunately, you can´t say the same of the descent. That was horrible until we came to La Tour. From there we had a great downhill to the Tinée Valley. The only ones we met on the way down were some goats and one truck.

The Tinée Valley is spectacular, too. But some of the tunnels made it a bit scary for us cyclists.

From there we got back to the Var valley and just had to climb the last couple of altimeters up to Vence.

Here some pics of that great tour:

And what would be the tour without a GPS track 😉