Minding The Gap

Why were we here instead of on the highway?

While heading north towards Geneva, we got off the road and got to see the beauty of the Vaucluse department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of France.    It’s a good thing it was so beautiful, because our 3-4 hour drive home ended up taking over 8.

You can see why the Tour de France often rides through here.   In fact, they’re headed through there this week.  It’s near Gap and the infamous Mont Ventoux.  The views of the dams and lakes, and mountain scenery are spectacular.

Vaison-la-Romaine

Vaison-la-Romaine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At one time, Vaison-la-Romaine  (which you might remember from the post about Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers) was the capital for the Voconce people.   It is famous for its ancient Gallo-Roman ruins including a Roman bridge.

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vauclus...

The Roman Bridge at Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Le Pont romain de Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The bridge is one of five remaining Roman bridges in Provence. It survived a German bomb during the World War II and the Ouvèze River’s devastating floods in 1992.   Vaison has two excavated Roman districts, and an Archaeological Museum.

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse de...

Stone houses in Vaison-la-Romaine, Vaucluse department, Provence, France Français : Maisons de pierre á Vaison-la-Romaine, département de Vaucluse, Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We weren’t the only ones who got off the highway and started taking side roads.  Since it was the edge of the alps, there weren’t many alternatives and the road was packed.  Ironically, it was still less crowded and moved faster than in the south of France.    We entertained ourselves by counting the number of people we saw pulled off on the side of the road answering the call of nature (over 10).

If you’re interested in a French vacation without the seemingly ever-present crowds, this is a part of France for you.  If you’re a Tour de France fan, this is also a part of France for you.  If you like simple bucolic beauty, it’s for you too.

I think the photo below is a viaduct on the Grenoble train line  (Chemin de Fer de La Mure/the Mure railway).  We saw it on the route from Orpierre (with its nice swimming hole in Les Gorges de la Méouge) to Grenoble.   It can be reached easily by road from Grenoble, or by trains on the SNCF line towards Gap.

Advertisements

Find Out About Stops on the 2013 Tour De France

Route of the 2013 Tour De France from Wikipedia

It’s that time again!  Regular readers of this blog know that I love cycling and I’ve posted about it:

The 2013 Tour de France starts today!!!!  The route and schedule is different each year.  Lately, the tour has ventured into neighboring countries including: Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxenbourg, the United Kingdom and Spain.   This year, it’s all in France.   It is the 100th anniversary of the tour and the route is epic!

For those of you Tour enthusiasts out there who want to see some posts about places along the route, I thought I’d post the route links to posts about places on it.  Stages 1-3 are in Corsica, the only departments (kind of like states the tour hasn’t yet visited.  We haven’t been, but hear its beautiful.  Napoleon, Leticia Casta and Garance Dore all hail from this Mediterranean island.

Stage 1:  June 29, Porto-Vecchio – Bastia (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 213 km (132 mi), Flat stage

Stage 2:  June 30, Bastia – Ajaccio (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica),  156 km (97 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 3:  July 1, Ajaccio – Calvi (in the  Corse-du-Sud and Haute-Corse departments, aka Corsica), 145.5 km (90 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 4:  July 2, Nice – Nice (Alpes-Maritimes part  of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 25 km (16 mi), Team time trial

We visited Nice and wrote a couple of posts on it (NiceBreakdancers in Nice).  It’s in the Cote d’Azur, also known as the French Rivera.  It’s sunny and has beautiful water.  Villefranche, the town next door to Nice, is adorable, hilly and calmer.

Stage 5:  July 3, Cagnes-sur-Mer – Marseille (Alpes-Maritimes and Bouches-du-Rhône parts of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur department), 228.5 km (142 mi), Flat stage

DSC_0014

Our favorite part of the south of France was the hill towns just inland from the sea Eze (via the infamous Grande Corniche road that is popular with cyclists), VenceSt. Paul-de-Vence).  The tour goes right by Vence as it cuts through the hills behind the coast on the way to Marseille.  On the way, it passes through Brignoles.  Although I haven’t posted about it, we’ve been.  Here are some pics of the town and the route (the church is Abbaye de La Celle, a 12th-century Benedictine abbey that served as a convent until the 17th century).

DSC_0018 DSC_0031DSC_0033DSC_0034

DSC_0025

We visited Aix (Our AixperienceKnife Fight in Aix) Provence’s Ironwork Bell Towers,.  Not that the riders will have time to enjoy it, but it is a lovely and tres French old town that dates back to Roman times.

Stage 6:  July 4, Aix-en-Provence – Montpellier (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Languedoc-Roussillon departments), 176.5 km (110 mi), Flat stage

The tour will pass by the delightfully scruffy town of Arles (Arles Better Than NewWhat’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles).  It’s known for its amazing Roman ruins, for Van Gogh and Gauguin.  They were roomies there.  In fact, it was in Arles that old Vinnie sliced off his ear.    The famous aqueduct, the Pont du Gard, is also nearby. It’s impressive.

They will also go by one of the most beautiful towns in the south of France, Les Baux de Provence (We Didn’t Know The Valley Of Hell Was So Beautiful, Les Baux).  The helicopters will be out in force there.

Stage 7:  July 5, Montpellier – Albi (Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées departments), 205.5 km (128 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 8:  July 6, Castres – Ax 3 Domaines (Midi-Pyrénées department), 195 km (121 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 9:  July 7, Saint-Girons – Bagnères-de-Bigorre (Hautes-Pyrénées department), 168.5 km (105 mi), Mountain stage

Stage 10:  July 9, Saint-Gildas-des-Bois – Saint-Malo (Brittany region, Ille-et-Vilaine department), 197 km (122 mi), Flat stage

Stage 11:  July 10, Avranches – Mont Saint-Michel (Lower Normandy in the Manche  department), 33 km (21 mi), Flat stage, Individual time trial

Stage 12:  July 11, Fougères – Tours (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire department), 218 km (135 mi), Flat stage

Stage 13:  July 12, Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond (Centre in the Indre-et-Loire and Cher departments), 173 km (107 mi), Flat stage

Stage 14:  July 13, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon (Auvergne region in the Allier department and the Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 191 km (119 mi), Medium-mountain stage

Stage 15:  July 14, Givors – Mont Ventoux (Rhône-Alpes region and the Rhône department), 242.5 km (151 mi), Mountain stage

Although I don’t have any great shots of the infamous Mont Ventoux, the stage will be epic. Undoubtedly, they will have at least passing coverage of the nearby town of Orange (Visiting Ancient Rome in Orange, France).  Chateau Neuf-du-Pape is nearby as are the Cotes du Rhone (Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…LiterallyWine Museum In Châteauneuf-du-Pape).

DSC_0935

Stage 16:  July 16, Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap, (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Vaucluse department), 168 km (104 mi), Medium-mountain stage

DSC_0930I haven’t posted about this area, but will soon.  I promise.

DSC_0959

DSC_0958

Stage 17:  July 17, Embrun – Chorges (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 32 km (20 mi), Individual time trial

Stage 18:  July 18, Gap – Alpe d’Huez (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region and the Hautes-Alpes department), 172.5 km (107 mi), Mountain stage

DSC_0121

Stage 19:  July 19, Le Bourg-d’Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 204.5 km (127 mi), Mountain stage

The roads in this area are narrow and windy.  The area is steep.  It could be an interesting stage.

DSC_0122_2

DSC_0126_2

DSC_0127_2

DSC_0130_2

Stage 20:  July 20, Annecy – Mont Semnoz Annecy – Mont Semnoz  (Rhône-Alpes region and the Haute-Savoie department), 125 km (78 mi), Mountain stage

As is close to Geneva, visits are a favorite of visitors.  It is a beautiful town in a stunning setting ( AnnecyVenetian CarnivalMurder Mystery In Idyllic Annecy).  It was in the news last year for a brutal quadruple murder in the mountains just outside the town.  Just days ago, an arrest was made.

Stage 20:  July 21, Versailles – Paris (Île-de-France region) 133.5 km (83 mi), Flat stage

The last stage is usually ceremonial for everyone but the sprinters, so it leaves plenty of time for coverage of  Paris’ many sights (Break Dancers In Paris Have Mad SkillsNavigating Paris Museums in a Wheelchair, The Paris Subway Iconic Signs, Tourists Mob Paris, Here’s How To Manage, Notre Dame, Street Performers in Paris, I.M. Pei’s Glass Pyramid, Oh La La, La Tour Eiffel!Flying Buttresses).

DSC_0109_2

If you’re actually enough of a Tour geek to read down this far, you might know Bob Roll.  Tell Bobbke that I’m a huge fan.  I’m a pretty good time, but only wish I could be as fun as he is.

How To Get On A Mountain For The Tour De France

Today, the Tour de France‘s cyclists are riding the ‘Circle of Death’, a linkage of four brutal climbs.  Tomorrow’s stage finishes atop the 1,615 meter (5,300 feet) mountain, Peyraguedes.  They’re in the mountains baby!

When choosing a mountain stage, remember these golden rules:

  • The steeper the grade the slower they go (providing you with better viewing).
  • The later in the stage, the more spread out the riders.  This means that instead of seeing them in an enormous group, you will see them in smaller groups and be able to pick out specific riders.
  • A mountaintop finish is the ultimate.  Who doesn’t want to see the end of a stage?

Seeing the Tour de France from a mountain was on my bucket list.  I like logistics problems, but getting there can turn into a very advanced one pretty quickly.

The easiest way to get a front row seat at a great spot on a mountain is to do a bike tour.  Be prepared to bike up the mountain.  If you can handle that, it’s pretty darn good.  You’ll have a front row seat at a good spot with a TV (key to knowing what is happening in the tour).  Plus these guys had support an a nice spread laid out for them on the mountain.

Actually, now that I think about it, there is an easier way to get on a mountain.  The easiest way is to have a bunch of money and/or in with a sponsor.  Although you might not be able to get in one with bikes, we saw tons of VIP’s in team cars.

If you want to drive yourself up there, you might just be able to do it if you get up and on the mountains before the road closes (less possible the larger the mountain).  Getting there the night before and camping is a good option.  Loads of people follow the tour with caravans.  The larger the mountain (Col de la Madeleine, Col d’Ausbisque, Col du TourmaletAlpe d’HuezMont VentouxCol du GalibierPort de PailhèresCol de la ColombièreCol des Aravis, etc.), the earlier they arrive.  For large stages, they will arrive up to a week before hand (Europeans tend to have more vacation than Americans), and there won’t be any space left a couple of days beforehand.

Others drive up in cars or vans and pitch tents.  We met people who camped out, but I can’t imagine that sleeping in this van was very comfortable.  On the other hand, those guys were full of pep and didn’t seem worse for the wear.

Still others bike up.  These guys looked like they were having a great time.  Boris and Natasha liked this option because it allows you to see the mountaintop, get some exercise and still sleep in a hotel.

The police had already closed the roads when we arrived at Col de la Madeline. Apparently, police decide to close the road whenever they feel there are enough people up there.   Forced to leave our car at the bottom, we hiked up…9 miles.  We didn’t have much of a choice, but knew we would have to go it on foot at some point.  It’s probably just as well.  On our hike up, we didn’t see many places to park (or even stand) on the side of the road.  As you can tell from our trip though the largest town we passed, the mountain is a little steep and even the roads of this metropolis are narrow.

The only problem with hiking 9 miles up is that what goes up, must go down.  Once the tour passes through, there is a  mass exodus.   It took us about 2 hours to get down.  One hour into it, the tour had gone over the top of the mountain and they opened the roads to vehicles.  This meant that in addition to dodging bikers racing downhill, we started dodging cars and caravans too.  At least we didn’t have to worry about avalanches at this time of the year.

We made it down in one piece and I love the Tour more now than ever before.  Epic mountain.  Epic day.