Cycling in Provence – From Pont du Gard to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Previous post: Cycling in Provence – Arles to St Remy de Provence

Day Nine | St-Remy-de-Provence to Pont du Gard – 59km

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Carl had been super keen on visiting the Pont du Gard – the ancient Roman aqueduct, and although it felt like we were heading back in the direction we had already come we decided to head there anyway.

We left as the sun was just rising and the campsite not yet awake.  Due to the heat we found it best to hit the road early to allow us to get a good few kilometres under our belt before the heat really ballooned.  As we rode I was scanning the fields for sunflowers. We weren’t too far out of St-Remy before we spotted them – but because it was still early they weren’t properly awake yet – their yellow-framed faces still struggling to lift to the sky (we felt much the same!).

Although we took as many back-roads as we could, we were eventually forced on to a main road for the final leg of our journey to the famous bridge.  Thankfully there was a shoulder on the road as the traffic (mainly heading to Avignon) was heavy.  We arrived at the entrance to the Pont du Gard only to be turned away and told it was ‘shut’ due to a concert that was on for the next two days.  We were astounded and a little upset… feeling as if we had ridden all that way for nothing!  The French are not always very forthcoming with information, and after quite a few questions later we found there was an alternate location to view the bridge and although it was already baking hot, we headed out to find the somewhat elusive Pont du Gard.

After paying our entrance fee and finding some bike parking, we headed along the dirt track to see the magnificent Roman bridge…

The bridge rises majestically, nearly 50m from the Gardon River, its three tier arches curving theatrically as they span the deep gorge.  As a bit of history, the ancient aqueduct ran for over 50kms, bringing water from a spring in Uzes to Nimes with a gradient of just 1 in 3,000 – calling attention to the precision achieved in those times, with such seemingly ‘low-tech’ engineering.

While Carl walked around taking pictures, I sat on the rocks beside the river watching the kayaks sliding through the water below me; mesmerised by the enormous structure rising above me.  Happy.

We tore ourselves away eventually and ate lunch in the cool rest area, reluctant to get on our bikes again and brave the heat.  After we were turned away from a few full campsites, we were absolutely exhausted  and I felt on the verge of collapse from the oppressive heat. Carl rode bravely on and there was no option but to follow.  The last campsite on our list had one space left and we took it gratefully – not caring to even check it first.  We set up camp and headed straight to the pool where we saw the afternoon out,  finishing off with a beer – the hardships of the heat forgotten!

We bumped into a wonderful group of Australian cyclists who were riding the Alps route of the Tour de France.  They invited us over for drinks and we spent a wonderful evening around their ‘campfire’, serenaded by the nearby strains of french karaoke, which we had grown quite accustomed to (this time for kids)!  A few whiskys and wines later, we headed to bed – complete with Aussie flags which they had kindly donated to us.

Our Aussie mates invited us to kayak the Gardon River with them the following day, it was a tempting offer – but as we had spent so much time in St Remy, our travelling time to get to Munich was diminishing and  we reluctantly declined.

CAMPSITE: CAMPING Le Barralet
  • Good facilities
  • Laundry facilities
  • Bar and Restaurant
  • Small supermarket
  • Swimming pool

Day Ten | Pont du Gard to Avignon – 51km

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Knowing the weather was forecast to be extremely hot, we left early again to avoid riding in the worst of it. Bidding an early good-bye to our new friends, we headed out in the coolth of the morning.  Our route took us through the quaint hilltop village of Castillon-du-Gard as it was just awaking to the day and stopped off at another viewpoint to see the magnificent Pont du Gard for one last time.   We purchased some fruit and croissants and sat on the church steps watching the store owners open their doors, then locals meeting over coffee, too early for tourists – it felt like we had the town to ourselves.  As we sat in the morning sunshine, I could hear the sounds of familiar jazz tunes and realised it was a CD of the jazz band we had heard just a few days before in St Remy…!

It was just a little after 7.30am as we rode out of the village and we could feel the heat already prickling our skin.  By 11am it was 38 degrees and we still had a way to ride and the temperature had a way to rise…

We arrived at our campsite near Avignon and Carl was utterly shattered.  For a change I had more energy than he did… We spent the afternoon chasing the shade – I went for a swim a few times, but Carl was too exhausted to move!

We ate dinner at the campsite restaurant and packed in early for the night.

CAMPSITE: CAMPING Ile des Papes
  • Gigantic campsite
  • Good facilities
  • Laundry facilities
  • Bar and Restaurant
  • Supermarket
  • Swimming pools
  • A little far away from Avignon, but a good option when the nearer ones are booked!

Day Eleven | Avignon

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The following day we took the bus into Avignon to explore the city.  We arrived early and already the crowds were arriving too.  July is festival month and the city was awash with posters and many performers were out on the street spruiking their upcoming shows.  There was certainly an air of festivity about, excitement even and we soon felt part of the ‘madding crowd’, drawn in by the exuberance.

We didn’t expect to like Avignon as much as we did, expecting it to be just a big, dirty, touristy city.  However, within its walls the air of history pervaded, the dignity of times gone by, that not even the endless streams of tourists seemed to have erased.

We visited the Papal Palace and were awed by the opulent living of bygone times, perhaps a little disillusioned too when thinking of all the poverty that no doubt would have lain outside the very walls guarding these riches …

That evening we cycled back to the city and ate a picnic along the river bank, looking towards the city walls and palace.  Many others had had the same idea and as the night fell we sat among the flickering lights, captured by the silhouetted skyline in the moonlight.

Day Twelve | Avignon to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue – 60km

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We set out early again and rode through the burgeoning orchards and small vegetable fields.  Getting up early, although sometimes a struggle, was always rewarding with the serenity of sunrise and the mists of the morning – all too soon burnt away by the heat of the day.

Our first port of call was the famed ‘Chateauneuf-du-Pape’, allegedly brought to prominence by the Avignon Pope, Clement V in the 1300’s and home to some of the finest French wine.  Although early, the town was already swarming with other cyclists (mostly groups arranged to watch/chase the Tour de France).  We sat down to enjoy our usual espresso and croissants and watched the groups filing into the tiny town.

The historic ruins of the old chateau on the hill were worth the short uphill effort – from there we could see as far to the east and west as to the north and south.  Hills and valleys, vineyards and villages and the ever-present, curving, rippling Rhone.

Of course, we couldn’t leave without buying some wine to take with us.  It took a few tastings (naturally) before we could decide, but came away with a 2009 bottle… which we both took turns at cradling lovingly in our arms.

Not realising how long we would stay in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, we found ourselves riding in the heat of the day once again.  With temperatures prowling around 40 degrees,  a kilometre felt like 10 and we pedalled on in the haze.

We finally rode in to the town of L’Ilse-sur-la-Sorgue famous for its antique markets.  Although they were still on when we arrived, we were too drained of energy to do anything other than find somewhere to swim and cool down.  Our wish was granted, sort of…

Our campsite was situated on the banks of the Sorgue River – which is known for its crystal clear water and a bracing 13 degrees all-year-round temperature.  The icy river flows directly from the spring of Fontaine de Vaucluse, the source of which is the mountains it nestles beneath.  We headed down to the riverbank, beer and chips in hand.  The water was freezing cold, too cold to swim in – I got as far as my waist but just couldn’t go under. Carl made it to his ankles before defying gravity and landing on the bank again with a yelp.  We repeated this process a few times and then decided our blood had turned to ice and headed back to our picnic spot to partake of our humble picnic instead.  Heat forgotten, for now at least.

CAMPSITE: CAMPING La Sorguette
  • Large, well-maintained campsite
  • Good facilities
  • Bank of the Sorgue River with river access
  • Laundry facilities
  • Supermarket
  • TV/recreation room

Following post: Cycling in Provence (Part 3) – coming soon!