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Day One | Arles and Tour de Franceview the whole Tour de France album
Our primary reason for coming to Arles was to watch the Tour de France. Carl had done a lot of research on the best place for us to intercept the race without deviating too broadly from our main route and we were very excited to be part of the 100th tour, even from the sidelines!
We awoke the next morning with the mistral wind blowing a gale, it had picked up in the night and blown our bikes over, waking us with a start! Nonetheless we ate our breakfast and set off to find the best place to watch the Tour de France. Even without our luggage the uphill ride was pretty tough in the strong headwinds, but we were eager to find a good spot to watch the race so we pedalled on…
We had planned to watch the race from the small pass at the town of Les Baux, but the road was already closed when we arrived, the gendarmes gallantly offered us the option of walking the next 5-7km if we really wanted to wait on the pass…! We had passed an Australian family on the way to the mountain and headed back to join them in the wait for the big event. Marc and Anne and their two beautiful children had been following the race for a few days, and were continuing on with the Tour in the Pyrenees. We spent a wonderful morning and lunch with them, swapping travel stories, all the while being bombarded with freebies from the Tour de France caravan driving relentlessly by!
Our neighbouring Tour de France fans were a posse of french teenage boys from the next village, they were a raucous bunch – but so much fun. They plied us continuously with peanuts (the only thing they ate all day) and insisted on getting a kiss from both Carl and me! (we will never understand the French…)
The lead up to the big moment was adrenaline filled, we could hear the choppers thumping in the air nearby, and every now and then when Anne found an internet signal we were updated on the race statistics. All of a sudden, the choppers were overhead and the pelaton was upon us. In just seconds we heard the whirring of wheels on the tar, the flashes of legs and lycra – and then all was over.
All that remained were flailing flags and the sudden anti-climax. We craned our necks as if to peer around the corner where the tour had raced. An empty road, and silence.
After the madness, the crowds dispersed immediately. Back home, back to reality. We said goodbye to our new-found friends and cycled the 15km’s back to Arles. We felt light and happy from the excitement-filled day and our wheels flew over the tar. This time the wind was at our back and it took us no time at all.
Despite the prior excitement, we still had some energy left and we locked our bikes in the old town of Arles and set off to explore the ancient laneways. Out of the wind it was extremely warm and pretty soon we were settled in at a bar – beers in hand, looking out towards the large ancient ampitheatre, (which is still used for the caveman-like sport of bullfighting today).
We wandered the beautiful laneways of the old-town; whiling away the hours at many outstanding photo exhibitions that were showing as part of a larger festival. We made our way to the waterfront on the banks of the Rhone – it was a little windswept but the river was wide and beautiful, flowing swiftly as if sensing its proximity to the sea.
As the afternoon was fading we headed back to our campsite, tired from the excitement of an unforgettable day, exhilarated to have seen the race and relaxed from our meanderings in this beautiful city.
Day Two | Arles to St-Remy-de-Provence – 37kmview the whole album
We flipped a coin to decide on our next destination in Provence – we had so many amazing choices that we didn’t know where to start.
St-Remy-de-Provence it was! We took our time in packing up, perhaps a little reluctant to face the same hills and headwinds for a second time. The road took us over the hill where the Tour de France had ridden the day before. As we cycled, the wind was not nearly as bad as the previous day and we barely noticed the hills this time.
We rode up to the hilltop village of Les-Baux-de-Provence, another one of France’s ‘most beautiful towns’. Perched delicately on the mountainside, the village has the most spectacular outlook across the countryside below; within the walls its ancient streets are filled with the scent of flowers, quaint tourist stores and numerous cafes.
The cobbled laneways were captivating and we lingered in Les-Baux for hours, perhaps a little too long.. as we then had to face the blazing afternoon heat to continue riding. As we headed down the hillside, we could see the graffiti on the road from the Tour de France fans, cheering on their heroes. It wasn’t long before we were heading over the small mountain to St Remy. The heat was hellish, I really struggled with it and had to stop a number of times to pour water over my head in an effort to cool down. Before we knew it, we were cresting the hill and headed down the winding road on the other side. I passed a Porsche as it was coming up the pass and with the wind in my hair and fingers lightly squeezing the brakes, I couldn’t help but think that mine was the better choice of transport!
We liked the feel of St-Remy when we arrived in the town and decided to stay a few days to have a break and enjoy the wonderful surroundings.
CAMPSITE: Camping Le Mas Nicolas
- Large campsite
- Ok facilities
- Laundry facilities
- Kiosk (with snacks and beer)
- Large Swimming pool and grassy area
- Jacuzzi and gym
- Free wi-fi
Day Three to Eight: St-Remy-de-Provenceview the whole album
A few days ended up being six… we did very little in that time. We would wake up and eat steaming hot croissants and drink coffee each morning…not too dissimilar to any other French morning for us, except without the need to pack up our tent!
We spent lazy summer days reading, swimming, snoozing and eating. Our afternoon ritual consisted of buying a beer at the bar and watching the Tour de France (in French of course!), then swimming and eating some more…
The heat was excessive, most days in the high 30’s and not dropping much below that at night – a few evenings thunder-storms threatened, their towering, bulging forms circling us, but none ever eventuated.
We visited the famous Wednesday St-Remy markets and had a wonderful morning wandering through the stalls, tasting the local food and drinking too many espressos. Our ‘French morning’ felt complete when we came across a jazz band playing in the market square and we lost ourselves in the moment listening to the mellow tones …
The hospital where Van Gogh self-admitted is located in St Remy and is still used as a mental institution today (interestingly, still using the same methods as in Van Gogh’s day). Van Gogh’s room is available as a museum exhibit as are the gardens he painted in view from his window. Some of his most famous works, including ‘Sunflowers’ were painted in the year he was here.
We also visited the excavated, ancient Roman city of Glanum, on the outskirts of St Remy. Although the city was started in 49BC, it officially became a Roman city around 27BC. It barely survived even the beginnings of the collapse of the Roman empire and was abandoned in 260AD after being overrun by invading Germanic tribes. It was fascinating to walk through the ancient ruins, easy to imagine the lives of those there; the baths, the temple, the archways, the market-place – a truly unforgettable experience.
We made a few friends at the campsite. Our neighbours – Jaap and Lies, of Holland were good fun and we spent many evenings chatting over coffee, (which they kindly supplied – good Dutch coffee) and laughing over the similarities and sayings in Dutch and Afrikaans. We also made friends with a Belgian couple and their cute son, Roan – just six years old, already a chess player… very bright.
We had both been feeling fatigued, both mentally and physically – and cycling in the heat had added to the load significantly. We found the rest revitalising and refreshing and were looking forward to getting on our bicycles again by the end of our St-Remy visit.