After three days in the walled city of Avignon, we dove into the traffic of the outer city and headed towards the valley of the Luberon and the city of Apt. The first part of the ride is complicated as we twist around to avoid major roads until we reach the La Veloroute du Calavon- a paved bike trail on an old railroad grade.
We pedal into memories from our visit here in 2013 and stop for lunch at the town of Beaumotte where we stayed in July 2013. The hotel is closed for the season and the vines have no leaves, but we remember the best glass of beer we ever had. Could it have been the incredibly hot day and the vivid relief when we knew we had a place to stay? This was in an era before Booking.com and we had no idea if this was the right hotel or our arrangements by phone and in french had worked.
Who knew that we would be living this life 7 years later and that it would bring us back where it all started.
As usual, we are quickly bored with riding on bike trails and head off to follow the signposted route through the villages. It is a relief to turn the navigation over to local knowledge and follow their idea of the best route. The route winds up and down and seems to visit every village- generally on a hilltop. The climbs are steep but not too long and we love the rolls downhill.
The Luberon is an impossibly beautiful part of France, with perched villages, vineyards and lavender fields. Every turn brings into view a walled town on a hill, or a distant view of the snow on top of Mt. Ventoux. After three weeks on the road, we are practicing some slow travel, so we pause in Apt to do a day ride through the Ochre villages. The trees here are just beginning to leaf out, and the lavender fields are grey/brown rather than striped with color. It is still early days but the fields of green pop out and give us a taste of what is to come.
We ride 60 kilometers through the perched villages of the Luberon, visit the Ochre works and Roussillon- the classic orange toned ville that has come to define this area. The route is a twisty snake of ups and downs. We arrive back in Apt and recover with pizza and rest in our hotel in a converted convent.
We load up the bikes again to take us through another dozen villages to Forcalquier. It is 40 kilometers in a straight line, but following the Luberon Velo route adds another 25 or so along with a sawtooth elevation profile. Karen has found a great place to stay where we can cook and we plan another day’s loop ride with no gear. The weather turns uncooperative and we shorten our day and wait for the rain to pass. Forcalquier is a compact circle of a town and it easy to navigate. We meet another touring cyclist on his shakedown tour to Spain before heading out across Europe to Iran. Wow. The world is full of people doing incredible things on their bikes.
We are not so incredible as our Belgian friend but we are getting good at rest days. It is like the old days in a tent with the rain coming down- nothing to do but eat and read. Except now we have to have internet. We leave Forcalquier reluctantly and head up and over the hill and back to our base in Sisteron. There is a lot of climbing the first part of the day and we grind slowly up to our high point in Cruis, where we start to wonder if we are going to make it back today or if we need a hotel. Luckily, the second half includes 30 k of downhill, so we recover and roll into Sisteron in the afternoon. It feels like home.