Euro Road Trip Part 3: Vaucluse, France

23 Apr

J’adore mon VAE! Oh yes, how I’ve scoffed at people who use electric bicycles and I unreservedly apologise for that. I judged you in total ignorance. I was wrong, mea culpa.

This week we rented two Velo Assistance Electrique in Beaumes de Venise to tackle a 45k lunch circuit to eat at Les Coquelicots (Poppies) in the village of Suzette. 

This is hilly terrian with strong winds and our chambre d’hote host, Francois, a fit forty-something Frenchman, persuaded us that electric was the way to go. Indeed it was! Instead of arriving at the restaurant as we normally would, i.e. weary, wringing wet with sweat, odiferous and cranky, we bowled up, appetites whetted, but full of vim and vigour to tackle the return leg. 

Ma bicyclette!

Les Coquelicotes
Une assiette du legumes – so simple yet scrumptious.

Stuart’s rabbit dish – I comfort myself that it is a pest….

You can still pedal all you like using the usual gear selection, but when an incline presents oh, the joy of flicking over to one of three levels of power assist: tour, sport or turbo. Hit turbo mode and you become a fully doped Lance Armstrong attacking a hill climb. Instant buns of steel, magic!

Note reading glasses for deciphering the tiny GPS screen. Sexy huh?!
The famous Dentelles de Montmirail.

Beaumes de Venise. Don’t know quite why but French dogs seem more photogenic.

The VAE ride was so successful we went back for another 60k next day. Another circle route, this time Beaumes de Venise to lunch at La Fete de Provence in Vaison La Romaine, then back via Le Barroux. En route we stopped in Gigondas to sample a couple of unfiltered reds seved by Michel Paul in the cooperative wine tasting centre and cafe. Delicious!

I must also admit to reservations about spending four nights in the Haut Vaucluse region of Provence. I get antsy when taken too far from the sea. The drive in through Sarrians on a quiet Sunday afternoon was unprepossessing and I was starting to wonder whether Stuart had oversold it. Yes, the many serried rows of grapevines are striking against limestone hills, but what else does Vaucluse have to offer besides wine and that holy summit of road cyclists, Mt Ventoux? Actually rather a lot. Well preserved, historically important villages and the imposing Roman town of Orange, different regional fresh markets daily and some outstanding restaurants. As an important defence centre Orange benefits economically from government funding. Air Base 115 Orange-Caritat sends fighter jets into the skies daily on precision flying training exercises, and a tank and mock jet decorate two roundabouts into town.

Other places of note include the village that became a five star hotel, Crillon le Brave. Slightly Stepford Wives but fantastic views from the restaurant terrace and pool.

Malaucene where we wandered through the market stocking up on pique nique provisions.

Chateauneuf du Pape with it’s ruined chateau and world famous wines.

Wine vats for crushing by feet dating from Roman times.

Our purchases – very restrained.

Our chambre d’hote for the duration was Au Coin Des Figuiers run by very laidback local boy, Francois, and his gorgeous femme, Aude. Francois converted his grandparents’ country mas into three minimalist stylish, yet comfortable en suite rooms overlooking the pool, fig orchard and garden with an outdoor kitchen guests are welcome to use. Petit dejeuner is taken in an airy glassed extension to the house.

Francois and AudeRoom number one.

Next stop for us was Uzes in Languedoc-Rousillon, but first we spent the morning in the town of Orange exploring its first century AD Roman amphitheatre built to exalt the cult of Augustus I (and now a busy summer music venue), the arc de triomphe from the same era, the cathedral, as well as shopping for made-in-France summer wear for me. Lunch at Les Amis was a fitting end to our Vaucluse visit.

One of many brass pavement plaques.

The detail of the underside of the arch.

I leave you with two vignettes that really touched me.

First in Vaison La Romaine after lunch. I exited before Stuart (he often stays on chatting) and sat meditatively outside the restaurant under a tree in Place de l’Herbe. An elderly woman, I place her mid-80s, came put of a terrace house next to the restaurant carrying a plastic chair and cushion. She carefully positioned the chair facing the drinking fountain in full sun. We exchanged quiet smiles. She returned to the house and rememerged moments later with another plastic chair and cushion which she placed precisely beside the first. Again she returned to the house and I had to wait five minutes before she came out again. This time she assisted a frail elderly man, I assume her husband, to walk slowly and carefully down the six steps and across the rough cobblestones with the aid of his cane and her strong arm. His red, rheumy lower eyelids and bent back spoke of the very old and my heart went out to both of them as she tenderly assisted him into his chair and took up her position beside him. After that my eyes were too full of tears to see any more and Stuart came out of the restaurant eager to get back on our bicycles.

This was their spot.

The second vignette I observed from my chair outside Les Amis restaurant in Orange during lunch, oddly another Place de l’Herbe. It was market day and shoppers were passing by – interesting viewing for a stranger. One woman really caught my attention. Wheeling her smart bicycle laden with shopping she stopped to rebalance it so she could break off a piece of her baguette to nibble it, then continued calmly on her way. Unsurprising you may say, except that the woman was easily in her late eighties. Admirable. This on a week when we bid adieu to Victoria Wood (62) and Prince (57) and cheered on Lilibeth, HRH Elizabeth II, for reaching her 90th birthday undimmed and unaided by cane or guiding arm.

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