In awe of the Giant of Provence

It’s all about “him” around here… And rightly so! People come from all over the world to conquer this Giant, he is why our region is so famous in the cycling community. I’m a local girl, it’s been several decades I live at his feet, so much so that I tend to forget his presence sometimes. We climb it often, not only on our bikes. When we are on two wheels, he is our unbiased referee: living so close to it gives us the possibility to choose the best combination of weather and fitness to assess our progress.

Where we are today, that little piece of land at the border between Drôme and Vaucluse is an incredible playground. I don’t think I will ever get tired of the many routes it offers, on roads so tiny that you can’t but merge with nature and feel connected to it. Come along with me for an eighty kilometres ride where you will see for yourself the rich heritage of this place.

We begin in Malaucène and its fountain, where I always start my rides. Being able to fill bottles as you ride through villages is a legendary form of hospitality that us cyclists appreciate. The tarmac is brand new in the village : it means a lot in this cycling territory. The Tour de France will host an epic stage here this year and we are definitely getting ready for it.

The little road leading up to Entrechaux holds everything I love : it goes through vineyards and apricot orchards. A still silence, no car to disturb the peacefulness of the place.

The old castle from Entrechaux dates back to the 10th century. For more than 800 years it protected the villagers, before its stunning stones became a resource to make new buildings : it’s been deconstructed bit by bit since then. As the road rises slightly towards Buis les Baronnies, I feel I can push a bit harder and faster. To my right, I can see the improbable hilltop church of Pierrelongue. It is a surprising building no one could miss : a small construction of a few square meters finished in the 19th century, gracefully and dangerously balancing upon the top of a boulder.

Sainte Trophime chapel is a little gem overlooking the classic provençal village of Buis les Baronnies. I can’t resist gifting myself with a little detour to the Rock of Saint Julien, while keeping some energy for the next climb, Col d’Ey. There is some sort of magical atmosphere in this climb, definitely the high point of my ride. The road goes through olive groves, some small old stone typical shacks bring you back in the past, I can feel the warmth in the air. Who would have thought a couple of weeks ago when it was so freezing cold that farmers were concerned, that we would be riding short sleeves at the end of April ? Not so far from the top of the climb there is this flabbergasting view on the Ventoux, a marvellous lookout.

The descent to Sainte-Jalle brings a total change of atmosphere with the never ending lavender fields in front of me : soon they will sparkle with colour and offer these postcard views we all know. And I just keep rolling down on this special road, each bend bringing a deep sense of freedom and excitement. Hands on drops, the next 20 km go by fast on yet another road surrounded with many olive trees.

Nyons : it’s not only a small town, it is a protected name for one of the best olives you could find. The “olive de Nyons” is a famous black olive with a very special taste : you will find it on the local marketplaces, in the shade of a tree on a village square. More than an olive, it is a local tradition…

Nyons is also famous for its 14th century bridge : with its single span of 40m, it belongs to a specific category of bridges built from the Antiquity to the 20th century. Thanks to the properties of concrete, this kind of stonework isn’t built anymore which makes this view even more delightful. I’m enjoying a little moment in the evening light, looking down at the river 20 meters below.

Last but not least, Vaison la Romaine is the last stop of our Provence getaway. Going through the old town is a must : narrow streets, stone walls, small courtyards hiding beautiful mansions, climbing bougainvillea… Just taking a breather here before heading back to Malaucène to finish the loop.

Within the next two months, lavenders will bloom, heat will strike, tourists will flock. More than ever I’m willing to enjoy now the serenity of these peaceful roads.

Further Riding