Monday, October 25, 2010

Cycling the great regions of France: Part One Cote d'Azure

By Sue Pulfer

After of week of over-indulgence in the wonderful Languedoc village of Uzes we headed to the Cote d’Azur to do some cycling. We drove through Avignon to Ile-sur-la-Sorgue for lunch and to pick up our bikes from BikeRentalsPlus. From there we drove along the base of the Alpes Maritimes and arrived in Grasse mid-afternoon.

With only the vaguest of directions we started to wind our way through town in what we hoped was the direction of our rental house at the Bastide d’Onhara. We quickly realized that Grasse is built into the side of the mountain and as such every road is either steep up or steep down. Heading north through town is basically a series of long switchbacks. Inevitably, we got lost, climbing too high out of the city in the wrong direction. After some calls to our Bastide for help and a few more daring three point turns on steep narrow roads, we finally turned onto the correct road heading up to the Bastide.

Our relief quickly evaporated when we saw the steep climb up to the Bastide from the road. About a 25% or more gradient, it took three turns which required some quick maneuvering, to navigate the crumbling road up to the Bastide’s main parking area. Not being accustomed to driving a standard I managed to stall the car several times in quick succession.
Sweating and stressed, we arrived to find that the Bastide was a stunningly beautiful set of buildings laid out along the side of the mountain. With a large main house, several outbuildings beautifully renovated into small houses and a central pool area we felt it had been worth the journey.

After settling into our villa (2 bed, 2 bath, large open LR/DR kitchen area) we quickly set ourselves up with a glass of the regional Provencal Rosé at our outdoor dining table. The view looked down over Grasse and all the way to the Mediterranean where we could see cruise ships docked off the shore in Cannes.

Our first day’s ride started with a quick descent back down towards Grasse then east over to Magagnosc where we pulled up at Café du Cicliste. Having heard that this was the starting point for many riders we were pleased to see a number of brightly clad cyclists coming in and out, sharing an espresso and getting ready for their Sunday ride. The Vence cycling club stood out for their cool black and pink kits.

After chatting with a local veteran we finalized our route. We’d head down to Bar du Loup from Magagnosc (long descent avg around 3-5% gradients), up to Tourettes sur Loup (long climb) and stop for lunch. That would be our halfway point for a 56km ride where we’d loop back in time for a dip in the pool.

Fantastic weather paired with smooth roads and very considerate drivers everywhere made for a great first day. The views along the way were stunning as the roads skirted the edge of the mountain range. The Loup river was a constant down in the gorge below. At every corner we were greeted by views of small villages perched on the mountainside.

We had rented bikes from for the second year in a row. Using our TREK

carbon fiber Madones (with Triple chain ring) we had absolutely no problem navigating some of the steeper climbs required to get back to the house. We’ve done Mont Ventoux and Col de Tourmalet, but only Michael had the inclination to attempt to climb the Bastide’s “road” on the bike however. Looking like the front of the bike was going to rise off the ground he did whole thing! This road resembles the one in the Tour of Flanders where riders get off and carry their bike up the steep slope. Once up to the Bastide we still had a good hike to walk the bikes up to the house…

All of our rides were found on by searching for rides in the Grasse area. Many of the rides we took were submitted by a Cafe du Cycliste user. We found them all to be great.

Day 2: Magagnosc to Vence, north up Col de Vence to Coursegoules, south to Bar du Loup and home.

Day 3: Magagnosc to Vence for lunch down to St-Paul de Vence back to Grasse and home

Day 4: Through Grasse to St-Valliers de They, north to Caussols, up to Gourdon and back down to Bar du Loup and home

As we prepared to leave after a great week our hostess Lydia informed us that she had been one of the top VTT (mountain bike) riders in France in her youth. After retiring from competition she had fitted out a touring bike to carry her 18 month old daughter on the back and cycled through Europe, including taking her up Mont Ventoux!

We were sad to leave. After a drive back to Marseilles our friends from BikesRentalsPlus picked up the bikes at our hotel and we were off back to Canada.

In Summary:

When to Go: Spring and early fall are ideal to get the best cycling weather but summer is also a wonderful time to visit.

Where to eat: There are many great cafes and restaurants in the area as you cycle through the villages and towns. Here
are a couple that we found along the way

Grasse – The New Punjab on rue des Fabreries
Grasse – Lou Candeloun on rue des Fabreries
Tourettes-sur-Loup - La Barbacane on Place de la Libération
Vence – La Régence at 10 place du Grand Jardin
Magagnosc – Café du Cycliste on Route de Nice

Where to stay : There are many options for house rentals in the area that you can find on
Bastide d’Onhara

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