April 30, 2015

Les Alpilles, Part One

None of you readers has asked: what's with the apartments? But I'll answer, in a round-about sort of way: it is a compelling and as yet unresolved question to me how much it is desirable, or possible, or reasonable, to keep "upping the game"...each consecutive goal bigger, harder, longer, than the last? And if not, then what? Secondly, I was tired to the bone of last winter. Beaten down, demoralized, fatigued, worn out, sorry, sad and stupid. Well, something like that. 

Put the two together, and the result: time for a step sideways, a trip to southern France in early spring: one week in Montpellier, a big city. One in Arles, a much older, much smaller place. One in Bedoin, a village at the foot of Mont Ventoux. All three are surrounded by incredible cycling opportunities, miles and miles of riding, without panniers, so on a lighter bike.  All in rented apartments: days spent exploring the area on bike or by foot; evenings spent cooking simple suppers, with produce from the markets.  Did I mention how much warmer it is here? And the sun?



Very cool, very fun: my friend Sarah, who lives in Paris, but was in Le Sud for a bike race at Aix-en-Provence, joined me for a day of riding in Les Alpilles, just outside Arles. We rode to the northeast, stopping first at abbaye de Montmajour. It was founded in the 10th century by Benedictine monks and was later fortified during the hundred years war. The old part has the feel of a Cistercian monastery with its simple, austere lines. From an outside courtyard we noticed large, regularly spaced windows high above us. They looked very modern .... and discovered they were from the 18th century monastery. More recently, scenes from the Katherine Hepburn, Peter O'Toole movie The Lion in Winter were filmed here.



Not so much further along, in Barbegal, we stopped to visit the Roman Aqueduct. Built in first century, 35k long, it carried water from Les Alpilles to the Roman city of Arelate. The water was aldo used to power mills that produced grain for the Roman city, but I didn't see any markers for a path. The modern road goes through a destroyed arch.


Michelin maps use a green line to indicate "scenic" roads. I have ridden on many beautiful, scenic roads lacking a green line, but have never been on a green lined road that was not beautiful. Sarah and I rode on several.


The wind was steady out of the northwest, somewhere in the 20mph, gusting I suppose into the mid-30 mph. A lot of very constant wind. We hoped that the ridge of Les Alpilles would protect us a bit.

Les Alpilles, a limestone ridge less than 500k high, and less than 60k long, runs east to west, northeast of Arles. It is beautiful, dry and rocky, with classic Provence herbs, rosemary, thyme, savory, scenting the air. The hills are gentle, the descents curving easily through the landscape. The main crops here are grapes, olives and almonds. The olive trees were not yet showing fruit, but I was surprised at the size of these almonds.



Speaking of food...It is strawberry season here, and at least two local varieties are ripe. I have a box in my refrigerator. Also a small container of creme fraiche. Time to go pay attention to them, so I bid you goodnight.


5 comments:

  1. I am glad that the apartment theory is working out well in practice. I am going to mention this to Mrs Tootlepedal. The cycling looks wonderful and I hope that you did indeed get a little shelter from the wind.

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    1. Thanks, I'm pleased. Arles is particularly well suited, I think. Lots to do, not too big, fabulous cycling immediately outside, and easy to get in and out of. Please tell Mrs. T hello from me!

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  2. Beautiful shots. It's a real little gem of a riding area, the Alpilles.

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