It is a ritual we are now very attached to. Each year we get together with some Mercier friends to cycle, take photos and discover a new region. Its roads, geography, landscapes. This year, we headed to the Vaucluse, near Mont Ventoux, in the South East of France.Thursday - The Arrival
Once again, the Covid crisis and its lockdown games almost stopped us from getting together. But, just a few days before the trip was scheduled, the lockdown in France lifted and everyone hurried to get vaccinated or do a PCR test before taking the train. Three short hours on a TGV from Paris to Avignon, then an additional hour in the car to Saignon, our base camp for the next three days. Upon arrival, we discovered an old stone house nestled into the hills of the Luberon. Fields of lavender and olive trees surrounded the property. A scent of Italy. We unpacked and prepared our gear for the next morning, before enjoying an aperitif as the sun set. The pandemic made us all the more grateful to be spending time together, in nature, tested or vaccinated but without masks. Even though the excitement of heading off to explore the region on our bikes was palpable, we savoured the moment as the sun set before sitting down to dinner. A few provençale dishes, and some less provençale bottles later, we went to bed. Thank you Émile for the génépi, a very strong alcohol from the Alps. Friday - Day 1
It takes a while for us to set off as everyone is slow getting ready. Technical trouble and preparing materials takes longer than expected. The glasses of génépi from last night may also have had something to do with this. 9h30, the first few pedals. We head south, towards Lourmarin, a typical provençale village. The route is beautiful and winding and the tarmac has just been redone. We are immediately immersed in the provençale atmosphere. The scent of thyme marks the landscape. It’s market day in Lourmarin so we have to dismount and continue on foot to find an open cafe. We then head off towards the east, along the south mountains of the Luberon. We have lunch on the grass in the middle of the countryside as restaurants are still closed due to Covid.We head back towards the north, attacking the Aire dei Masco hill before descending and heading back towards home. A short outing for today, 60km to get ourselves warmed up and back into the game, as we have a visit to a vineyard organised for 5pm. And it is not just any vineyard, it is the Domaine de La Cavale. Nestled amongst the vines, the building was designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte and we were granted a visit and some enlightening explanations on the grape varieties, the winemaking and the ageing of the wine. The latest stainless steel barrels sit next to traditional wood barrels. We get settled in for the tasting. Emile made the most of the occasion and purchased several cases. You can never be too careful. After a few glasses, we head home in time for… an aperitif. The sunset. Provençale pasta. Génépi. Bed timeSaturday - Day 2
The next morning, the génépi hits hard but not enough to slow us down. The sun is already high in the sky and we have quite the ride ahead of us: the Gorges de la Nesque, south of Mont Ventoux. At 8.30 we head north as there are 40 kilometres and a hill between us and our destination. Towards 11am we arrive in the village of Methamis, where we stop for a coffee at some friends of Phil’s, one of the cyclists, who have a wonderful B&B called Metafort at the bottom of Ventoux. It’s a well known place to stay amongst both french and international cyclists. Philippe, the owner, is also a keen cyclist and he gets changed and jumps on his bike to guide us through the back routes and across a field towards the gorge route.
We continue with a view of Ventoux, before turning east. And then we arrive. We start the gorge route peacefully. The incline is gentle, at only 2-3%, and already the group splits into two. As the kilometres go by, the slope remains gentle but the elevation becomes increasingly clear. As we climb the landscape, incredibly green after the heavy rain of the last few days, gives way to a more rocky view, of cliffs and boulders which sometimes block the road. The kilometres fly by and the route, which flanks the hill, has been carved out by dynamite in some places.
It is spectacular. At the last metres to the summit, we turn around to see the road climbed from the bottom of the mountain. The silhouette of Mont Ventoux emerges in the distance and reminds us that we are in the heart of cycling country, with its myths and legends.
We attack the route home, the group slowing down as we begin to tire. However, the power of the group motivates us all as we descend straight back into the Luberon. We speed home, with the kilometers flying off the counters and we return to base camp as the sun sets. 120 km and 2200 metres of altitude covered. A dip in the pool and then a poolside aperitif (the water is 16 degrees). Shower. Another Aperitif. Tarragon Chicken. Wine from La Cavale. Emile brings out the bottle of génépi again, but this time we don’t fall into the trap: just one glass and then bed. We’re going to be sore in the morning. Sunday - Day 3
The alarm goes off at 5.30 for a 6am start to make the most of the early sunlight and clock up a few more kilometres before returning to Paris. It’s chilly but we are prepared: Mercier wisely developed the perfect jacket for such conditions. We start to climb the Luberon hills in search of the route des cretes. The sun is playing hide and seek behind the clouds but succeeds in breaking through, offering breathtaking views as we climb. The photographers in the group are thrilled. We head into the forest before finding a village and an open bakery where we can take a break.It is midday when we return home to share a final meal together before hitting the road and then taking the train back to Paris. We warmly thank our hosts, William and Christine, for their welcome and they kindly also thank us for the atmosphere of the last few days. After many kilometres ridden, silly jokes, shared moments, conviviality, photos and landscapes… a snapshot of the very best that cycling has to offer. Thank you to the Vaucluse for this taste of the summer to come.
Thank you Mercier for this prestigious event. It will be hard to top.