I've been spending probably too much time just compiling a bunch of information, but I think it's now time to distill some of this into actually actionable items. Provence gets lumped by SOMANYTRAVELBOOKS with the French Riviera and the Cote d'Azur. The major issue is that these books spend the majority of their pages describing Marseille, Nice, Cannes, Monaco, and the Camargue, that Provence is maybe given a third of the print. Now, I'm really not talking about ALL of Provence that I'm going to see; Provence consists of an area (in my opinion) bordered by the Rhone river and the Monts d'Ardeche in the West, the Durance river in the east, with its northern most reaches being the Drome river, and no futher south than the A8 just south of Aix-en-Provence. By no means is this information fully encompassing of the grandeur of Provence. We are only in the region for 6 days, and not a year. For this trip, I'm primarily focusing on the Lavender growing region around Mont Ventoux, as well as the Luberon north of the actual mountains... And of course, the Cotes du Rhone region centered around the Dentelles de Montmirail. Things to do when going abroad:
Call your major credit cards and tell them you're going abroad. This way you don't get freaked out by having your credit card declined in the beginning of your trip because your card company thinks it's fraud.
Buy Some cash. Unless you're not stepping foot outside of the biggest city in the country you're going to, it's very likely most places won't take credit cards. If you're going to go to those wonderful village markets you can be guaranteed the vendors won't take credit cards.
Tipping. The rules in the country you go to may consider tips as an insult; and generically most other countries actually pay their staff adequate wages.
Keep Your VAT receipts if you spend more than $175 at a single transaction. Pretty much the countries you'll be going to will have a VAT that you're exempt from if you just ask for it back. Keep those receipts and have the vendor give you the proper paperwork. 20% refund is not unsubstantial.
So, the Provence I'm planning to see, even though it's not a lot of Provence, there's still a lot to be seen:
Provence Market Days - Usually 8am-1:30pm. Market days are great days of fresh produce, bric-a-brac, souvenirs and other things. When we were riding up Mont Ventoux in 2013, It was Monday... and it was Market Day in Bedoin: Also, Michel describes Market Day in Bedoin fairly well on his blog. Market Days:
Mind you, these are not all of the vineyards in the region... just some of them that are close to where we'll be. Some of these wines have been sampled and enjoyed already: And others are on the wine rack waiting their turn: And if you haven't already figured out, I'm going cycling while I'm there. Originally we had planned on staying in Sisteron on the Durance river. However, it became available for us to stay in Malaucene, so we jumped at the chance. Staying in the medieval village and being in walking distance to the entire town (as well as being significantly cheaper), as well as being close to all those wonderful Cotes du Rhone vinyards, and at the foot of Mont Ventoux, what was not to love about moving our headquarters. However some of the routes I was planning on riding had to be re-done or dropped altogether, in favour of new routes. For example, I had planned to do a route that mirrored the route that Graeme Fife had written about in The Great Road Climbs of the Southern Alps that left from Sisteron, went by the gates of the Pierre Ecrite and around thru the Col de Font-Belle and eventually around thru Digne & Les Mees back to Sisteron. I had also a route up the Col de l'Homme Mort, Col de Saint Jean and the Col de Perty. The loops I'm going to ride (in order of Priority that I'll do them):
Gorges de la Nesque - The mini Grand Canyon in Provence. Not sure about how I'm doing this one. There's a lavender festival in Ferrassieres on that day, so the idea was to ride up the Gorges to the festival, and catch a lift home. Second best case is I just ride a nice long loop, and worst case is we drive to the festival and I just ride home from there -- I'm not sure if I especially like the idea of Descending! down the Gorge instead of climbing up and out of it.
Col d'Ey Loop - Instead of the Perty loop above, instead ride a loop from Malaucene to Montbrun-les-Bains and back with a small side climb up the Col d'Ey.
Dentells de Montmirail Wine Crawl - Visit some of the AOC regions around the Dentells - Gigondas, Vacquyeras, Beaumes de Venise, and Ventoux, while riding up the windy little fiddly bits as well.
There's a warm up loop I have planned after we get to the town house and I put the bike together. Of course, all this is weather and mistral dependent. The Mistral? What's that you ask? Oh, just the freight train of a wind that does things like blow people off the side of Mont Ventoux. "Mont Ventoux" is a bit of a redundant name. Ventoux means Windy Mountain. So Mount Windy Mountain. In 2016 the Tour de France was set to finish a top Mont Ventoux, except the Mistral came through. This video is from the day before the Tour arrived, which caused the stage to finish at Chalet Reynard instead of at the top. Mont Ventoux's weather changes from the lower slopes, where there is a protected biozone forest, to the top where the deforrested top looks more like a lunar landscape than a mountain top, and there is no hiding from the weather.