Bed, bikes and break­fast

Pedalling and pam­per­ing at a hill­top vil­lage in Provence

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION EUROPE - CARO­LINE SHEAR­ING

The gi­ant crocodile slum­ber­ing men­ac­ingly nearby seems to take on a mock­ing air as a pair of bronzed male cy­clists rises out of the sad­dle in per­fect uni­son to over­take me with a swan­like grace. I con­tinue to pedal fu­ri­ously up the steep in­cline as my Ly­cra-clad neme­ses dis­ap­pear over the brow of the hill.

Mo­men­tar­ily de­feated, I screech to a halt only to hear an­other bike ap­proach­ing from the rear. My heart sinks as I turn to see a man of ad­vanced years tak­ing the slope ef­fort­lessly. This Gal­lic gent, who has shunned look-atme Ly­cra in favour of shorts and T-shirt, sur­veys my slumped shoul­ders and, rais­ing a fist to the sky, urges: “Courage!”

I have trav­elled to the south of France and the hill­top vil­lage of Cril­lon-le-Brave, 40km north­east of Avi­gnon, to the lux­ury ho­tel of the same name for a break that has promised a com­bi­na­tion of pedalling and pam­per­ing. The ho­tel, a clus­ter of sun-bleached stone houses, soars high above a bu­colic land­scape of rolling hills car­peted in vine­yards. But it also lurks in the shadow of an un­for­giv­ing beast — Mont Ven­toux, at 1912m.

The small spa at Cril­lon-le-Brave is per­fect for post­cy­cling mas­sages. This fear­some moun­tain, with a thigh­bust­ing climb that’s the stuff of Tour de France leg­end, takes the form of a crocodile when viewed from the foothills on its south­ern slope — its long spine hug­ging the hori­zon be­fore rear­ing into a dis­tinc­tive head com­plete with elon­gated snout. I have not come to make an at­tempt on its sum­mit, which looms tan­ta­lis­ingly close in views from the ho­tel, but to chal­lenge my­self on its notso-mod­est foothills. Spurred on by the suc­cess of the likes of Bri­tish Olympic cy­clists Victoria Pendleton and Laura Trott and by my weekly spin class back home, the foothills of Mont Ven­toux will, I hope, in­stead set the scene for per­sonal sport­ing glory in a test of en­durance against my hus­band, a pro­fi­cient road cy­clist.

Equipped with bikes and maps from the ho­tel, we set out after a leisurely break­fast but my rep­u­ta­tion on the, ahem, moun­tain is soon in tat­ters when it be­comes ap­par­ent that a map-read­ing mix-up on my part has added 4km to our 26km route. The wind­ing route to the vil­lage of Be­doin, which marks the start of the climb to Ven­toux proper, soon lures us in as we weave through a dense for­est of­fer­ing glimpses of rust-coloured cliffs. I in­hale pinesweet air and with the clat­ter of ci­cadas ap­plaud­ing us on we fol­low an un­du­lat­ing route to Be­doin.

On ar­riv­ing we stop briefly at a road­side cafe on its tree-lined main street for re­fresh­ments. And then watch with in­creas­ing alarm as a suc­ces­sion of am­a­teur cy­clists in full Tour de France-style garb tear through the vil­lage, with lit­tle con­cern for pedes­tri­ans and to reg­u­lar cries of “Non!” from shop­keep­ers lin­ing the route. It is shortly after leav­ing Be­doin that the crocodile fi­nally bares its teeth with a long, sun-drilled climb to the vil­lage of Flas­san, the mid­way point of which has been the ear­lier scene for the mo­ti­va­tional road­side en­counter that pushes me up and over the hill in pur­suit of my hus­band, who has long since left me puff­ing in his wake.

The cir­cu­lar route pro­vided by the ho­tel by­passes Flas­san but we point our wheels in its di­rec­tion and are soon re­warded with a sleepy lit­tle vil­lage of nar­row streets lined with pas­tel-coloured houses in ochre and le­mon. We seek shade un­der a thick-trunked tree in the main square, fra­grant with daz­zling pots of pink and pur­ple flow­ers and, prop­ping our bikes against its foun­tain, set about de­vour­ing a pic­nic of sand­wiches, salad and home­made crisps pro­vided by the ho­tel. The tri­colour bunt­ing over­head flaps lazily in the breeze as a play­ful kit­ten slinks from a nearby house to com­pete for mouth­fuls of tuna, chicken and an­chovies.

Tran­quil Flas­san is the high point as we turn our backs on Ven­toux to free­wheel, feet out­stretched ahead of us, past fields stud­ded with golden hay bales, to fol­low a down­hill route to Mor­mo­iron. Brightly coloured but­ter­flies veer seem­ingly drunk­enly into our path as the in­tox­i­cat­ing scent of lavender fills the air. We pause in Mor­mo­iron but, be­ing a Sun­day, the shut­ters are res­o­lutely closed so, turn­ing our bikes in the di­rec­tion of

Provence’s Mont Ven­toux is a pop­u­lar chal­lenge for cy­clists, top; tak­ing in the scenery around Cril­lon-le-Brave, above

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