In Saint-Maxime: Sommet du Deffend / Col du Valdingarde - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

November 20, 2022

In Saint-Maxime: Sommet du Deffend / Col du Valdingarde

Our rather peculiar host and hotel redeem themselves by serving up a decent breakfast this morning, presented stylishly.  It’s a small place and three tables are set when we enter the breakfast area.  We’re invited to choose our color, between the sunny alternatives of orange, yellow and red.  Each small, circular table has two chairs and is topped with matching tablecloth and crockery.  We choose orange, more for its physical location near the window than its hue.  Especially welcome was the coffee, served up in the large, bowl-shaped mugs I associate with Provence.

In our one other time staying in Saint-Maxime we spent our layover day on a visit to Saint-Tropez, the famous glitzy resort across the bay.  We caught the morning ferry and enjoyed a walking tour of the place, charmed by its beauty and delighted to find it so unexpectedly quiet in this late season.  I’m tempted to go there again (and in fact we’d initially planned to stay there until finding the lodging was too expensive for our tastes).  Instead though, we’re going up - into the hills that rise immediately behind Saint-Maxime.  I’ve mapped a challenging out and back to Roquebrun-Sur-Argens, and Rachael’s found a hike along the touristic route to Du Deffend, a high point behind town.

Rachael leaves first.  Before she does there’s some concern when we can’t find my Garmin, which doesn’t make any sense because Rachael just loaded both our routes.  Thinking back though, we remember that we did this back in Hyères, two days ago.  I likely left mine on the bike last night, out in the parking lot just an east thumbprint away.

Sentier du Deffend

Rachael enjoys an excellent hike, if not precisely the one she had mapped out.  Over dinner later we’ll scroll through the photo gallery she returned with and she’ll describe the walk.  Once she left the outskirts of town she saw almost no one all day, other than for a group of mountain bikers roaring down the trail and alarming her.

On the trail. To me it looks muddy and clayish, but she said not.
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Keith AdamsLooks walkable enough, though I'd want to avoid it in wet weather.
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5 days ago
Still low on the hike, looking east toward Saint-Raphael and the Estérel and Maures massifs just beginning to appear.
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There are isolated ruins around the summit of Deffend which was once a Celtic Ligurian oppidum occupied in the Iron Age.
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At the summit, offering huge coastal views.
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The view to the southeast. The reddish promontory farthest out is Estérel, just southeast of Saint-Raphael.
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Col du Valdingarde

I wait around for another half hour before leaving myself.  When I do, I’m   frustrated to find out that I apparently have a defective thumb, its print sufficient to get me into the hotel but not the garage.  When our host helps me out I’m frustrated again when I fortunately find my Garmin on the bike but unfortunately still turned on and draining the battery.  I take it up to the room and wait another half hour while I charge it enough to hopefully get me through the day.  By the time I leave it’s late enough that I drop plans to bike as far as Roquebruns-sur-Argens.  I’ll just get as far as time allows and then turn back - which likely means I’ll reach the intervening summit but not drop down to the Argens and turn around just to climb back up again.

The ride begins less pleasantly than I anticipated, with about a five mile climb up busy D25.  I knew the climb was in the picture, but had forgotten that so much of it was along this busy highway.  At least there’s a good shoulder, and I’m climbing a relaxed 5-6% grade most of the way. 

Climbing north of Saint-Maxime, on D25 as it follows the Vallon du Coloubrier upstream.
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Finally I come to the turnoff to the quiet road I was expecting. Note that D25 is still busy, and is a divided highway with a concrete barrier along the midline - a fact I wish I’d noticed myself at the time.
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Leaving the highway, the nature of the ride changes immediately.  Suddenly I’m on an empty single lane mountain road, biking past cork oaks; and soon I’ll be climbing more steeply, with the stiffest stretch about a mile well into the 10-15% range.  

Cork oaks! I didn’t expect to see these here.
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Looking back down the Vallon du Coloubrier, the stream I’ve followed up from the coast.
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The view east toward Saint-Raphael and it’s surrounding massifs, a view you’ll recognize from Rachael’s photos. I’m just a few miles south of her, and only slightly higher.
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Steep, a bit rough, but a totally empty road.
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I always forget what this tree is, whose leaves remind me of an arbutus.
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It is an arbutus! Arbutus unedo, to be exact - also known as the strawberry tree, which you’d think I could remember.
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Steve Miller/GrampiesWe were just about to show off and identify this (thanks to Bill Shaneyfeld who id'd ours from a short while back) when we saw this photo with your recollection of the ID. Good job.
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6 days ago
The oak is interesting, but that’s not the main reason we’re stopped here.
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It’s this beautiful parasol mushroom (Macrolepiota), one of several. Thanks for correcting me on this, Bill!
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Bill ShaneyfeltI hesitate to ID fungi, but this really looks like what the German mushroom hunter I knew called parasolpilz.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macrolepiota_procera
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5 days ago
Scott AndersonTo Bill ShaneyfeltYou’re surely right. A photo-matching app named it as an agaricus, which is why I labeled it that way. Interesting that in the past it was classified as an agaricus.
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5 days ago
A close-up of the stretch marks. The head on this one is 6-8” across.
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Bill ShaneyfeltSize adds weight to my possible ID.
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5 days ago
Schist and lichen.
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Patrick O'HaraLooks like you have some rosemary and sage in there too!
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5 days ago
Scott AndersonTo Patrick O'HaraSounds like a wine review! I think I detect hints of twig and dandelion also.
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5 days ago
Nearing the summit, the grade eases off significantly for a few miles.
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It’s after two when I reach the high point at Col du Valdingarde - clearly too late in the day to bike down into the Argens valley and back out again.  There’s enough time though for me to scramble up the rough trail to the summit of a nearby knoll, which I do.  I just lean the bike against a concrete structure at the pass, confident that it will still be there when I return because I haven’t seen anyone for nearly an hour.

I’ve been gone nearly a half hour by the time I return.  On the way back I hear voices in the woods below, a family on an outing from the sounds of it.  I scramble a little faster and am relieved if unsurprised to find my bike still there and intact.

The high point of the ride, at Col du Valdingarde. I’ll leave the bike here and scramble up that knoll for a wider view.
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The view across the Argens valley to the pre-alps to the north. I thought I might get a last view of Ventoux but I must not be up high enough.
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Keith AdamsIt was that ridge in the left middle foreground that caught my eye. Its sharper definition contrasts nicely with the farther, hazier range.
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5 days ago

The descent is interesting.  Not as fast as I imagined at first because the road is rough and winding and the sun has gone below the hill so I have to slow down for visibility.  And then I’m slowed down when I get back to the highway and see something I hadn’t noticed before - the road I left it on is one-way, and there’s no break at the intersection across the concrete barrier.  I could backtrack a half-mile by climbing back up to the overpass, but I’m getting concerned about the time.

I watch the traffic for awhile and finally conclude that I can make it across if I time it well.  When a large gap comes along I cross to the midline, stand on the top narrow 18” shoulder there, awkwardly and hurriedly lift the bike over the barrier to the narrow shoulder on the other side, and then stand there holding it until a suitable break appears in that lane.  Fortunately one comes along in time and I scramble across and over to the shoulder to regroup and check to make sure I didn’t damage the bike in lifting it over the barrier.

So, maybe not the smartest move, but it worked out this time.  And I needed the time it saved, because it’s getting chilly and the light is starting to fade by the time I wheel back into town.

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Steve Miller/GrampiesAn elephant ride, a la Petit Prince.
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6 days ago
Scott AndersonTo Steve Miller/GrampiesIt does look like a pair of elephants! Very observant.
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6 days ago

Ride stats today: 26 miles, 2,200’; for the tour: 1,950 miles, 106,900

Today's ride: 26 miles (42 km)
Total: 1,950 miles (3,138 km)

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