To Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume - Three Seasons Around France: Autumn - CycleBlaze

November 16, 2022

To Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

A couple of shots from dinner last night.  Lourmarin is a small village, it’s off-season now, it’s Tuesday night, and few restaurants are open.  We’ve eaten at two of them, both within a block of our apartment, so forvariety we decide to branch out and walk to the pizzeria at the other end of the small commercial core, which according to Google is open tonight.  When we show up there a few minutes before 7 though it’s totally black, clearly not open tonight after all.  So we turn back to our apartment planning to eat a second meal at L’Insolite, the place immediately next door.  When we get there though I notice that the bar immediately on the other side of our door is open this evening, so we walk over to look at it first before committing ourselves.

Le Cafe de Fontaine (it’s immediately across the street from that fountain with the strange growth spewing from the figure’s mouth) proves to be an appealing place.  Sitting upstairs, I enjoy looking over the railing down on the animated scene below, everyone in the place but us looking like regulars.  It makes it feel more like Lourmarin is a place where people have real lives beyond the tourism industry and raises my affections for it up a notch or two.

And the meal is fine.  It’s a Coraican place, as is apparent from some of the items on the menu.  I ask our server about this and he confirms my assumption.  He was born here in Lourmarin, but his parents were from Ajaccio.  It looks like the place is run now by him and the man tending the bar who looks likely to be his brother.

Reminds me of the bar in Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name.
Heart 7 Comment 0
Bar is the plat de jour, accompanied by rice, veggies and a pumpkin puff pastry. Excellent, as is the dessert - fiadone, the Corsican take on cheesecake.
Heart 3 Comment 0

Weather.com tells us it’s sunny at the moment and will be all day, but it looks like the forecast has gotten ahead of itself.  Looking out the window we see a fairly dense fog that won’t clear for at least another hour.  We wait it out until about 10:30 when the sky is just starting to clear up, and then we’re off.

Not my understanding of a sunny day, at the moment at least.
Heart 4 Comment 1
Keith AdamsIt was probably sunny above the clouds.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Now we’re talking!
Heart 2 Comment 0
Our apartment is in what was once the Hotel Ollier, an ancient place that got this name in 1892 when It was bought by Ludovic Ollier. It’s cafe was apparently one of Camus’ haunts when he stayed in Lourmarin.
Heart 4 Comment 0
Hotel Ollier as it looked in 1912.
Heart 4 Comment 0

So after planning this part of the tour with the intent of biking south to Aix for the last several weeks, now that the time has come we’re not going there after all.  There were a few thoughts behind our sudden change in plans - among any considerations, neither of us is actually that fond of Aix anyway now that we think back on it, so why go out of our way to head that direction and take in some avoidable climbs?  Instead we decide to take what looks like the path of least resistance and bike east to Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume and then turn straight south from there to Hyères.  It will save us a day that we can spend along the coast, buying back the one we spent with our third night in Lourmarin.

The ride begins with a short climb out of town followed by a gradual descent to the Durance.

At the top of the short climb up from Lourmarin. Already it’s warm enough that the jackets get stowed away.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Dropping toward the Durance. The scene has a quite different look this morning.
Heart 6 Comment 0
Looking back at Cadenet from across the Durance.
Heart 1 Comment 0

After crossing the Durance our route turns east and generally follows it and the nearby Marseilles Canal for the next fifteen miles.  It’s easy riding, generally flat; but the riding experience is mixed as we spend a fair amount of it on D561, a two lane arterial.  There’s a good six foot shoulder most of the way so it’s safe enough, but it’s really too heavily trafficked to be quite enjoyable.  As much as we enjoyed visiting Lourmarin, if we come this way again I’d keep following the Eurovelo 8 east from Apt and descend to the Durance at Manosque.

Looking north, we get a last broad view of the Luberon. If you look closely you can see in the center where the Combe de Lourmarin comes through and splits the range.
Heart 1 Comment 0
On D561, caught here in an uncharacteristically quiet moment.
Heart 4 Comment 0
Corn crib! Surely the largest we’ve ever seen - we’re looking at only a third of it here.
Heart 4 Comment 1
Keith AdamsAnd it's good to see that incredibly rich deep blue sky again.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago

About fifteen miles into the ride we rise up from the Durance and follow the Marseilles Canal for a few miles, enjoying the finest stretch of the day.  It’s thrilling really, as we can look up ahead at the deep gap the Durance has carved through the mountains at Mirabeau, with the snowy Alps visible through it beautifully framed by the walls of the dramatic gap.

An interesting spot. Above is the overpass for the Canal de Peyrolles, and below is Le Grand Vallat, a minor tributary of the Durance.
Heart 7 Comment 1
Along the Marseilles Canal.
Heart 2 Comment 0
The thrilling view of the Alps through the gap at Mirabeau.
Heart 8 Comment 3
Patrick O'HaraLooking northeast towards Col d'Allos/Colmars region, I imagine?
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Patrick O'HaraI think that must be about right. I was planning to study orientation and profiles at some point and figure it out. We were really lucky to have such a clear day!
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Kathleen ClassenWhat a gorgeous sight.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Along the Marseilles Canal.
Heart 1 Comment 0
Along the Marseilles Canal.
Heart 5 Comment 0
Another window onto the Alps. I’m sorry when our route finally diverges before we come to the gap itself.
Heart 2 Comment 0

Finally leaving the Durance and the Marseilles Canal, we rejoin EV8 coming in from the north and follow it gradually uphill for about ten miles before we leave it again as it continues eastward and we turn south and continue climbing.  A few miles later we reach the high point of the day, disappointed somewhat when we find ourselves surrounded by tree blockers rather than the expansive views I’ve been anticipating for the last twenty five miles.

Oddly, I failed to take any photos at all of the last fifteen miles of the ride.I’m not sure how that happened really, but fortunately we’ve got video. 

Video sound track: Blight of the Fumblebee, by Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume!  Now there’s a name to fill its residents with civic pride - not some puny appellation like Apt, to pick on one pathetic example.  I’m sure the Aptians must feel some embarrassment whenever they declare their address, and suffer from some significant name-envy.

A great name, but Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume makes a weak first impression on us - starting with our small, boxy room in Hotel de France which feels just a little too much like a prison cell.  Happily we can come and go as we please though, so at seven we’re off to dinner at La Fougassine, where we have a reservation waiting.  We aren’t sure about it, but there’s almost nothing open tonight so we made a booking here to be on the safe side - it’s an even more limited scene than last night in Lourmarin.

Unfortunately, La Fougassine makes a really poor impression on us - an almost creepy dive actually, with a very strange, alienating reception.  We sit there, look at the dreary list of uninspiring, too inexpensive items on the menu, decide we’ve made a big mistake and silently slip out the door.

We don’t have much success finding anything else at all, really.  There’s a brasserie looks promising but is only serving up beverages tonight; the pizzeria has takeout but no indoor seating, and it’s too cold to sit outdoors so we keep looking.  

We finally end up in a gourmet place where Rachael spots a fish main that sounds terrific to her, and is.  She thoroughly enjoys her meal, as well as half of mine.  It’s just not my kind of place - small servings that border on being a tasting menu, with dishes I think of as froufrou fare.  Why would anyone want foam that looks like fire retardant sprayed on their fish, for example?  I’m sure this is the consequence of my lacking a sense of taste or smell.  I can’t appreciate or even imagine anything about what I’m sure are the supposedly marvelous delicate flavors I’ve been served up, and leave feeling like an alien.

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume‘s basilica is as immense and impressive as its name.
Heart 3 Comment 0
On this quiet night, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume impresses us as more than a little spooky.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Ride stats today: 44 miles, 2,200’; for the tour: 1,838 miles, 101,300’

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 1,838 miles (2,958 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 9
Comment on this entry Comment 4
Scott FenwickWe were in Saint Maximim last May - even stayed at the Hotel France! We also found that SM was not the easiest place to fall in love with but it does fall nicely into the distance requirement. We were cycling from Monosque on route to Toulon. We had a very nice ride to Monosque and you come to expect the riding conditions of the Luberon / Mount Ventoux area. South of Monosque the roads were busy and it was difficult, but it was also a Saturday. Better route planning on my part may have helped but the further south you go in France the busier it seems to get - but you likely knew that!
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Scott AndersonTo Scott FenwickI’d forgotten you came this way, else I might have studied the map more myself. We did better on the way south from SMdSB and found some very nice, quiet miles to the crest. Beyond that though we were on the same road as you most of the way down and didn’t care for it much either. If we’re ever down this way again we’d stay higher up and go east through the Var.
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Scott FenwickTo Scott AndersonCompletely agree. A ride from Lourmarin to Vance can go through many wonderful small towns as you know. Reviewing our previous route from 2018, it was hilly but a great ride. We would love to travel through this area again - and likely will!
Reply to this comment
1 week ago
Kathleen ClassenYour description of dinner reall made me laugh out loud. Our son who is a chef wouldn’t disagree about the current foamy thing trend!
Reply to this comment
1 week ago