Day ride: Mont Sainte-Victoire - An Autumn by the Sea - CycleBlaze

November 14, 2018

Day ride: Mont Sainte-Victoire

I’m surprised to realize that I wasn’t aware of Mont Sainte-Victoire before yesterday, when we caught sight of it as we crossed the final ridges south of Aix.  But then, there are so many exceptional sights in France - I think we could come here every year and just keep finding new wonders to amaze and thrill us both.

In reading up a bit on Mont Sainte-Victoire, I came across a listing that was new to me: the Grand Sites of France, a designation of 33 sites in France that are recognized for their exceptional natural character.  Of these, only six have been granted the highest designation, in recognition of their development in harmony with the local environment.  Mont Saint-Victoire is one of these honored six.

So that’s reason enough for looking more closely rather than just taking an admiring glance from a distant ridge.  Also, there’s this:

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Paul Cezanne lived and died in Aix-en-Provence, and many of his paintings were of his favorite subjects near his home.  The painting of the bridge we crossed entering town yesterday is one example.  The painting above is another: it is one of over thirty paintings of Mont Sainte-Victoire he created, and one of the last - he worked at it for the last four years of his life.

And then, there’s a third reason: the circuit of the mountain is one of the finest day rides I know of.  I didn’t know of this ride before we came here - I was just looking for a good ride on our layover day, and picked this more or less by chance - but it really is exceptional.  We left our hotel at 9:30, thinking we would loop the mountain, be back in early afternoon, and then spend a few hours touring the city.  Instead, we took all day at it - it is fabulous the entire way.  So, another two day stop without actually seeing the place we stayed in.

There’s not too much need for narrative about the ride itself - ride, stop, tape; ride, stop, gape; ride, stop, gape - that’s about it.  Except for lunch.  We didn’t bring any food with us, and had some difficulty finding a meal.     We tried first in tiny Puyloubier but came up dry.  There were signs to a cafe, but it looks like it no longer exists - and the lone bar in town didn’t look that exciting.  Biking another mile, we came to somewhat larger Pourrieres, and found: a lone bar that didn’t serve food.  We concluded that our best plan was to change our ride plan and bike five miles south to Trets, which is larger and has several restaurants and a supermarket.  Setting out though, we oddly enough had trouble finding our way out of Pourriere, with one lane ending in stairs and the next at a dead end.  Finally we found the right road, and two blocks later found: a restaurant.  A wonderful little restaurant, with a delicious chicken plat de jour.

Somehow it seems fitting that possibly the best day ride of the tour came with the best lunch stop of the tour.  And, it seems fitting that the weather was fine all day, but started raining in the early evening. 

I hope you enjoy the photos, and I hope you get a chance to take this magical ride yourself someday.  If you come to Aix, it’s not to be missed.  For a change, let’s lead with the video:

We rode the loop counterclockwise, crossing the south face of the mountain first. For the first few miles after leaving Aix we biked through quiet, beautiful woods.
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Tholonet Chateau, about five miles east of Aix
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The column of plane trees leading to the Tholonet Chateau is one of the prettiest we’ve seen.
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We’re still in the vicinity of the chateau, looking across a pasture beside the plane trees pictured above. The brown covering on the grass is of leaves from the plane trees.
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We aren’t yet in sight of Mont Sainte-Victoire. We’re still biking primarily through pine forest, accented by the occasional eroded red soil outcrop.
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Our first good view of the mountain, approaching it head on from the west end of its range. This is the angle most of Cezanne’s paintings portray.
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As we move east and gradually gain elevation, we leave the forest and enter a more open area of vineyards and broad vistas. The next ten miles are continuously spectacular as we bike along the long south face of the mountain.
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Every new bend in the road brings us to an impressive view. The road itself is as quiet as it looks in these photos, by the way. We saw very few cars all day once we left Aix.
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The huge (18 meters tall) Croix de Provence, erected at a summit of the mountain in 1875, to ward off a smallpox epidemic. It boasts an unbeatable view of Provence, and would be a wonderful destination for hikers (the hiking approach is from the opposite side, not up that cliff).
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Puyloubier, a pretty small village that unfortunately offered no meal that we could find.
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Success! In Pourrières we find not just any meal, but the best lunch stop of the tour.
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On our return to Aix we biked along the north side of the mountain. While not as dramatic as along the exposed south face, it is still a very beautiful ride and just as quiet.
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We climb a bit higher on the north side of the mountain, topping out at 2,100’. It’s greener, and further into autumn. The colors are spectacular.
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We ended the day here, back in Aix. Surprisingly, after biking for six weeks in Italy we enjoyed probably our favorite pasta meal here in France.
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Ride stats today: 42 miles, 3,700’

Today's ride: 42 miles (68 km)
Total: 2,454 miles (3,949 km)

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Kathleen ClassenI am so envious. The map of Europe is already gracing the dining room table. The video today took me right back. We must do that route. On a funny note, we had the best Italian food of any of our tours in both Austria (Innsbruck) and Germany (Garmisch).
Kathleen
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4 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo Kathleen ClassenWe wondered if you two had been here. This country is so amazing, isn’t it? An endless treasure chest of unbelievable surprises. If you haven’t been there already, you should also ride the Route des Crêtes if you’re in the area. If we’re down this way again and the weather allows, I’m sure we will ourselves. We’d probably stay in Le Ciotat thong instead of Cassis Nd bike up and back from the ‘easy’ side.

Keep warm and dry,
Scott
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4 weeks ago
Kathleen ClassenTo Scott AndersonOops, no we haven’t done it...it is firmly in next year’s itinerary 👍. The video, with music had me back riding the spectacular route from Verona to Brenner Pass, probably my three favourite riding days the whole tour. Because we were on a dedicated bike route we could plug in the tunes and just joyfully ride, which is how I felt watching Rachael’s video...the spectacular scenery, the exercise, the sheer joy of it...I think I will go jump on my bike right now 😀.
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3 weeks ago