A freaky frost cut a clean line through the cherry orchard. One side of the flower was brown and dead while the other was white and alive.
In the aisles between the trees fat candles smoldered in the morning dew, burning lard to ward off the night frost, but the willful hand of God had still doomed half the harvest.
I cycle through the Luberon along paths where olive trees and clementine bushes have grown for centuries.
Well worth the climb: Mark Porter cycles through historic Bonnieux on an e-bike tour of Provence (pictured).
A gently undulating route takes me through the honey-colored villages of Bonnieux, Lacoste and Ménerbes – made famous by Marcel Pagnol and later by the more prosaic pen of Peter Mayle.
If Provence is the most beautiful part of France, the Luberon is at its best in central Provence.
The morning chill quickly gives way to intense warmth, and soon the cicadas herald an Englishman on his bike.
“If Provence is the loveliest part of France, the Luberon (above) is at its best in central Provence,” writes Mark
Pretty Lacoste (pictured) is one of the stops on Mark’s bike tour of the region’s ‘Villages and Vineyards’.
No wonder the Greeks and then the Romans were deceived. Their legacy is carved in Provençal stone everywhere: from Avignon to Aix, a vision of an ancient culture still alive and magnanimous.
It’s one of those heavenly days that starts in winter and hits midsummer at noon. I’ve been driving down the Via Domitia, the oldest street in France, for a while but it’s a bit busy now so I turn into Gargas for a cool Perrier.
Here I see pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela with their scallop medallions filling their bottles at the village fountain. The backdrop is a bright red cliff landscape where the sandstone has been hollowed out as if by giant fingers. It is known locally as Colorado.
I’m staying at La Coquillade, which caters to bike enthusiasts like me. It was the brainchild of a Swiss businessman who also founded the famous cycling company BMC.
During his stay at La Coquillade (above), a hotel for cycling enthusiasts, Mark is outfitted with a ‘magnificent’ mountain bike
The late Andy Rihs discovered a ruined hamlet while on holiday and had the vision (and capital) to take many years to convert it into a five-star spa complex to match the surrounding architecture. His grandfather was the writer Hermann Hesse, whose paintings and writing chairs are in the foyer.
There is a bike center in La Coquillade and my guide Gaëton sets me up with a great (and electrically assisted) mountain bike.
Born and raised in the neighboring village, Gaëton has an in depth knowledge of flora, fauna, history and wine making for a fascinating outing.
Above is one of the suites at La Coquillade. The hotel was founded by Swiss businessman Andy Rihs, who discovered a derelict hamlet while on holiday and had a vision over many years to convert it into a five-star spa complex
“That castle over there once belonged to the Marquis de Sade,” he says as we roll past Lacoste. “It was bought by Pierre Cardin a few years ago.” This is renowned wine country not far from Chateauneuf du Pape’s famous Rhone, so it only seems appropriate to stop for a light lunch at Aureto, the hotel’s own vineyard.
My route was an easy 30-mile stretch, my first since major hip and knee surgery late last year, so I was grateful for the electric assist. But the hotel is also ideal for die-hard cyclists, and if you feel like it, you can do the circuit around Mont Ventoux. It’s as tough as it gets – 137km and 4,400m of ascent from the village of Bédoin. It’s advisable to have 4,000km a year under your belt before attempting it, so use caution.
Other trips like mine focus on the villages and vineyards of the Luberon.
From Hotel La Coquillade you can do the Mont Ventoux circuit if you are up for it. Pictured is part of the route up the mountain
The Mont Ventoux bike route is “as tough as it gets,” reveals Mark. Above is the view of the Alps from the summit
Mark stops for a light lunch at Aureto, the hotel’s winery (pictured above)
After enjoying a massage at La Coquillade, Mark exits the pampering room “a new man, ready for the outdoor pool, sauna and plunge pool.” Above is the hotel’s indoor pool
Nothing really prepares you for a spa session like a few hours in the saddle. After herbal tea in a marble foyer, I’m led into the deadly silence of Nicole’s treatment room. A soothing massage later, I’m whisked away into another world, emerging from the pampering room a new man, ready for the outdoor pool, sauna, and plunge pool.
My magnificent ‘Junior Suite’ has a terrace overlooking rows of cypress trees leading into a vast valley past the vineyard.
France’s vast network of cycle paths and planned routes make it one of the most cycle-friendly countries in the world. And what better way to burn off the calories of its fabulous gastronomic tradition?
The Coquillade Provence Resort & Spa offers rooms from €750 per room per night including access to the spa during your stay and a visit to the Aureto winery. Visit coquillade.fr for more information.