Long, hot and dusty are the roads that eventually lead to rest. They travel through villages and towns still apparently siesta asleep within their dry and often cracked stone walls, especially in the afternoon as the sun reaches its zenith and bears down upon the earth. Some roads are lined with the shade of plane trees as they both enter a leave a settlement. The clickings and chirrupings of grasshoppers interrupt the gentle rustle of the leaves in the midday sun. Once the shade of the trees is left behind, then the country opens up revealing wide open plains of flatlands rolling towards the distant hills of the Luberon, the jagged peaks of Les Dentilles de Montmeriel and of course Mount Ventoux. The hills sit in distant layers of various altitudes, of steel grey, misty blue and limestone white. The road reaches out in front towards them, measuring itself in kilometre after kilometre of crank turning heat. There is little let up through Provence. Shade is most often absent. Poplars spike the landscape but do not come close enough to provide any shelter which in any case given their shape would be little. Groves of pale and dark green leaved olive trees interspersed with green leaved and grape bunched vineyards ease by. The black old knarled trunks of the olives rival that of the black old vines. There are a few patches of lavender that has now been harvested leaving the dusty remains in the pale brown earth. Still we cycle. Drinking as much as we can as we are in a race with dehydration.
Some villages can be spotted far away as they are built upon a dome of the hill. The spike of a church tower arises above the red pantiles roofs and creamy stone of villages houses. Again poplars spire up into the sky. Villages start to name the domain wine of the Region. This is Cote du Rhône. Look out for Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Beaume de Venice, Sablet, Rasteau and of course Ventoux. The arable lands of the North and recently of Auvergne and Ardeche have given way dramatically to vines and olives. There is an endless invitation to visit the caves and sample but for now we slip by, leaving only sweat and hope in our wake.
Mont Ventoux itself dominates the skyline ahead. It is truly magnificent and by far the highest point around. It’s western edge rises more sharply than its east which seems to slowly slip away to be submerged into the Luberon hills. At first the pale white snow like limestone summit is too far away to be discerned and it takes another two hours to emerge as visible. The mountain just sits and slowly, imperceptibly, metre by metre grows in height and definition. When the white and red tower of the weather station can be seen then one is getting closer. But do not be fooled. The height is such, at 1912 metres, it belies how far it actually is to get to the top. But climbing it is not for today. Mid afternoon is not the time to even think about it. The temperature in the direct sun would be 35-40 degrees at the base. But for now we continue ride the long, hot dusty road to Caromb.
At Beaume de Venise, Kirsten and Ann await in the shade of a cafe with very welcome refreshments of water and cold cold oringina. This is normally a drink I would not give the time of day for, but it is transformed from the sickly sweet children’s drink, good only for serving at a British summer barbecue to young untutored palates into the ice cold refreshing sweetness of nectar and chills the veins towards a more useful temperature. Beaume is also the domain name of some very fine wines indeed. But not right now. We have 10 kms to go to Caromb. The last 10 for Grant who has cycled the best part of 1600 kms from Morlaix in Brittany through the Loire, Auvergne, Ardeche and now Provence. I think a cold beer might be in order.