The rides start from our Buis-les-Baronnies base in the glorious Ouvèze Valley and take in Mont Ventoux, head up to the Plateau de Vaucluse, through the Drôme Provençale and into the Diois. You can look forward to awesome mountain passes, but also plenty of terrific, small, well-nigh traffic-free roads on which cyclists can let off steam to their heart's content and fine-tune their form under the Provence sun.<italic>Routes may be altered!</italic>
Our week begins on the Saturday with a short introductory ride in the afternoon. From our base in Buis we head straight to the hill country to the north of the Ouvèze Valley, so that the low but very lovely Col de Propiac becomes the first pass of our training week. Through the well-known wine-growing areas of the Côte de Rhône, such as Puyméras, we work our way towards Vaison-la-Romaine. This little town, with its characteristic Roman ruins, is our turnaround point. From we follow the Ouvèze back to Buis, initially on a cycle path, and then a country lane.
On our springtime Provence trips it is a tradition that we ride the Gorges de la Nesque on our first stage proper. It is almost made for this, because the scenery is outstanding but the gradients are none too difficult, so it is an ideal way of kicking off the week. Tomorrow, however, we shall be heading down the Ouvèze Valley for the first time and then through hilly terrain to Malaucène, where one of the approaches to Mont Ventoux begins. Today, though, we skate around that; we do a bit of a detour around the Ventoux massif and set the Giant aside for one of the days to come. We ride through the Comtat, mostly flat, to Ville-sur-Auzon, where the uphill approach to the Nesque gorge begins. We are guaranteed great views, and if the weather is fine we’ll have the fabulous sight of Ventoux from the viewing point at the top of the gorge. This first stage includes another highlight: the peaceful, beautiful Col d’Aulan, which takes us back down to the Ouvèze Valley.
At 1212 m, the Col de l'Homme Mort is one of the biggest passes in the region. With this longer option, we add on this pass, which gives us great views over towards Lubéron, after the Gorges de la Nesque.
A Buis classic. The four Drôme Provençale passes. Four passes, each a little higher than the previous, culminating in the 1302 m Col de Perty, which is definitely a regional highlight with its panoramas of Ventoux and the high Alps. Not an easy stage, but it's worth it! The first pass is the Col de Fontaube on the northern side of the Ventoux massif, with great views of the Giant. The second pass is the picturesque road to the Col de Macuègne, which takes us into the Méouge Valley. Pass number three is the Col Saint-Jean which, though the steepest of the day, is still friendly, and takes us through lovely rocky landscapes. The Perty, then, is the last one, and, given that our legs are beginning to tire, may seem tougher than it really is, but the solitude of the road and the high alpine panorama lend us wings. The long, fast descent into the Ouvèze Valley, which follows, is the icing on the cake. A fine Provence stage, well away from the overcrowded Ventoux routes.
Midweek and time for an easy day. An easy day<italic>Epic Climbs</italic>style, of course... meaning, a slightly shorter stage. You might, of course, prefer the hotel pool or a stroll around Buis, or an excursion to Orange or Avignon but, after all, we're here for the mountains and the passes. So we head straight up Buis’ very own climb, the Col d’Ey, which takes us through the familiar olive groves and connects the Ouvèze and Eygues valleys. Once in the latter valley, we choose a minor road which runs above the valley to the Col de la Croix Rouge – yet another peaceful Provence road. And in no time we are through Puyméras, in the Ouvèze Valley again, and back in Buis. And now there really is time for the hotel pool.
You can see it from almost every pass – the 1912 m “Bald Mountain”. The<italic>Giant of Provence</italic>, a Tour de France legend, and several of our group will undoubtedly have chosen this trip specifically because of Mont Ventoux. Which is a perfectly good reason because, even without the hype of the Tour and all the associated marketing, this peak, soaring high above Provence would be a quite unique experience. From Buis we ride through the Ouvèze Valley again to Malaucène, over the hill to Bédoin, and then up the classic approach to Mont Ventoux. 21 kms, 1600 m elevation gain – mythical! But once we reach the notorious gravel desert the other side of Chalet Reynaud and spot the observatory at the summit, we’ll be borne uphill by our euphoria alone. On the northern side, then, we drop down to Malaucène before returning to Buis.
Today's excursion takes us northwards, out of the Drôme Provençale and into the Diois, the adjacent massif that constitutes the foothills of the Alps. We start off with the Col d’Ey again, taking us into the Eygues Valley. We then climb up to the Col de la Sausse, the most spectacular section of which is the narrow gorge on the lower slopes, the Défilé des Trente Pas. The desolate Diois then reveals its better-looking side, as we turn to the east over the Col Lescou to return to the Eygues. The Col de Soubeyrand is one of the steepest passes in the region and cuts through thick pine forests, but the gradient hardly hits ten percent, so there is no reason to panic. Nonetheless, you would be wise to hold back a little for the Col d’Ey, the last of today's bevy of passes.
Gorges, to Provence, are like grains of sand to the sea. Today, though, an extremely beautiful example awaits us, the Gorges de la Méouge, and we will throw in another lengthy, though not too mountainous, stage on this last day in order to take it in. The lion's share of the climbing is done in the first 33 kms, as we ascend the Col de Perty. We have done this already, but the long, varied ascent along the Ouvèze Valley is so lovely that we can ride the pass again from the other side. We then descend almost to the River Buëch; the most easterly point of our training week. A couple of minor hills along the river valley and we have reached the Méouge Valley and the beautiful gorge. We head upwards again, long drawn-out but easy, and the week's final pass, the Col de Mévouillon, scarcely merits the name... we then roll down to Buis and, unfortunately, the week is over.