Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cycling In Provence: Getting There

The alarm went off at 4:15am on Friday, 3rd June. Having prepared the bikes well in advance and then packed up everything but our toothbrushes the night before, we were out the door in time to catch the 05:13 train to London St. Pancras. Admittedly, I did not feel awake yet, even though I had downed a cup of coffee and then experienced the thrill of freewheeling a loaded Brompton down the 'black run' of Cutenhoe Road. 

Brompton? Yes, we were off to France for a week's cycling holiday on folding bicycles: me on Lucy my 3-speed Brompton and Adam on his heavily-modified early-1980s era Bickerton

All packed up ready to board the Eurostar service from London to Avignon.

We arrived in Avignon around 2.30pm local time. The temperature was 26C (82F) with a light breeze. The heat of the sun on my skin felt wonderful. 

We re-assembled our bicycles and luggage on the platform without incident. 

Setting off from the train station, we were a little confused, not helped by the fact that Adam had plotted a route on his GPS in advance... from Avignon Sud station rather than Avignor TGV! We circled the entire station and car parking areas before getting our bearings north towards the town centre. 

Our route took us through fairly industrial areas. We could have been 'anywhere', really.

Google StreetView

Approaching a main road - but look! There's a cycle path.
Photo: Google StreetView

The cycle path is that, yep you guessed it, footpath on the right.
The quality was right up there with crappy UK-style "cycling infrastructure".
Photo: Google StreetView

Okay - there were some nice bits.
Except that the channel of water on the right was full of litter.
Photo: Google StreetView

More "cycling infrastructure": the narrow lane on the right,
where I've positioned the Google" directional arrow.
Photo: Google StreetView

Straight ahead through the gate to enter the old city
Photo: Google StreetView

The route into town was not at all picturesque. But then we passed through an arch in an expense of old stone wall (as shown in the Google screen shot above) and found the inner city. 

eastbound on Boulevard Raspail

Our accommodation was right in the centre of the old city, in a charming rustic pensione-style house dating from 1526.  

Maison d'Hôtes Avignon La Banasterie
The rooms were arranged over 3 storeys around a tiny central courtyard, with access via a network of stairs and balconies.

Our room was beautifully furnished -- and, crucially, wonderfully cool. The secret to 'climate control' in this kind of climate is to build with walls at least 3 feet thick!

The only room with a bath (rather than a shower), the whole of our travels.
I'm glad I enjoyed this one!

We quickly unpacked and freshened up and set off to explore the old city of Avignon. 

Here, I have a confession. I did not do any research or advance reading for this trip. We decided in February that our summer holiday would be in Provence. At that time, I quickly selected two cities that would, along with Avignon (our Eurostar terminus), form the points of a triangle. We would have three days of cycling from one point to the next, with two or three days based in each point to be able to sightsee and cycle around without luggage. I booked accommodation in those three points, then my attention and time was wrapped up in preparing for my final law exam on 1st June. I gave the trip very little further thought until virtually the day of departure (other than making sure my bike set up looked feasible).

Meanwhile, Adam had fun researching places of interest and refining our route. Occasionally he showed me something he had found and asked if I wanted to do it/go there. My input each time was made on the basis of gut instinct (influenced on my mood at the time!), each decision taking about the amount of time it takes to flip a coin. 

So.... the trip revealed how ignorant I was about the region. Yes, of course I've "heard of" Avignon, but I knew very little. And yet... with so few expectations or pre-conceived ideas and -- after months of being chained to books -- I was in the mood not only for reset and relaxation (more about that later) but also discoveries and surprises. Of which there are many. 

Setting the scene for Avignon -- with apologies to readers already familiar with this rather famous city! -- it's ancient! It is an UNESCO World Heritage site and was the seat of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church from 1309 to 1377 and remained under the rule of Rome for another 400 years, not becoming part of France until 1791 (after the French Revolution). I have only been to Italy once but I have traveled throughout France a fair bit and my impression of Avignon, which I cannot pinpoint as being due to any particular thing such as architecture, is that the city does not feel 100% French. Its situation in a sweeping huge curve of the Rhone River goes someway to creating that separate, cut-off, independent feel. 

Our walking tour on the evening of our arrival was not extensive. The only site really on our "Must See" list was the Pont (Bridge) d'Avignon. But there were of course lots of lovely things to notice on our wanderings to and from the Pont. 

Pont d'Avignon, also known as le pont Saint Bénezet

view of the Palais des Papes (Pope's Palace) from the bridge

In search of dinner, we detoured through the main square of the old city en route back to our B&B.

And I couldn't resist a brief twirl on the carousel.

the spire of Curch of St. Pierre, on Rue Corderie around the corner from our B&B

the small delightful square behind the Curch of St. Pierre, at the bottom of Rue Banesterie

We were back in our room by 8pm. After perusing my new Michelin map and making a plan for our meals the next day, it was lights out by 8.30pm. 

Given my weeks of revision and having been up since 4.15am, it was no surprise that I was out like a light immediately. A good night's sleep would set me up beautifully for this lovely holiday. 

But it was not to be (the good night's sleep, that is). 

My mobile phone rang at 9.45pm. It was one of the B&B's co-owners -- not the one who had greeted us on arrival. She asked where we were and what time we expected to arrive! 

The misunderstanding was soon sorted but unfortunately being awoken from a deep sleep so sharply triggered an instant migraine.... which resulted in a lost night's sleep and lasted for two full days. 


Our route from Avignon TGV station into the town centre (as actually travelled, not planned!)

Evening walk


  1. Did you sing the song on the bridge? Me and my sister did, whilst Jayne and my sister's boyfriend pretended not to be with us.

    1. Before we went, I did not even know there was a song! Deficient American upbringing, apparently.

  2. Outstanding as usual.......the nine members of your "Oregon following" will be waiting for the next "chapter"!

    1. Thanks, Sandi! Please give my love to my "Oregon Fan Club" -- especially you, Chris and Carol! :)

  3. If you plan to discuss it in a future post, I'll wait, bit if not, what was it like getting the train down? Would you recommend it for normal touring bikes?

    1. That is the $64 question, isn't it? I have no idea, as we haven't done it. We've idly considered it but not sat down to 'map it out' as it were. The problem is, EuroStar don't do full size bikes: you have to check your bike in with their cargo carrier partner EuroDespatch and collect it after your journey. Our friend Sonia has (I believe) just done it, returning from Paris last Monday. I'll ask her how she found it.

      Non-Eurostar means researching which individual train companies operate the services going where you want to go and then checking their cycle policies, just as we have to do here in the UK. I understand the restrictions on some lines are even more draconian than the likes of Abellio.

      Aside from official policies, there's the question of actual experience, i.e. where do you put your bike, do you need to lock it, can you access it during your journey, how much time will you have in stations where you need to disembark to get to your bike, etc. For that, I think getting onto a cycling forum e.g. CycleChat, YACF is probably the only way you can get an idea and is certainly where I'd look to be asking those questions.

      I would very much like to take my Enigma next time so I can have a go at Ventoux. So we may be investigating all this over the coming winter months.


    2. Oh and, as for travelling by Eurostar with a folder -- provided one of you (!) is strong enough for the carrying/manhandling, it's brilliant!

  4. Tim, start with this?

  5. My Eurodespatch experiences have been great so far. I would recommend. I found the staff to be helpful and they didn't bat an eyelid when I actually said goodbye to my bikes at each journey.

    1. Good to hear! I really want to take my Enigma next time.


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