Cycling

Cycling Day 30: Nice To Castellane

Now in Castellane. This may not get sent tonight as 3G doesn’t seem to actually be 3G in this corner of the Alps of high Provence (that’s what the French call this department or county). Split infinitive there, sorry but moving the ‘actually’ elsewhere seems to change the meaning of what I’d like to actually say. Did it again just to annoy you Zoe. The campsite wifi is a possibility but it requires me to watch an advert before it allows me access but my iPhone refuses to play the advert. How likely am I to ever buy whatever product they are trying to sell me after a palaver like that? Sorry. I just needed to get those technical issues off my chest.
Breakfast in Nice was a coffee and two croissant affair at the Café de Lyon on Avenue Jean Medcin. I went to that café three times during my 36 hours in the city. It ticks all the boxes of what a French café should be and I was able to sit on the terrace and watch the world go by. And Nice certainly has some interesting people to watch. From the over-tanned ageing prunes walking their dogs, to the excessively camp men, to the tourists from all corners of the globe (you can usually guess which corner), to the waifs and strays of French society who seem attracted to the capital of the Côte d’Azur presumably because it’s far more comfortable sleeping on a park bench or even the street in the hot south than it is elsewhere. The avenue incidentally is named after the former long-standing mayor of Nice. When I spent my six weeks there back in 2000 he was or had been under investigation for some form of corruption. I must look up what happened to him. I’ve got a feeling he fled the country but whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings it wasn’t bad enough for the main street in his own town to be renamed.
I cycled down the Promenade des Anglais as far as I could. This is the airport which blocks off the far western end of the Baie des Anges. I wanted to move away from the coast (as explained in yesterday’s video) and head for Castellane via Grasse and I did this shortly after the airport taking a relatively quiet back road – the D6 – from Cagnes-sur-mer to Le Rouret. The ride to this point had been nice and cool. In Nice the early morning sky had been quite hazy and the breeze from the sea helped keep the temperature down. When I joined the D6 I was protected from the sun by the woods and forests that lined most of my route. This continued as I joined the more major D2085 that linked up with the town of Grasse.
I had visited Grasse before (during my extended stay in Nice) so knew what to expect. It sells itself as the ‘capitale mondiale du parfum’ and I have no reason to doubt that it is indeed the world perfume capital although I’m sure Scunthorpe might have something to say about that. The very typical Provençal old town is crowded with perfume-related shops interspersed between the usual tourist traps. It did strike me however just how many of the shops were (or appeared to be) independent traders trying to eek out their living from the passing tourist throng. I didn’t even spot a Body Shop or Lush. Hanging above most of the streets in the pedestrianised old town was a system of pipes spraying a fine mist of water into the air and down upon we tourists. I wondered if the arrangement also worked as a sprinkler system in case of a fire, drenching the passers by if the local boulangerie burst into flames. I found Grasse an antidote to large, corporate & brash Nice. It’s count of camp over-tanned waifs & strays was also well down on that of its coastal cousin.
It was 64km from Grasse to Castellane. I knew this because the signs told me. And, unlike in Italy, I believed them. They were consistent and matched my own calculations. In fact, the French should win some kind of award for their signage. I can’t think of another European country which manages their signs so well. They are, as I’ve observed, accurate but also informative & clear. You are rarely left scratching your head at a junction in France wondering where to go next as the information in there in front of you. And have you ever seen an old French sign? They don’t exist. They all appear to have been renewed within the last five years. Back in the UK I challenge you to find a sign that has been replaced within the last five years. Your time starts now!
While not drooling over the signage my eyes had plenty of other things to gaze at. This is the Provence of Marcel Pagnol. Every view could have come from the pages of one of his books; rugged, bare mountain tops and steep-sided green valleys. It would have been very easy to pause every two minutes to take photographs. The roads were fairly quiet and much of the time it was just me, Reggie & the countryside of Provence.
Ah yes, the cycling! I better mention that. Four cols during the day, the first three a little higher than the previous one. The final one slightly lower but the day was one of climbing. But I didn’t mind in the least. The roads weren’t too steep, the downhill sections weren’t so long as to negate all the uphill cycling. And the views made every turn of the pedal worthwhile. I didn’t complain once that the total ascent was 1,900m compared to descent of 1,200m. It was just wonderful cycling. Everything that you might want and expect from a holiday of this type. This wasn’t a struggle. It wasn’t a chore. It wasn’t being done for the sake of crossing a continent by bike. It was thoroughly enjoyable.
Approaching Castellane, the scenery was at its most spectacular. The town sits at the foot of a great edifice of rock rising high into the sky upon which a church has been built. The famous Verdon gorge starts in Castellane and it will probably be my route out of the town tomorrow. Finding a place on a campsite wasn’t easy. The small town is blessed with about ten sites in the vicinity but of those nearest to the town centre, the first three that I investigated were all full. Not even room for a small tent (which surprises me somewhat). But number four did have one space left and so tonight I’m a resident of the two star Camping Pesquier… with dodgy wifi. Tomorrow morning I’ll take a few moments to reacquaint myself with the town centre (yes, I’ve been here before too – way back when I was a student in 1989 – working for a British camping company taking down tents at the end of the season although not on this particular site) as well as investigate the resistance museum that I saw advertised on a nearby sign.
I forget to mention Napoleon, his route back to Paris from excite on Elba, the over-enthusiastic Québécois, the perfect bell tower in St. Vallier du Thier, the dozens of other cyclists (mainly MAMILs), the Café des Cyclistes… It was a busy day indeed.

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