A Winelover’s Tour de France (10)

The traveler is active; he goes strenuously in search of people, of
adventure, or experience. The tourist is passive; he expects
interesting things to happen to him. (Daniel J. Boorstin)
The banner at the entrance to the city proclaimed, “Avignon la
sonneuse de joie”((“Avignon the ring of joy “). Bede entered through
the gates of this walled city to discover a bustling, vibrant place. The
main boulevard, Rue de la République, is a busy street, overflowing
with cafés, restaurants and shops. The dominant feature of the city is
the imposing medieval Palais des Papes (Palace of the Popes), which
has been the home of seven French popes. Standing next to the palace
is the 12th century cathedral of Notre-Dame des Doms. Past the
cathedral, steps rise to the Rocher des Doms, a rocky hill that has
been laid out as a garden and which offers a panoramic view of the
valley and the Rhône river below. The famous Pont d’Avignon has
only four of its twenty-two arches now remaining but retains its
Bede took a room at the Hôtel des Papes, directly opposite the Palais
des Papes. It was a small room on the top floor overlooking the street
below. This time there were no pigeons in the roof to trouble him, as
in Carcassonne, but he had difficulty sleeping in this hotel for
different reasons. For one thing, the palace buildings were floodlit, so
that his room was bathed in light throughout the night. For another, it
was light until 10.00pm at that time of the year, so the restaurants and
cafés nearby were crowded with patrons who could still be heard
walking the streets and talking loudly until the early hours of the
Breakfast the next morning was shared with a young Parisian lawyer,
Gatienne, who was in Avignon to attend a conference on computer
law. They talked law and their respective backgrounds and work
experiences. Gatienne’s father was in private practice as a notaire,
( notary )while she chose to work for a firm in Paris as an avocat
( advocate ) Bede was to catch up with Gatienne again upon his return
to Paris in mid-June.
The day was taken up with a 50-kilmetre ride through a quiet rural
landscape, interspersed with vineyards and orchards as he headed for
the small town of Pont-St-Esprit. This old market town is dramatically
situated beside the Rhône. The town is named after the 12th century
bridge which spans the river, from which you get a great view of the
town, its old houses and collegiate church. Bede stayed overnight at
the Hôtel de l’Europe, which turned out to be very comfortable and
with a good restaurant. It was the only hotel in his whole journey
where he was charged for storage of his bicycle. In all the other hotels
along the way he was able to have his bicycle in the room with him,
or in a hallway close by as part of his personal luggage.
The next day Bede was on the road early, in warm, windy conditions.
It was to be a long day of 110 kilometres, taking him through such
villages and towns as Viviers, Montélimar, Crest, and then on to the
city of Valence for the night. He took lunch at Crest on the Drôme
river. It was a leisurely break – he enjoyed his bread and cheese
washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine sitting in the sun
on the river bank with his bare feet in the cool waters of the Drôme.
On his arrival in Valence he discovered a bustling city with an
attractive market place. He chose to visit the Romanesque cathedral of
St Apollinaire and also the Beaux-Arts Museum in the former
bishop’s palace. There was also time for a stroll in the delightful park
and formal gardens of Parc Jouvet late in the day.
Bede departed Valence early the next morning on what was to turn out
to be one of the more interesting days on the road since leaving the
Loire valley. He covered around 100 kilometres through the villages
and towns of Cornas, Tournon, St Valier, Condrieu, Vienne, and then
on to the city of Lyon. For the journey between Tournon and Vienne
he had the company of the Rhône, which follows the N.86. The river
is a dominant and all-powerful force to the eye, yet all around the
countryside is gentle and ordered.
The most interesting place for Bede on this particular part of his
journey was at the village of Ampuis, which is near Vienne. It is here
that the rare Côte Rôtie, a full-bodied, deep-red wine is produced. The
hillsides are extremely steep in places, and the vines are grown on
narrow, man-made terraces. The Syrah grapes grown on these steep
slopes and hillsides, which face southwest, are bathed in sunshine all
day long, hence the name Côte Rôtie (literally, roasted slope). He
cycled along the N.86 with the broad expanse of the Rhône to his
right, and to his left the steeply terraced hillsides planted out in
grapevines wherever the bush could be cleared, right up to the skyline
in places. A number of négociants and producers have their names
prominently displayed in large signs erected on parts of the hillsides;
names like E. Guigal, Chapoutier, Vidal-Fleury and Duclaux.
Bede arrived at the outskirts of Lyon late in the day, when the roads
were congested with traffic going to and from this heavily populated
city. He had great difficulty finding his way into the centre of such a
sprawling metropolis, with its ring roads and autoroutes, which are
forbidden to bicycles. To make matters worse, he punctured on a busy
stretch of road for only the second time on tour. Bede finally limped
into the city at about 7.00 pm. After taking directions from a helpful
Lyonnais, he arrived at the private lodgings he was to stay at for the
next three nights. His contact there was Paul Jensen, who had been
living in France for some 13 years when Bede met him. Paul was in
his late thirties and employed in the computer industry. After a warm
welcome from Paul and a long shower to freshen up, Bede was ready
for the light meal and drinks that followed. The last week had taken a
lot out of him, and he was ready for a bit of a rest. Paul’s apartment
was on the fourth floor, with fine views from the front rooms out over
the Saône river.


BARRY JOHNS ( aka Le Vigneron )