This is the first in an on-going series of my all-time favorite rides.
There’s something about a gorge that’s just … well, what else can I say … gorgeous. Sorry to be so cliche-ish. I’m sure several of my former editors just cringed and thought: “Oh Steve, didn’t I teach you anything?”
It takes millions and millions of years for a gorge to form, as the water from the river (in this case, the Nesque River, hence the name of the gorge) carves away the rocks, and the cliffs get taller and taller. It reminds me of that episode of the Flintstones cartoon, yes, the Flintstones. How’s that for a long-ago reference? Fred and Barney are out walking and come across the tiniest of creeks. And there’s a sign that says: Grand Canyon.
Anyway, the Gorges de la Nesque is one of my favorite rides. In fact, on one of my Nesque rides, I couldn’t help notice that I was smiling. Maybe you will too.
My Nesque ride usually starts in Bedoin, although it can also begin in Sault or Venesque. So, here we go, from Bedoin … you can click here to see the route.
From Bedoin (the base city for the most difficult of the three ascents of Mount Ventoux) head east and south toward the little town on Flassan. Then on to Villes-sur-Auzion and onto the D942 and the start of the gorge. Make sure you don’t follow the D1 signs to Sault. The D1 is a much busier and less scenic route.
Hey, what’s that? Off in the distance, looming above everything, all white and ominous at the peak? It Mount Ventoux. Which dominates this region of Provence. It’s everywhere. Mocking me and just daring me to climb it.
From Villes-sur-Auzon you have to climb up and over a preliminary peak to get “inside” the gorge. And once you do, the fun – and amazing views and smiles – begin. It’s a long, gentle – and sometimes a little steep – climb to the top and you pass through three tunnels carved into the side of the stone cliffs. Below, hundreds of feet down, is the river.
During one Nesque ride, I noticed several guys walking around, in the woods and brush above me … carrying guns. “Oh shit, this must be hunting season for cyclists!” It wasn’t. Found out later it was hunting season for … wild boars. And there’s a bit of a controversy, as the hunters may or may not sneak up on mothers in the midst of child birth and started blasting away. And the meat, some say, gives you cancer.
As I warily rode by the hunters, praying none of them had an itchy trigger finger, a group of about 10 French guys passed me. I joined the pack and was able to keep up with them and even chat a bit as we climbed.
They were from Annecy and had come to Provence to climb the Ventoux, which they had done the day before. Several spoke English and one of the guys told me that one of the guys up at the front of the pack was born and grew up in New York and that I must talk to him when we got to the top. Being guys, we picked up the pace as we approached the last few kilometers of the climb, and turned it into a race. I was able to stay with the lead pack for a kilometer or two, as one, two, and then three riders dropped off the back and quickly fell behind. With a kilometer to go, my legs and lungs were screaming and I was beginning to crack. I wasn’t the only one, and our pack of about six split apart. It was like being in the Tour de France! Two guys surged ahead and the rest of us fell back and finished as an exhausted-yet-smiling group.
We regrouped at the top, next to the viewing station – and I chatted with the guy from New York. We compared route notes, Mount Ventoux experiences, etc. The guys headed back they way we’d come, while I headed down to Sault.
On another Nesque ride, at the top, was a sheep. One single, solitary sheep. And he (she?) looked lonely. He was hanging out at the viewing station, wondering where the heck all the other sheep had gone.
There wasn’t much I could do … other than take his photo. He didn’t seem to mind
The ride down the gorge to Sault is fast and spectacular, as the valley on the other side is spread out in front of you, with Sault off in the distance, atop a hill. You can see the patchwork of farms, a sea of greens and blues.
As you approach Monieux, which is down in the valley, you’ll see the remains of a castle high up on a hill.
Sadly, our ride is coming to an end. There’s a bit of a climb into Sault, which is also usually packed full of cyclists. The Sault route up to the top of the Ventoux is considered the easiest of the three routes and … it is. Kind of. The first 20 Ks are actually easy, then you reach the Chalet Reynard turnoff and join the Bedoin route for the final 6 Ks to the top. The toughest 6 Ks.
There’s a nice cafe at the edge of Sault, with a view across the valley and up to the summit of the Ventoux. We’ve stayed in Sault a few times, as it’s actually a nicer town than Bedoin. And, we’ve sat at the cafe, drinking a beer and eating a pizza
Heading back to Bedoin?
There are a few options. You can go back the way you just came and see the Nesque from a entirely different perspective. Or, you can climb the Ventoux and then fly down the final 21K to Bedoin. Or, here’s a nice option: Head back to Monieux. Find the D96 in the middle of town and follow it to the D5 which will take you up and around the south side of the Nesque, but without the view down to the gorge.
For more great rides in Provence, check out my eBook: Biking Provence.
This is the first of several posts on my favorite rides. So, stay tuned.