Thunder, lightning and a downpour overnight cooled the air. We left Rousillon around 10:30 after the rain had stopped, riding though the town and down into valley below. The contrast between the red earth and buildings and the green fields was heighten by the rain.The fields were dotted with bories (traditional round stone huts). Soon we arrived at Saint-Saturnine-des-Apt with its old Moulin (windmill) which towers above the town. We paused at a cafe for coffee and admired it from below, as the path up looked like too steep a scramble.
Gerry’s route to Gordes took us way up into the mountains with magnificent views across a ravine that looked like it had been carved out by an ancient glacier. Limestone outcrops towered like sentries over the narrow road. Just a low wall separated us from the steep drop off into the valley. In the distance we spotted two tiny bike riders on the opposite side of the ravine, which emphasized the scale of the landscape. In the distance, we could see a stone bridge that would bring us across the ravine to the opposite side. Crossing that bridge was one of the highlights of the day. The view down the ravine and the humbling sense of privilege to be in this beautiful place was exhilarating! We were deep in the hills, with just a few farms scattered here and there. We ate our remaining bread, cheese, and saucisson on a stone outcrop.
This rugged territory was the site of many battles during WWII, and along the roads there signposts marking various battles. I thought about my father, who flew a tiny survellience plane during the war, and wondered if he had been in this area.
Our route took us to Lioux, a tiny gem of a village nestled under a massive limestone ridge that extends for many kilometers. It looked like there might be ancient caves in the limestone far above the Village.The beautiful little church was cool and welcoming, with a statue of Joan of Arc. A tiny courtyard with a water spigot added to the quiet charm. What a special place!!
Descending from there we rolled through the more modern village of Parrotier, and then began a long hot assent up and over the next ridge to Murs. The steady climb for about 3-4km nearly did me in, and it took several honey stinger waffle breaks, a great view, some affirmations (with each stroke I am getting stronger and stronger), and Gerry’s encouragement to get to the top.
When we finally reached Murs, my dream of an ice cream vanished, as we passed the only open store. We stopped to admire the view and explored the open air Laverie, where the town women met to wash the clothes. I imagine that it must have been great gathering place.
We also needed to consider our next choice: descend into Gordes directly which would require a steep climb up into the village, or climb more gradually to a road that would bring us down to the Abbey Senanque, with a “short steep climb” to follow, but then a descent into Gordes from above. The second option was 2km longer and I was already exhausted, but I gathered my resolve and we decided to go for it. A steep and winding descent through fields and forest aglow with the evening light was our reward.
Finally we saw the abbey below us through the trees. The only road I could see leading away from the abbey seemed to be at a 45 degree angle up a cliff. “Please tell me that’s not the road to Gordes!” “Yep, that’s where we’re going…”
Making the last turn we found ourselves in the valley with the abbey before us. We were at a crossroads, one road leading down to the abbey, and one leading away, and presumably up to Gordes. The only problem was that that road had a large red circle with a line through it indicating DO NOT ENTER. And there were signs marked To Gordes pointing back up the hill, the way we had come. To say that there were a few moments of quiet panic would be an understatement. It was already about 6pm, we were hot and very tired. Suddenly the steep and forbidden road up the hill was looking like the better alternative. We checked with a couple of people who confirmed that yes in fact it was the way, and maybe it was one-way, but there were pull outs every 140 meters or so.
We decided to go for it!
The first stretch of the cliff road was the steepest. We made it up that bit just in time to pull into a “garage” or pull-out to make room for car. There seemed to be a few cars ignoring the one way status, and we saw a stand off or two.
The view from the exposed look out on top was incredible! We rolled on down the road to town, just in time to see Gordes glowing golden in the evening sun.