Avignon to Toulon

Both times James & I have ended a trip in Avignon we’ve had lunch at the same restaurant and both times we’ve ordered the same thing and both times it was yummy. So we thought let’s make it lucky three and as if to punish us for being credulous fools, it was sub-optimal, verging on crap. The wine was good though. You can always rely on wine when all else lets you down.

Getting out of Avignon was a pain in the ass, involving fast busy roads, industrial parks, an airport (Avignon has an airport, who knew?), huge shopping centres, a Decathlon and much getting lost. But when we eventually made it out onto the little back roads and into the Luberon James & Deeks (who’d just started their trip) were like giddy schoolboys and it was a fun afternoon.

That night was also only the second on this trip that I’d camped wild, and it felt great. Campsites are all very well, but nothing beats sneaking around trying to put up a tent in the dark, almost falling down a mud bank into a river and getting eaten alive by insects. It feels like an adventure.

It’s also always fun having a new person along, and Deeks was such a new person. Amazingly he’d never been on a bike tour before, despite being a big fan of a) cycling, b) camping, c) being outdoors, d) eating a lot e) drinking a lot and f) setting fire to anything he can get his hands on. He had done all those things many times before, just not in this particular configuration and it was evident from more or less the first nanosecond that he was enjoying himself.

We started the next day with a brutal climb up to the hill-town of Bonnieux which is famous for being very quaint and being a bad Ridley Scott film, and were rewarded with a fabulous breakfast, first class picnic provisions, and a long lazy ride down through amazing gorges to Lourmarin which was over-run by tourists but still managed to rustle up a perfect mid-morning Pastis.

Unfortunately the weather, which had been holding nicely, started looking threatening again, and by noon we were skirting ominous black clouds. Just as it started to spit with rain we came upon a little covered shack with a table and benches, and – get this – only a fucking working Coke machine! OK, maybe you had to be there, but I was and I can tell you it was amazing, not least because minutes after we had sat down and started tucking into lunch the mother of all storms unleashed itself over us: <fuck sake>dunno why this fucking gif won’t embed. Click & turn on sound for full effect</fuck sake>.

And of course, as soon as we’d finished stuffing our faces it stopped. Well, temporarily. But not for long.

After the karmic triumph of lunch, of course we had to pay. It rained on and off all afternoon, and no one wanted to camp (except me but I was at best ignored and at worst subject to outright hostility) so we set about finding a hotel or B&B. We cycled through sorry depopulated shithole after sorry depopulated shithole and found nothing, before ending up in Jouques, cold, damp, hungry and still with nowhere to stay.

Several drinks in a warm friendly bar took care of the first two problems, a not-bad-considering-where-we-are pizza took care of the third, but try as we might we could not find a place to sleep. We were going round and round in circles and getting nowhere so I suggested we camp under a bridge but this was dismissed as hobo behaviour (yeah, and…?), and eventually found out by chatting to a mad local that there were caves we could pitch our tents in about 10 km away. James and Deeks liked this idea, I think mainly because they imagined lighting a fire. Dr. Paul hated it but didn’t have much choice, so we set off, but by this time it had stopped raining and on the way we found a perfect spot to camp in a little wood. We drank some whisky and Dr. Paul cheered up and then we went to bed.

The next morning the good doctor headed home and the remaining three of us headed off into the sunshine for a great day’s ride that culminated in a little village surrounded by hills where, over aperos, James told us that according to satellite imaging there appeared to be a flat space to camp, possibly next to the ruins of something. Deeks insisted we go investigate, despite it being up an extremely steep path and came back with tales of castles and fireplaces and the most perfect camping spot in the world. And the tales were all true.

It was a great, great evening. And the next morning we woke up, coasted downhill for a couple of hours and reached the port of Toulon. Deeks, who had recently quit his job but had a week or so left to work, headed home, promising he’d meet up with us later in the trip and James and I hoofed it down to the beach and jumped in the sea.

That evening we were due to catch the ferry to Sardinia, so we poked around Toulon for a bit, loaded up on food and booze and headed to the port, excited by the weirdness of taking bicycles through a massive port onto a huge boat and eager not to get trapped under a manoeuvring truck.

Next: Sardinia