* Saturday June 30: Departure from RDU (or wherever you depart from) to JFK and then to Nice via direct flight.
* Sunday July 1: Arrival in Nice International Airport after a striking descent on the beautiful Bay of Angels.
This day will be dedicated to acclimating after the trans-Atlantic flight. Lunch at a restaurant on Nice's downtown beach and a relaxing stroll in Old Nice up to the Castle to capture the view seen on the photograph "Le Démon sur la Baie des Anges." Also lounge by the pool on the hotel's rooftop (see photograph on left).
Dinner in the Old town.
* Monday July 2: Our hotel is a 15'00 walk to the train station where we will catch the "Train des Merveilles" at 9:00 for the mountains. The train ride is exceptional, featuring complex railroad engineering through notably spiral tunnels altitude bridges etc. The ride will feature a commentary by a guide explaining the history of the sites we'll glide through, notably perched villages built in the first millennia to resist invasions. I might as well tell you right now that my ancestors come from one of the villages of that valley, and that area is probably the only place in the world where "Rostagni" is a well known name, even if I only have very distant relatives there, and that I don't know.
Just before Italy we'll get off the train, have lunch, then take a bus to the beginning of the trail to the first hight altitude shelter in which we'll spend the night. We'll have to climb 500m difference of elevation that day, so not too drastic, but not a picnic either. We will have left our luggage at the hotel in Nice and just taken with us the bare minimum for survival. Hiking shoes are a must, but this is not alpinism, just good trekking through beautiful sites with out of the ordinary historical significance.
Sleeping at the altitude shelters is in dormitory type of accommodation. We'll go for the meal prepared by the captain of the shelter (think of a large chalet). It is rather basic home cooking but hearty.
* Tuesday July 3: Surprise, there is only cold water for shower! No lingering there. We'll have the shelter's breakfast and we'll be ready for our guide who will accompany us across the valley of the lakes, and then through the Valley of Marvels. The said "Marvels" are carvings left in the stone by pre-civilization humans (age of copper) who were traveling like us, and left markings in this site that they redeemed sacred. The site is gorgeous, and hearing of these pre-civilization human wanderings 4000 years ago, was for me life altering, as it forces a different perception on evolution and history. I have always wanted to take my American neighbors there, and you will be the first ones. I can't wait to see how this resonates with you.
We'll then arrive at the second shelter for our second night in altitude. Same type of menu and accommodation as for the first night, the rather Spartan treatment of the wandering brigade.
* Wednesday July 4: One last altitude breakfast, and then it is all down hill for our return to civilization. Sure we'll enjoy a little bit of luxury back, but from the wise perspective of the knowledge of what our early ancestors were doing, without maps, books let alone technology or even decent shoes.
A lunch in that mountain town will be welcome, then train ride back to Nice, to the hotel and a little bit of lounging by the rooftop pool from which one can see those mountains in which we wandered for a few days.
Resurrection at the beach and dinner in the old town.
* Thursday July 5: We hit the road in our vans, direction the Rhône Valley. We'll make a stop at Domaine Richeaume for a visit. I am very proud of representing this pioneer organic estate, undeniably the best producer in the Aix en Provence region, especially for reds. The domaine is at the foothill of the Montagne Sainte Victoire, see photograph on the left, and is in an absolutely gorgeous setting.
We'll take the beautiful road at the very base of the montagne Sainte Victoire, and after that will head for Bedoin, our base near the Mont Ventoux, and where we'll get our bikes.
* Friday July 6: We'll first drive to Chateau Rochecolombe, an exceptional winery in Ardèche, that produces superb organic Côtes du Rhône which thanks to a very lean management are extremely well priced. We'll have a visit there and then will head to a gem country restaurant for lunch with of course some Chateau Rochecolombe wines. The bikers will get there on bikes through a steep road in some rather desert-like gorge as a bit of an appetizer.
After lunch more biking on a flat that will arrive to the Grotte Chauvet, and after its visit we will drive (bikers will bike) down the Gorges de l'Ardèche. That route was a stage of the 2016 tour de France but in the other direction.
The Gorges are known as Europe's Grand Canyon, and are a magnificent site, where many caves can be found that were inhabited by our pre-historic ancestors, as early as 300,000 years ago. The most treasured of the caves is the Grotte Chauvet. It is registered as a Unesco World heritage site, and contains the earliest known and best preserved figurative cave paintings in the world: 36,000 years old. It is not possible any longer to visit the actual grotte, but French authorities have built a perfect replica, which is the world's reference for conservation of decorated caves.
Dinner at the hotel.
* Saturday July 7: We'll start the day with a ride/drive to the Dentelles de Montmirail, a UNESCO protected small range of beautifully carved mountains, which overlook the Rhône Valley. We'll notably go up to one of the highest points from which one gets the point of view seen on a photograph on the left. Those on bikes will go first on some winding but rather flat roads typical of the region, before tackling some rather sharp ascent to near the top of the dentelles a few hundreds of meters higher.
After this we'll go to the Ferme Saint Martin for a visit of ones of the most spectacular wineries I know. The view from the farm is unbelievable, offering a panorama that goes from the Rhône Valley in the far, to the Mont Ventoux on the other side.
The wine is also absolutely remarkable, production is organic, and yields fresh tasting reds loaded with aromas of fresh fruits, on a rather structured and complex body. We will have a picnic there after the visit.
Those for whom the morning biking was just a warm up, will be able to tackle the Ventoux from the the north side after descending from the farm to Malaucène, or go for less ambitious rides, while others might want to trek in the Dentelles.
* Sunday July 8: This is the day, the Mont Ventoux day that is. The Mont Ventoux is an old Volcano, which is why it stands alone, very conspicuously on the border of the valley, towering all the surroundings. It is of course a famous stage in some tour de France, one that typically makes a difference with its 20 km stretch and 1700 meters difference of elevation.
Once up at the top you will be cousins with the clouds, and will have a breathtaking 360˚ view on the Rhône Valley and also on the Alps, seemingly all the way to Italy on a bright day, see photographs on the right. Apart from its magnificence, the view really helps grasping the geography of the entire region.
In the afternoon those with plenty of juice left will be able to ride down to Sault, passing a profusion of lavender fields which should be in full bloom then, and from there take the Gorges de la Nesque route which is known for its wild beauty.
* Monday July 9: Today we will transition to the Alps, going there by the back roads and through the pre-Alps. We will visit a winery making the best Clairette de Die I know. The Clairette de Die is the oldest sparkling wine in France. It goes back to the 1st century and predates Champagne by roughly 1700 years. We will have lunch in a spectacular little village which seems lost in the middle of nowhere but enjoys a lot of out of the beaten tracks creative life.
Arrival at our base in the Alps, a charming hotel in a little hamlet on the very quiet but stunning road to the Massif des écrins.
From then on vacations are over, as there are quite serious rides everyday, almost all are major stages of the tour de France. Spouses and/or non riders will have plenty of hikes to earn their flight back to the U.S.
* Tuesday July 10: Today is the Alpe d'Huez ascent. Similar to the Mont Ventoux, and which we will access through the lovely "balcony route," see photograph on right. We will picnic at the top of the Alpe d'Huez with a gorgeous view and then will descend through the lovely col de Sarenne route.
* Wednesday July 11: The road that passes in front of our hotel ends in La Brerarde, at the foot of the Massif des écrins. It is rather quiet as it is a dead end, narrow with beautiful mountain sceneries. It will be today's ride. After lunch in La Brerarde there will be some hiking in Les écrins.
* Thursday July 12: The stage today is the Col du Glandon and the nearby col de la Croix de Fer. This is a more traditional mountain road, 20 kms of non stop ascent to arrive in a beautiful location, as maybe seen on the photograph on the right. You will be rewarded by a hearty meal at a mountain restaurant at the col du Glandon.
* Friday July 13: Our last ride will be a superb finish with the col du Galibier via the col du Lautaret.
Please note that I will be offering assistance for all rides, being on call to pick someone up if necessary. It is therefore necessary that all riders have a phone functioning in France, which is typically available as a temporary plan through your standard carrier. Also we will drive to the zones of interest, thereby avoiding long rides on busy roads.
* Saturday July 14: We leave the alps for Lyon where we will have lunch, and then catch a high speed train for Paris.
Night in Paris on Bastille day. Party as if you won the Tour de France.
* Sunday July 15: Return via Delta direct flight to RDU.
NOTE: it is possible for you to extend your stay. Your return date will be booked following your specifications. Please note that depending on your return dates, the price for the flight back may change, although most likely minimally. Additional nights at the hotel in Paris are available.