Day 11 Forcalquier to Castellane

Forecast part cloudy 9c to start but rising to 25c. The day does not start well as I immediately get myself lost just trying to exit the town but soon find the D4100, this section is back into open countryside most of the way to Oraison, just before the town I noticed one fuel station closed but a second a few hundred metres further on was open with a tanker on the forecourt so I phoned Kaye who then diverted and filled our tank.

The narrow streets in Valensole

The narrow streets in Valensole

Leaving Oraison is a steady climb to The Parc Naturel et Regional du Verdun and once again you are deep into lavender country. There is then a downhill run into Valensole where again my Garmin gave up and I had to resort to the paper map. I am sure Valensole is a nice little town but It gave me the impression of being a bit rough not least because its single fuel pump was being patrolled by three dubious looking men in singlets vetting the cars in the queue. Rietz was my next target, this was into a stiff headwind on an undulating road with some twisting climbs and descents, the road to Moustiers-Ste-Marie is a continuous climb of about 650 metres before you loose the height you have gained with a series of switchbacks and then you have a stunning view of the town built into the rocks, I met Kaye here for the morning coffee stop.

The next section is in my opinion the most spectacular of the ride and unfortunately Kaye did not share it. At the previous nights camp stop Kaye was talking to our British neighbours who strongly advised against taking a camper van through the Gorge, very narrow with bad roads was the advice which turned out not to be the case. Lesson learned, do your own research.

Entrance to the Gorge

Entrance to the Gorge

The route in is following the signs for Corniche Sublime and a long descent takes you down to the Lac de Set Croix. At the bridge I stopped to take it all in, the water was an incredible turquoise colour and I watched as several kayaks entered the Gorge and pedalos played at the entrance. From this point for the cyclist the only way is up for the next 7km it is a category 1 climb all the way to Aguines. The road is tree-lined and occasionally you glimpse the river getting smaller below or the tiny village above that does not seem to be getting closer. On reaching Aguines you get a superb panoramic view for miles around of the river and lake below and after a Kodak moment it is time to push on ever upward to 1180 metres and the top of the climb. The descent that follows is exhilarating although not knowing the road I did temper the speed and cover the brakes as it twists around the limestone ledges.

Looking out from Aguines

Looking out from Aguines

At the Hotel Du Grand Canyon the road starts to rise again and on the cliff edge the emergency services and mountain rescue looked like they had just finished an operation with ropes and equipment laid neatly on the edge of the road. At the top of the next ascent are the tunnels that have been cut through the rock and then another descent to Balcons de la Mescal which is just a cafe stop. I stopped here briefly in the heat of the day for a drink and an ice cream and met some fellow Brits who were part of a similar trip organised by Peak Tours. The road then climbs again for a few kilometres before a long descent. At Comps-sur-Artuby you take the D955 before you emerge back onto the D952 and follow the River Verdon all the way to Castellane. Our campsite for the night was on the banks of the river before Castellane.

Camp site: Indigo Camping (5% discount from yesterdays stop) €14, electricity was an extra €4(we did not bother ) hot showers and free wi-fi, motorhome service point.

Stats 82 miles 7312 ft climbing

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