Thursday, July 2, 2020

Conquering Mont Ventoux

French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Mont Ventoux by Brompton #KTTinyTourer

Two weeks ago, I achieved something epic, something that put me way out of my comfort zone and something that six years ago I would not even have considered attempting. I cycled up Mont Ventoux, the Beast of Provence; a barren, rocky mountain summit, almost 2000m above sea level where little grows. A cyclist’s dream ascent (or nightmare), home to many Tour de France winning highs, but also lows, notably the death of Tom Simpson, one kilometre from the top, in July 1967.

 

We had arrived in Montbrun-les-Bains on Wednesday afternoon, for the second part of our South of France, post-confinement getaway, and a quick check on the weather forecast told us that Thursday morning would be our best chance of kind weather to attempt Mont Ventoux.

 

This had been Adrian’s dream since early 2014, when the plan had been to spend some time in the area on our Mini Cooper road trip, with Adrian hiring a road bike from Sault and cycling to the top of the mountain. I would provide the back-up, food stops and water refills from the comfort of Gizmo, the Mini. It never even entered our heads to think of parking up Gizmo for the day, hiring two bikes and cycling up together. My fitness at that time would have made it impossible. Gizmo breaking down on day two of our road trip, meant it was impossible for Adrian that year too.

 

In 2017 he planned once more to give it a go. There is something about Mont Ventoux that when it takes hold, its grip is difficult to shake off. Once again, he never even made it to the start point, having crashed off his bike in the Ardeche, damaging his shoulder. There was a small part of my head that felt someone was trying to warn us away from this particular cycling challenge and the best thing to do would be to forget all about it. Then earlier this year I found myself thinking, what if we give it one more go, to celebrate his 50th birthday and this time do it together? Everything seemed to be in alignment this time. Cycling has become a regular part of our lives, winter and summer, meaning we are both much fitter now than either of us were six years ago. His Mum gave me her blessing, even agreeing to come over and dog sit while we were away and the cherry on the top was discovering that due to road works at the summit, the road would be closed to motor traffic all this year. Then Covid-19 burst into our lives and all plans were on hold.

 

Adrian celebrated his 50th during lockdown with a virtual ascent of Mont Ventoux on his turbo trainer in the garden, but it didn’t quite quench his thirst. A quick look on the map of France when planning our route to and from Lou Messugo on the Côte d’Azur, showed us that Mont Ventoux was once more a possibility. Something even more poignant was that our last conversation with our nephew Ben before he died, was about cycling up Mont Ventoux. This time it seemed the mountain was ready for us.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux from Montbrun-les-Bains
Mont Ventoux in the distance from Montbrun-les-Bains
 


The closer we got to Mont Ventoux on the drive in, the bigger and more intimidating the landscape looked, despite a pleasing, softening blush of lavender in its first days of flower all around us. The enormity of Mont Ventoux and our plans to attempt to climb it really hit home, right in the pit of my stomach. I could taste and feel my fear. A quick text to fellow blogger Julie, from Vauclause Dreamer, who has conquered Ventoux on her bike many times, helped to calm my nerves. Her advice was to take it slowly, don’t rush it, stop when I wanted to and enjoy the ride. I’m not sure I’d ever considered the possibility of enjoying it until I read her text, but it worked.

 

The climb from Sault is twenty-eight kilometres, but we were staying twelve kilometres from Sault and not wanting to use the car unnecessarily, at 8.30am I found myself cycling (uphill) towards a morning coffee stop in Sault where the top of Mont Ventoux looked a long way away. 

 

By the time we set off a steely determination had taken the place of the fear, especially as we were doing this For Ben, clocking up the kilometres on our virtual cycling challenge to get our teams the 7500kms from Loughborough to Istanbul and back. Our Mont Ventoux kilometres would be special ones as today would also be the day that the fundraiser hit its £30,000 target.


 

French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux Sault lavender
Lavender fields leaving Sault


I don’t remember every twist and turn in the road, but I do remember cycling through fields of lavender, the sun warming us as we slowly began the climb. The fields were then replaced with pine forest and steeper corners where cyclists who had already been up were sweeping down towards the sunnier planes. There were other cyclists with us, some who overtook us, some who we overtook. Some were friendly, some ignored us with our odd looking small wheeled bikes. Those who did speak, wanted confirmation that they were electric assist, which they are not – if only we had a euro for every time that was asked.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux Tom Simpson memorial
Tom Simpson memorial Mont Ventoux
 


At Chalet Reynard we feasted on coffee and snacks, the stark rocky mountain looking fierce from the bend in the road where the café is safely situated. The final six kilometres are the hardest, but I was ready. Slow and steady I plodded on, turning the pedals rhythmically and steadily. Some were out of their saddles, rocking from side to side with the effort, not me, I just sat and concentrated on safely getting to the top. I even managed to smile for some of the professional photographers who sit in wait to snap you at your lowest point, and although many overtook me, surprisingly there were some who I overtook too. We stopped, as is the custom, at the Tom Simpson memorial, my legs shaking with the effort to stand, the last kilometre looking to be the longest yet. The view is harsh here, with no contrast from left to right, just stark rock all around, and the only thing to do is keep looking forward and turning the pedals, each turn a little closer to the top.


French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Top of Mont Ventoux
 

Rounding the last bend and joining the throng of weary cyclists at the top was quite a strange feeling. I’d done it. I hadn’t had to get off and walk and my legs no longer felt like jelly as they had only a kilometre ago. My breathing wasn’t dry and ragged like I’d thought, I didn’t even need to sit down. I was smiling and elated as I stood proudly at the sign for my victory photo. Mont Ventoux was conquerable and we’d done it, in Adrian’s 50th year and #ForBen.



French Village Diaries cycling up Mont Ventoux
Together and smiling as we cycle up Mont Ventoux


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Lou Messugo on the Côte d'Azur



French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur

 Lou Messugo, Côte d'Azur 



The Côte d’Azur

 

Two weeks ago, we arrived at Lou Messugo in Roquefort-les-Pins on the Côte d’Azur. Following three months where life had stood still and plans were impossible to make, winning a three-night stay at Phoebe and Jeff’s gîte, Lou Messugo, gave us the opportunity to escape, spread our wings and enjoy being tourists in France once again. I didn’t realise how much we needed this, until we got there.


 

French Village Diaries Montpellier MyBrompton

Montpellier, much quieter on the Sunday morning


We had, obviously, packed the Bromptons into the car, along with our Covid-19 security pack, or lots of bags containing all our bedding, towels, tea-towels, dish cloths etc that we would need for our week away. I am never one to leave home without an emergency food parcel, but this time I had added lots of extras including pasta and tins of fish, beans and vegetables. This proved to be a good idea from the off, as our first overnight stop in Montpellier, where the streets were full of people and every bar and restaurant terrace packed out in the Saturday evening sunshine, meant we quickly retreated back to our accommodation to make an easy pasta dinner in isolation. 


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur

Lou Messugo 

We arrived at Lou Messugo on the Sunday afternoon, parked up, unloaded the bags and didn’t touch the car again until it was time to reluctantly leave on the Wednesday morning. Meeting Phoebe for the first time, despite being social media friends for many years, was lovely, but restrained, due to the current pandemic precautions. I’m sure if we’d met a year ago there would have been cheek kisses and enthusiastic embraces all round, instead of the no-touch, sensible distanced greeting we had on their driveway. It was almost surreal to see for myself the reality of Lou Messugo having read and liked Phoebe’s blog posts and photos for so many years. It more than met my expectations as I’d certainly not appreciated quite how stunning the garden was and the house really is as vibrant and colourful as it looks in the photos. The accommodation is superb, and Phoebe and Jeff have thought of everything, including making sensible changes in light of the current virus situation. I can’t recommend it enough. It is clean, comfortable, quiet and with easy access to everywhere you would want to visit for a coast and mountain holiday on the Côte d’Azur.

 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Tourrettes-sur-Loup MyBrompton

Tourrettes-sur-Loup

The first afternoon we set off on the bikes for a 28km loop that Phoebe had shared on her blog (see here) promising us a taste of the cycling in the area. As we followed the Gorges du Loup, with big smiles on our faces, we couldn’t resist adding on a trip to Tourrettes-sur-Loup, meaning we clocked up an impressive 46km before we’d unpacked the suitcases. 



French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Col de l'Ecre MyBrompton

Col de l'Ecre Alt 1120m


This set the pace for the following few days and whether for the daily croissant run to the local boulangerie, conquering a mountain col above the hilltop village of Gourdon, or day trips down to Nice and Antibes, we did it all by bike, cycling 207km in two and half days. It was fun, exciting, challenging and always accompanied by stunning views.


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Baie des Anges MyBrompton

Baie des Anges, Côte d'Azur


The cycling here is full-on for the senses. The colours, from the vibrant wildflowers that caught my eye as I cycled up gorges and hillsides to the terracotta and pastels of the houses and shutters, to the blue of the Mediterranean in the Baie des Anges. The scents, of gorse when in the hills, jasmine when cycling down winding residential streets and the flowering tilleul (linden) trees that line the roads, all enhanced by the warm Mediterranean sunshine. The sights, perched hilltop villages, craggy rocks and mountains, butterflies on wildflowers, spires of dark green Cyprus trees, narrow streets, tall houses with balconies, flowering window boxes and contrasting shutters. We didn’t rush anywhere, as we constantly stopped to check out a view, take a photo or just pinch ourselves that we were there experiencing it all and making memories.


 

French Village Diaries Lou Messugo mini break Côte d'Azur Nice MyBrompton

Shutters and colours of Nice old town

We revisited some old favourites from our Mini Cooper road trips in 2008 and 2010, like the hilltop village of Gourdon and the old town in Nice, but we also discovered Tourrettes-sur-Loup and Antibes that have become new favourites. I was able to begin ticking off some of my 2020 cycling challenges, climbing my first mountain pass, Col de l’Ecre at 1120m, and cycling my first 100km in a day, on the same day as it happened. It was a perfect break in an ideal location, but three days was nowhere near enough to see and do everything this area has to offer. It was difficult to leave, but our legs were nicely warmed up for bigger challenges that were waiting for us on the next part of our holiday.

 

Thank you, Phoebe, for allowing us to be the first guests in post lockdown.

If you want to check out the accommodation at Lou Messugo you can visit Phoebe’s website and book direct by clicking here.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Book review of What have we got Toulouse? by Nikki McArthur

French Village Diaries review What have we got Toulouse Nikki McArthur
What have we got Toulouse? Nikki McArthur


What have we got Toulouse by Nikki McArthur

 

It seems to have been a while since I read a moving to France memoir, but it was good to be back nosing into someone else’s life and enjoying someone else’s experience of their early days in France.

 

Nikki and her family arrived just after we did in 2004, so many of her experiences were familiar to me, except the biggies of giving birth here and having (lots of) young children to cope with alongside settling in and renovating. Theirs really is quite an extraordinary story. Their family is bigger than most of us who pack up our belongings and move here. The watermill they purchased is a considerably bigger property than your average rural dwelling and they took on the challenge of renovating and running holiday accommodation alongside a gardening business and nursery, that in the early days often saw Nikki alone with the children while husband Gary worked in the UK. Chapeau Nikki, and you had time to write a book too, I’m most impressed.

 

This book is an account of their first years in France, including house-hunting, moving, finding schools, the medical system and more, but it isn’t written chronologically, and I thought the flow between the topics she covers worked really well. As well as their experiences of family life in France Nikki has also included helpful hints as to what to do or what to expect if you are planning a move here in the future. 

 

This very readable account will appeal to all those who dream of moving to France as well as being a useful guide for those who are hoping to make that dream a reality.



Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Book review of Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash


French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash

Sunshine and Second Chances by Kim Nash


It’s never too late to be offered a second chance at life.

Debs is newly single, Fiona is caring for her mum, Samantha is grieving, and Liv has the perfect life – or so she’d like her friends to think…

This year, these four life-long friends are turning fifty, and Liv is determined they will honour their promise to each other – made on a beach at sunrise twenty-nine years before – to celebrate this milestone together.

And what better place than a gorgeous villa where they will be spoiled and enjoy the stunning beaches, picturesque fishing towns and glorious climate of the Algarve?

But time away from home doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes it makes the thought of returning to your life too hard to bear. Especially with more than one gorgeous Portuguese man making hearts unexpectedly flutter...

It begins as a reunion in the sunshine, but little do the four friends know what life-changing decisions they’ll all be making before their flight home.

A heart-warming, feel-good summer read about friendship, love and second chances.


French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash

My review

I have been side-tracked from France once more, sorry, but having enjoyed Kim Nash’s previous novels and then discovering that this book is written about women of a similar age to me, who have all reached a sticking point in their lives, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a quick break to Portugal with them.

Four friends from university, who on a holiday to celebrate their 21st birthdays, promised themselves they would get together to celebrate their 50th birthdays too. Life has obscured their friendship over the years, but when Liv reconnects them all and plans a holiday to a villa in Portugal, they are all up for the adventure.

It doesn’t take them long to forget about their lives back home and slip into the familiar friendship they had once enjoyed. Life has taken them all on different paths, Liv is a busy mum to demanding sons and a successful husband. She may want for nothing materially, but there is a lot she is not happy with in her life. Debs isn’t happy either, with her ex-husband for leaving her for a younger, fitter model or with herself for eating and drinking too much. Samantha is lonely now her son has forgotten her in favour of his uni friends and Fiona is having a tough time caring for her mum who has dementia.

As they relax into holiday mode, and the barriers come down, they all realise things need to change and it’s up to them to make the changes. As they begin to make plans for their futures, they see ways in which they can help each other, and their friendship bonds grow. Kim has a real skill in making her characters feel like my best friends and in this book she made me believe anything in life is possible. 

This book is a perfect escape from our current covid-mad life. You won’t be disappointed with this on your kindle this summer.






French Village Diaries book review Sunshine and Second Chances Kim Nash
Kim Nash

Author bio

Kim Nash is an author of uplifting, funny, heartwarming, feel-good, romantic fiction.

She lives in Staffordshire with son Ollie and English Setter Roni, is Head of Publicity for Bookouture and is a book blogger at www.kimthebookworm.co.uk.

Kim won the Romantic Novelists Association's Media Star of the Year in 2016, which she still can't quite believe. She is now quite delighted to be a member of the RNA.

When she's not working or writing, Kim can be found walking her dog, reading, standing on the sidelines of a football pitch cheering on Ollie and binge watching box sets on the TV. She's also quite partial to a spa day and a gin and tonic (not at the same time!) Kim also runs a book club in Cannock, Staffs.

Sign up to be the first to hear about new releases. Your e-mail will not be shared with anyone else and you will only contacted about Kim's books.
https://www.kimthebookworm.co.uk/

Amazing Grace was her debut novel with Hera Books and came out in April 2019.

Escape to Giddywell Grange is Kim's second novel and was published in September 2019.

Sunshine and Second Chances is Kim's third novel and will be published on June 4th 2020.

You can read Kim's Blog here

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Sunday, June 7, 2020

The start of Team Kharma's ride to Istanbul

French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma cycling #ForBen


Team Kharma is on its way

Yesterday saw the start of the cycle leg of the challenge For Ben; To Turkey and back, with seven teams setting off to cover the 7500kms from Loughborough in the UK to Istanbul and back again. 


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Ben's bike

Adrian and I are heading up Team Kharma, named after Ben’s beloved Kouta Kharma road bike that he got great pleasure in riding. There aren’t many of our family who share our passion for cycling, but Ben did, and we are looking forward to doing our bit in this challenge, that has now raised over £27,000.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma [Brompton Unit]

We got such a great response from friends with bikes keen to help us out, that we have split Team Kharma into two, creating a Brompton Unit for our fellow friends with smaller wheels. The plan is for Adrian and me to log our kilometres in whichever team needs us the most at the end of the day, oh, yes, we are hoping to be out on the bikes every day.

By yesterday evening, Team Kharma were just crossing the Thames at the QE2 Bridge and Team Kharma [Brompton Unit] were hot on their heels in Ashford, Kent, which was a fantastic effort for both teams. 


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
My first 31km for Team Kharma

I must stress this isn’t a race and while some of our friends clocked up pretty impressive distances on solo rides, others were from family rides, shopping trips or pre-apéro runs with friends (that was us!). Every kilometre helps so thank you all for a great first day.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Kharma the flamingo, team mascot

You may notice a new friend in all of my pictures; Kharma the flamingo, bought to sit in our garden to remind of us Ben. I have decided she will be the Team Kharma mascot and accompany us on all our rides on this challenge. I think after that she will deserve a rest and will live out her days in the garden, as planned.


French Village Diaries Team Kharma sets off for Istanbul
Team Kharma apéro cycle

My small contribution to the first day was 31km for Team Kharma [Brompton Unit], with Adrian in the morning. A gentle ride into the westerly wind, through quiet villages and fields of wheat, just beginning to turn yellow. Then a 26km ride for Team Kharma with Adrian, Ed and our friends in the afternoon, which was a fun and chatty ride that finished with shared apéros in our friends back garden.


Thank you to everyone who has supported us so far.