Steep roads | Bike touring the French Riviera | New mindset
It’s day 23 of our journey around the world and we’ve decided that it’s going to be a brilliant one. After a much needed break, our bicycles are fixed, our bodies refreshed and we are actually excited to be back on the road. Until now, we have tried our very best to avoid the hard parts and it got us here, to the south of France.
Still though, our initial 1000 kms felt a little like being on the run. We’ve been freezing, exhausted and very much on edge. It’s time for a change! Locals recommended two roads south of Marseille. Early in the morning we started at sea level and are now climbing up the Route de la Gineste. It winds up through the Massif des Calanques mountain range and down again to Cassis, the gate to the Cote d'Azur, the iconic French Riviera. Very light rain today.
So we're waiting for the light. Mathias! -Light rain. We have to stop! I cannot see anything. -Ok. Let's stop here. Yes.
This is insane. -It's very cold. Very cold! We are going down the hill now towards Cassis.
It's still slightly raining at the moment. But other than that: beautiful nature here, around us. I'm doing airbrakes and I also apply the brakes. Woohoooo! -Oh, wow! Yeah, this is where we go. It's a little bit wet on the main road, if you ask me. That's alright. We've found a shelter in Cassis.
-We are a little bit wet. As is Cassis! We are lucky! Because we are so wet, we spontaneously asked two Warmshower's hosts in La Ciotat if they could host us and Bernard said yes, they can! So let's go there, get warm, get dry. So that tomorrow will be a better day than today. Off we go! Ohohoh, oh my god! This is really really steep! I don't know if you can see it, but I guess this is at least 15% inclination. This is really the maximum we can go. Actually it's too much. (heavily groaning) The only thing you can do when it's this steep, you have to go up the hill like a snake.
Gather a little bit of speed to make the turn. It's brutal! Oh my god! So, I bet now you wish you were a little lighter with the luggage! We are always fighting about the weight that we carry and if it's necessary or not. And so far we've only been in flat areas, not going up the hill like this. Look at the trees! It's going up like this and it's not even the steep part here. Eating pure sugar now. I think we are almost there.
Hopefully! -Wishful thinking! Maybe. Route de Cretes to La Ciotat is open, which is great! Okay! I believe... Oh wow! We underestimated the Route de Cretes tiny little bit I would say. But we almost made it! We are not at the highest point yet, but we are almost at the top. The sign says danger, risk of death, attention! Access to the edge of the cliff is forbidden, because parts may break off and then you die.
Whoohoo! Oh my god! This is incredible! We did it! Look at this fantastic view! So we went up over those mountains, then down to Cassis. You see the harbour town down below. Then all the way up again. And then we'll follow the Route de Cretes to La Ciotat. It's about 10 more kms I guess, maybe a little bit more.
But the view is totally worth it! It's insane, just insane! Look, over there is Arev, taking pictures of me. It's getting dark now, so we really need to hurry. I can tell you this route, the nature here is beautiful, but we cannot really stop anymore. Otherwise it will be too dark, to drive down and that's too dangerous. So we really must get going now.
Oh my god! Oh, wow! I believe this is the highest point of today and from now on it's going only down. So we'll need to close ourselves in. For security reasons I won't film anymore, because I need both hands properly on the brakes. See you later! We are alive and in La Ciotat. We made it well down the hill. And now we reached our host for the night. Good night! We are now in the car with Martine, she shows us her city, La Ciotat and especially the Calanques. A Calanque is a narrow, steep-walled valley formed in karst areas either by fluvial erosion or the collapse of a cave.
The most prominent examples are located here on the Mediterranean coast. Opened in June 1889, the Eden is the longest operating cinema in the world. It’s said that when the Lumière brothers screened one of their first moving pictures, some people were shocked by the life-like images and leapt from their seats in terror to flee the oncoming train. The Côte d’Azur. You have probably heard of places like St. Tropez, Cannes, Antibes, Nice or Monaco. They line up for the next 300 kms and with that finding a flat piece of land that is not private property gets harder. We tried asking around but for the first time random people did not react particularly welcoming to our presence.
With all campgrounds closed in late November, a police officer suggests we stay invisible in the corners of smaller beaches. It's very, very windy. You could almost call it a storm. Kite surfer's paradise.
Since we are here at the Côte d'Azur and we couldn't find any place that is not private property. That's why we put up our tent here. In this corner is a little less wind. By a little less I mean it's still a lot of wind. Because of that we decided for this night, we will sleep without the outer shell of the tent. Because of the concrete floor we can't fix the outer shell. Wow, the beautiful color of the sky! I think it's about one more hour until the sun rises. The wind is shaking the tent violently, as it did the whole night.
Left! After 3 days on the coastal road, we can hardly wait to climb to new heights. Not far from Cannes lies the mountain range Massif de l’Esterel. It is of volcanic origin and protected by a 130 km² national forest.
200. L'Esterel mountains. After a quick check with our new navigation app the elevation profile looks a little bit intimidating, but as we’ve learned after a hard climb there is always a pleasant descent, so here we go! On the left there is a sign that says the road ends in 10kms, on the right it says it end in 1500m. and that thing here crashed, so I don't even know if we are going the right direction. Going up the hill is hard, but I must say, the view, the peace, the quietness already paid off.
From time to time I am looking back, I am amazed and say "Wow, we did this!" And then I continue... Climbing, climbing, climbing...I think it's about 2 - 2,5 kms more climb and then we can finally begin the descent to... Cannes! Cannes, Cannes, Cannes.
Navigation: In 100m turn sharply right on to... OK! Slow slow slow! Stop! Stop! Stop! Navigation: Turn sharply right on to... Wait wait wait! What?! Wait, stop, stop, stop, stop.
Oh my god... -Do we go to the right? I have no idea! Oh god, that is... not good. So maybe this is fun for you with your fancy full suspension bike with no luggage, but I can tell you with bicycles like ours and 30 kgs extra, it is not nice at all! Arev: *unintelligible* What? -Oh! Shit, shit, shit! OK, first time.
Arev *chuckles* But nothing happened? -No! Okay. Break break break! Don't go so quick! I am so sorry for our bicycles, I really am! Okay, I guess to the right. -Holy moly.
This is really great! Don't go so fast! You can't become too slow (sic!), because when you are too slow (sic!) at one point you'll have to break even harder and then you crash. So, brake, brake, brake! Ok! She doesn't brake! I can see where this is going. F***ing great! My dear, please, slower! SLOWER! Okay...
Yeah! Darling, what's wrong with you? -I don't know. It's too hard. -I hate this road. Oh, my dear! -And I hurt myself.
The first crash or the second one? -First. It's the first crash since three weeks now. -Yes. That's pretty good! Beautiful...
-We should go here to the left?! Yes... Let's push it! Let's push this! Oh that's.... that's not good. The punishment was too much for my front pannier. I am tired... -Oh my gosh! Nonono! -Are we going to the left? Yes. I think it's the same. But maybe we don't ride, we just walk. -OK! I'm not sure we want to use this navigation system ever again.
Yeah, probably not. -This is crazy. I think we should do one bicycle together. Come on, come on! In 800m there is a road. Come on, come on! What the hell? Shit. Why would you do this?! Are you f***ing kidding me? I believe this is the last hill! -You believe? Yes, I believe! Like you believed that it's not gonna rain in the first two weeks?! Oh shit! -It doesn't look good! Yes, yes! We're close! I believe! After finally making it back to a paved road, we somehow ended up on a gigantic private property, with the only way down to the coast being blocked by a high fence and an impassable gate. Now, this is great! So, there is a fence! Looks like we are in a pity! Because the navigation wants us to go here, but this way is private, apparently.
I don't know why, but whatever. Going back up the mountain was out of the question. We are exhausted, low on food and more importantly water. After about 15 minutes of slight desperation suddenly a car turned up from deeper inside the property.
Oh, wow! He has special access, he can open the gate! That is insane, okay, so now we can just go. Okay, wait, wait, careful. So, there is no more gate? Okay. Thank you very much, mister! -Thank you very much! You saved our lives, thanks! I cannot believe we're not trapped. Ok, it’s a bad road, but it is a road! Thanks to our host Anaëlle in Cannes.
Thanks to our host Nicolas in Biot. We feel privileged for the help and hospitality we receive. Every single time our hosts have made us feel very special and welcome.
Words can hardly describe how grateful we are. Many of them are travellers themselves and we could write a book about the stories we’ve been told already! We've just arrived back at the coast and there is a big marathon going on, from Nice to Cannes. They are using the EuroVelo 8 cycling road. Oh, they get Coke, really?! That's not very healthy. Very soon we’ll be leaving France, which has been quite the ride.
It’s under an hour to Monaco and maybe two to Italy. Instead we decide to do one more mountain, the Col d’Eze, a category 2 Tour de France climb, whatever that means. Now we need to go up, up, up, up, up! All the time! Okay, let the fun begin. Let's go to Eze. We are doing this little detour to meet two exceptional adventurers. We’ve been invited by Nathalie and Alain, who have been travelling. the world together. When young they made their living flying hang and para-gliders, shooting pictures from high in the sky, all over the world.
What? -You need a break? No. It's so NICE here, let's go EASY! Lucky dog. Okay, I understand now. Route of the great Alps. You see, down there is the sea, we went up 700 meters or something.
The road is part of the Tour de France or part of a rally. Since we are higher up now at 500 meters, it has only 5 degrees centigrade. It's pretty cold, but luckily we'll be arriving very soon. That's great! Alain: At first I flew hang glider. I started when I was 18 years.
-18 years? Yes, in 1977. But back then it was quite different and the equipment was very, very ... let's say very, very... basic! And the knowledge and the community was also very basic. -Yes.
And then I think paraglider came when we moved to Africa. It was kind of the new stuff, but not so much fun. Because at that time paraglider was just good to fly down the slope of a mountain. That was it. But to answer the question, I think it was around 1987, 89 or 88.
So, 10 years after the hand glider. -But basically, you fly since you are an adult? Yes, except from when we where in Greenland, I stopped for 10 years. In more recent years they’ve lived in icy Greenland for over 6 years, bonding with the local Inuits in the long and dark winters and navigating the coastline with their kayaks in the summers. They’ve cycled to the caucasus and driven their 4x4 as far as Mongolia. At the time you are watching this they are already in Colombia or probably far beyond.
We are catching them at home in a rare moment of rest. You know, when you see people not so worried, that means they are not so sure. After meticulously preparing his paraglider, Alain takes to the skies.
From now on, only one thing is certain, but neither the how nor the where. He can only rely on his abilities and hope that the force of nature will be favourable to him, as the winds will guide his way. Today Alain is climbing to a staggering altitude of 3000 m, crossing over to Monaco, Italy and back to France with ease.
Tomorrow we will continue our way towards the east, hopefully overcoming many more borders, both physically and mentally. Are you still scared when he is flying, after all those years? -No, I mean... what can you do? -Nothing. He is at 2900 meters. Since Marseille we’ve started to turn things around one little adventure at a time.
Now that we’ve learned to walk we begin to embrace the challenges, instead of being afraid. We just have to take our time and learn to be in the moment. It’s not about getting from A to B, but about the inbetween. And most importantly, by the end of the day we will probably be fine or even better for it.
And with that we are heading onwards, hopefully the sun in our faces and the wind in our backs. Tag along! Here are some more of our videos. When was your last adventure? Share it in the comments, we love new stories! Goodbye France, see you in Monaco! Okay, we are in Monaco!