Trip Start Jun 19, 2009
5Trip End Jun 28, 2009
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I have been asked this question by friends and family, but the answer actually dates back to three years ago.
It was April 2006. While sitting on the patio of my vacation lodge facing the demure, turquoise, tranquil bay around Te Mahia (Marlborough Sounds), New Zealand, I was toasting a glass of the region's famous Sauvignon Blanc to James, my Australian traveling buddy, and our Kiwi (ie, New Zealander) bike guide, Louise. We had just finished biking part of the famous 25-km Queen Charlotte Track that afternoon and were rewarded handsomely with picturesque landscapes. Dining over lamb steak and sipping Marlborough wine underneath the blushing autumn evening sky while being surrounded by majestic mountains and lapping waves, we spent hours on the patio that evening, taking our time dining, chatting, and absorbing that surreal, magical moment when twilight was fading into nightfall, and the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere were beginning to unfold in the celestial canopy above.
For more details and pictures of Te Mahia, New Zealand, click on the links below:
I remember hearing them talk about beautiful bike rides around the world. Louise was going to Croatia in June to lead another bike group. And then someone mentioned southern France. Yes, it was Provence, I recall, a region, like Tuscany (Italy), with alluring medieval towns sculpted gently on rolling, wine-kissed hills. It is a region that so inspired such artists like Van Gogh, Matisse, Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, and Chagall. Was it the sensual pleasures within the luminous atmosphere that captivated these artists, giving them a vitality beyond endurance to produce some of their greatest masterpieces?
Vincent Van Gogh, in one of his letters to his younger brother, Theo, described, "Le Midi [The South of France] fires the senses, your hand is more agile, your eye sharper, your brain clearer...(The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Penguin Classics, 1998)." In an intoxicating, passionate way, the landscape of Provence aroused Van Gogh to produce all his great paintings from the age of 35, shortly after his arrival to Arles in February 1888, until his death two years later.
One day, I would like to explore the intimate charm of Provence, I then promised myself. This is, after all, the heartland of France celebrated in literature and art. The rural towns in this region have a slower pace of life than in Paris, and on traditional market days, in which regional cheeses, local wines, and fresh vegetables abound in the market stalls, the entire community comes out with an infectious spirit, converting the market into an ebullient festivity.
And what better way to capture this deep sense of history and tradition than to experience it all on a bike. At will, I can get off the beaten path anytime, immerse myself in the bucolic landscape, interact with the locals, and lose myself in the charm of the land and culture. The beauty and pageantry of this region, seen from the vantage point of a bike, can be amplified in a deep sensory way.
And in the evening after a strenuous calorie-burning ride, I can look forward to rewarding myself guiltlessly with rich Provençal gourmet – a colorful feast of fresh seafood or gently cooked, tender lamb or even rabbit roasted with rosemary, interwined with seasonal, sun-ripe vegetables, olive oil, garlic, and aromatic herbs. Provence is also famous for its intense, robust, and spicy red wines, the best of which is Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or the lighter, fresh, fruity, buttery white wines like the popular Clos Sainte-Madgeleine or Châteaux Val Jonais. There is also a special type of wine, called vin doux naturel (naturally sweet wine or dessert wine), based on the exotically scented Muscat grape with flavors ranging from opulently sweet to lusciously fragrant.
Reality sets in, as I await boarding call back at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. I am about to board my nonstop transatlantic flight on Houston-based Continental Airlines destined for L'Aéroport Charles de Gaulle in Paris. In order to ensure a restful sleep for the upcoming energetic bike rides, I am going to the section of the plane with seats that are supposed to recline almost horizontally, at least, that is what I was told.
In the morning when I wake up, it will be time for some croissant, café au lait, and the start of a bicycle odyssey through the heart of France...
À bientôt (See you soon)...