Cycling, wine tours, queens, troubadour lovers, spas, luxury and literary giants in Provence!
Still wearing his lid and his thigh muscles glistening impressively under the Provencal sunshine, Romain pointed to all points of the compass and indulged in some proudly Gallic long-distance celebrity spotting.
“You’ve got Russell Crowe over there and John Malkovich that way. That's where Richard Mayle used to live. Ridley Scott has a place in Bonnieux and Pierre Cardin owns most of Lacoste, including the chateau which was the Marquis de Sade’s old home.”
He turned around and adjusted his chin strap. “ And this is where Samuel Beckett lived and fought in the Resistance. Roussillon is mentioned in Waiting For Godot (1955). There are Mr Bean connections too. Paradise is a very cultural place.”
Many people these days explore Luberon under a 21-vent, hardened carbonate road helmet. The former sea is now a popular cycling country.
La Coquillade (meaning shellfish) Provence Resort and Spa in Gargas, an hour from Avignon and Marseille, is a hybrid luxury five-star hotel – a velo/oeno-tourism location in the Vaucluse department of the Provence-Alpes-Cotes D’Azure region of south-eastern France.
The brainchild of a Swiss hearing aid tycoon, it has its own vineyards, winery, cycling centre and cycling team. Surrounded by three mountain ranges -the Petit Luberon, the Grand Luberon and Luberon Oriental, the hotel complex is built around a ruined eleventh-century village once tended by the monks of the neighbouring Sénanque Abbey. Lycra has usurped sackcloth. And liniment liqueur.
With grey-blue shuttered bastides (country houses), herb pots, a traditional “non-potable public fountain”, 3000 iceberg roses, totemic clipped cypresses, rare chandeliers, two swimming pools, 63 rooms and three restaurants including Les Vignes, La Coquillade also has a spa offering derma-optimisation for the saddle-sore.
Romain is one of the cycling guides-in-residence. Beforehand, even if you are booked in for some e-biking on a 4k Euro Stromer, he will still test your roadworthiness, balance, steering and pedalling skills and general relationship with two wheels along the hotel’s impressive cypress alley entrance.
E-biking is simple. Once you have learned to face the right way, ride with the Mistral at your back, not into it.
If you don’t suddenly turn the colour of an overripe aubergine and your lips take on a violent lavender hue, Roman takes you out for a sedate e-assisted 2-4 hour journey. Ride under the climbing sun among the olive groves, clementine orchards and truffle fields to the region’s iconic medieval (1000-year-old) hilltop villages like Gordes and Roussillon.
Ancient hamlets are named after local families; Gros, Martin, Cortasse or from the activities performed there - les bouillons and les bouilladoires. The largest is Les Imberts. Its church was built between 1785 and 1792.
Along the backroads, still checking on your blood pressure as told by your skin pigmentation, Romain gives in-tandem lessons on ochre mining. “ The colour lasts much longer than the stone.”
Roussillon is famous for the rich deposits of ochre pigments found in the clay near the village. The large quarries of Roussillon were mined from the end of the eighteenth century until 1930. The "Sentier des Ocres" (Ochre Path) offers a walk of through the old workings.
Romain will tell you the romantic story behind the area’s amber-red rockscape. How, discovering her troubadour lover had been murdered by her jealous husband, a queen threw herself to her death, staining the rocks with her love-lorn blood.
The 20-40 Km trips end in his home village of Goult at the hotel’s Aurelio (meaning, “breeze”) winery for a tasting of the local Aphelie, Solale and Elyo wines and an unfeasibly generous charcuterie and cheese lunch.
He then hands you back into the hands of the resort's charismatic Swiss swimming pool attendant, raconteur, milkshake genius, acclaimed mixologist and wild peach ice cream purveyor, Daniel Pleisch who grew up with the sons of the late Andrew Rihs. They now run the 63-room resort.
There are literary connections. Petrarch wrote in the Luberon. Albert Camus, the only football goalkeeper to win the Nobel Prize For Literature, lived and is buried in Loumartin. But the hotel is a shrine to a German-Swiss writer. The family is related to Hermann Hesse, author of Steppenwolf and the Glass Bead Game and winner of the 1946 Nobel Prize. The lobby has his writing desk and offers a special Hesse library.
This means you can indulge in your own search for authenticity, spirituality and self-knowledge while being served Aperol Spritzes poolside by Daniel and letting your chafing subside and your buttocks recuperate from your pedal power exertions.
Elegant wood-beamed rooms are made from 11th and 17th-century stone and ochre cottages constructed in 2015 with Austrian bed linen, chic Pierre Frey fabrics, and objets d’art sourced from nearby L’Isle-sur-la Sorgue - the village of antique markets.
Closed in January and February, La Coquillade is the place to recover luxuriously from a torpid winter. A stay there is all about attaining the healthiest complexion you can. Daniel and Romain agreed that this, ideally, means the colour of the local rose – a mix of Grenache, Cinsaut and maybe a little Mourvèdre.
You don’t want to look too much like a Chateau de la Canorgue. That Syrah and Carignan red face mean you have had too much sun. cycling, cheese and wine. And probably been in the wrong gear most of the time. Cycling and wine holidays are all about balance. Ochre is OK.