France-Bike route managers arrived early in the morning on the first day of our cycling adventure, with our bikes, helmets, and very detailed directions. They loaded our gear into their van, leaving us to set off on stage one of our trip. Soon we were cycling along the banks of the river Rhone, heading towards Orange. As it happened, two Americans were also doing the self-guided tour so we rode part of it with them, though one of them dropped out half-way though the first day due to lack of preparation (a good lesson to learn!).
Never at any stage did we feel unsafe on our bikes in France – cyclists are so common on the roads and the drivers are courteous. Mostly however, we rode on back country roads – very pretty, quiet and easy to negotiate It was July, so quite a busy time of year, yet en route to Orange we encountered only a few cyclists, however we did see what we dreamed of seeing – our first fields of lavender, head-high fields of sunflowers, wonderful apricot-coloured Provencal farmhouses with their ubiqitous blue shutters, and vineyards and orchards galore.
We had very little trouble with the detailed directions on that first morning except at one crossroads, but we worked it out, and in no time we were cycling into Châteauneuf-du-Pape and having lunch in the sun at a lovely roadside cafe- with a wine for me and yes, horror of horrors, a beer for my husband!
After a lingering lunch, it was back on the bikes and off we meandered towards Orange, stopping frequently along the way to take in the sights. After a slightly confusing time in the centre of the town, we found out way to the hotel. France-Bike had delivered our bags, so we were able to shower and set off to explore the town.
Orange has an impressive and very well preserved Roman amphitheatre (a World Heritage site), which at the time of our visit, was being set up for a performance of Madame Butterfly – what a brilliant setting for an opera! The town is charming, and yes, has quite an orange look to it due to the colouring of the roofing and buildings. While Orange is not the most exciting of all the towns we saw, it was well worth a visit.
With regard to the hotel in Orange, accommodation with France-Bike is always good, although for some reason we were not placed in their usual Hotel L’Herbier D’Orange, but rather at Hotel Le Louvre, which was a lot further out of the town centre, near the railway station. L’Herbier, where the two Americans were staying, would have been a more attractive option, as it was very central and close to the Amphitheatre. Le Louvre however, did have a pool in a pretty and sheltered setting, and the room was clean and comfortable with a very nice bathroom. It was a perfectly adequate place to rest and contemplate our first day’s ride, and to look forward to the next day….. stage two from Orange to Vaison-de-la-Romaine.