Biking in Provence

Working for Backroads has been a rollercoaster ride, but the biggest perk is definitely Provence. With our head office and training happening every spring in Pernes-les-Fontaines, I have the perfect excuse to visit Provence in April every year. It’s the time of year when the weather is perfect, the lavender is about to blossom, and tourism hasn’t gotten busy so theres plenty of wine to taste and roads to cycle.

enjoing the Loire

I flew into Paris and visited a friend in Loire to warm up my bike butt, cycling thru the Loire Valley for some wine tasting and sunbathing. Then I was off to Provence to bike Ventoux, or atleast try…

its all about the kit…

There’s a kind of unspoken rule that cycling to the top of Mont Ventoux is part of the Backroads’ family right of passage – nearly everyone has done it, and they time themselves and do it again if they think they can get a better timer. I think the record in our community is 1hr36mins.

Kevin and I in Bedoin about to start our climb

I took a cool 3.5 hours, with lots of selfie stops and pee and snack breaks, but as the temperature dropped gradually with our ascent, the 1909m top was too cold to stay too long, so it only took 30 mins to fly 21kms back down to Bedoin. I was lucky to have Kevin with me, who had cycled Ventoux twice before, so he knew the best way and pep talked me most of the way up.

on the top of Ventoux!

I had all the right gear, thanks to Backroads, including a padded butt and a performance bike, so I didn’t even hurt the next day. I decided to celebrate the accomplishment with a little wine tasting in Beaumes-de-Venise with a couple of other Backroads friends, and finally learned how to use clip pedals. After that, I finally feel like Im qualified to be a bike guide… or atleast I can fake it til I make it since I look the part.

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Cycling Speyside: Whisky tasting on a Giant

Scotland was one of my first European countries that I visited last in 2006, but only went to Edinburgh and Glasgow. I remember not understanding a word of Glaswegian, so it seemed safer to fly into Edinburgh. Then Wow Air went bankrupt, 4 days before departure, so instead of flying for pennies thru London, I splurged on the direct flight from KEF with Easyjet. I loved arriving on a spring day, where a very young city rode bikes to and fro and lined up at McDconalds to buy tea.

Edinburgh

I made a friend last year thru Backroads, the young Scottish clone of Icelandic footballer Rurik Gislason. More than being beautiful, he was a biker, and helped me set up my home on wheels for a week-long Speyside bike tour. I stayed the first and last nights at his in Edinburgh, but spent 6 days, 5 nights cycling the whisky highlands on a beautiful blue Giant.

my home on wheels in Speyside

On the train north, I stopped for half a day in Aberdeen. I visited the beach and a friends favourite pub, filling up on carbs for all the cycling ahead. My tour started and ended at Elgin train station, where I cycled down to Rothes, a small village near Glen Elgin where I found a hostel, the Aqua Play bunk house. My first tasting and tour was at Glen Moray at 9:30 am, a bit early for most but perfect to start a day of biking. I carried onto Macallan, where tours were sold out, so I had a tasting and gourmet lunch inspired by El Celler de Can Roca, the three-Michelin starred restaurant in Girona, Spain. I stopped at Aberlour, before heading to Speyside camp where I was the only lonely soul pitching a tent. I had dinner and more whiskey tastings at the Highlander Inn bar in Craigellachie, home to John Dewar & Sons, where I made some more Scottish friends to reconfirm I was crazy to be camping this time of year.

cycling thru the highlands offered lots of highland cow encounters

I spent a night there before going to Glenfiddich. I rode the tourist train in and out of Dufftown (mostly to give my butt a break) to Strathisla Distillery, owned now by Chivas brothers and one of, if not the oldest, distilleries in Speyside. From there I rode thru Cairngorm park to get to Tomintoul town in the highlands, where snow from last week was still scattered on the sides of the road.

the weather was always on my side

Day 4 was spent riding back down, thru the Cairngorms winding along the River Avon, where traffic was finally at a minimum. The narrow roads sometimes made biking a bit unsafe, but the cooperative weather never made me doubt for a moment the trips perfect timing. I tasted at Glenlivet and Cardhu with a bartender friend I had made in Rothes, and went back to my tent at Speyside campground that night.

the stills at Glenfarclas

My last speyside distilleries were Glenfarclas and Cragganmore, and by this time, I felt I could have led my own distillery tour. Every distillery had their own niche blurb about their copper stills or water source, but all the whisky was excellent, all the tour guides knowledgable, but the increasing discomfort of heartburn from tasting whisky all day every day made me relieved the trip was near over.

pedestrian traffic while hiking to Arthurs seat

On the train back south, I went thru Inverness and the highlands, thru the most scenic landscapes pulled right out of a Game of Thrones episode. I returned my blue Giant in one piece, with all of my belongings still attached, but was most surprised by the fact that not a single drop of rain had fallen yet. To my pleasure, my last day in Edinburgh was spent hiking in the sunshine.

Downhill skiing in Iceland

Iceland is a deceiving name – we don’t have that much ice, or even snow, and our mild, sea-tempered winters barely keep anything white or frozen on the ground. People may think it’s a skiing destination, but we don’t really have mountains worth writing home about either, but a few big hills around the north are still definitely worth a visit.

Tindastóll, just outside of Sauðárkrókur, is now home to the longest run in Iceland, thanks to a new T-bar lift opening a couple of weeks ago. A few kilometers further north is Ólafsfjordur, home to arguably the shortest runs you can find in Iceland, but the only ski area that’s actually right in town, walking distance to the city center.

Siglo t-bar

Next door is Siglufjordur town, a great valley with four, excellently-planned t-bars. During easter, there’s even an apre-ski feel when the ski hut gets an alcohol license during the Siglo Freeride festival and thru til easter.

Dalvik has a couple of t-bars, but Id say, as a snowboarder who tried, the second one is only accessible by skiers. The view down to the sea and fjord is spectacular on a clear day, and you’re only a few km’s away from Akureyri. There you’ve got Hlíðarfjall ski area, which is open more days a year than other skislopes, with consistent snowfall and a large enough community to support its running costs.

skiing Dalvik is much easier than snowboarding

All of Iceland´s ski spots charge a similar price, with passes sold by the hour (around 1500-2000kr per hour) or day (4000kr). The 5×5 skiiceland.is offer sells you 5 days to 5 resorts (Olafsfjordur, Siglo, Tindastoll, Hlidarfjall and Dalvik) for around 20.000ISK. If you’re feeling really spendy, and prefer to ski privately, there’s always Deplar Farm hotel, where checking into the all inclusive resort includes all activities – even ski equipment and helicopter time to take you heli-skiing anywhere you please.

heli-skiing helicopter ready for take off at Deplar Farm

If none of that sounds worth it, then just take the short 20 min drive from Reykjavik to Blafjoll (if and when its open) where you can run up and down the same runs half a dozen times before getting bored, so long as you’re willing to wait longer for the lift up then it takes to ski down.