Provence, Adventure Style
The tourist track is well-worn in Provence, a land of vineyards, medieval chateaus, and valleys blanketed in lavender. Its singletrack, hiking routes, and winding waterways, however, are ripe for discovery. Pure Adventures’ new self-guided trip into a France-less-traveled begins in Avignon and loops 31 miles to the town of Uzes. PA arranges equipment, customizes guidebooks, and transports your luggage from one luxury hotel to the next. You’re free to focus on biking from Villeneuve-lès-Avignon northwest through wine country to the Pont du Gard. While most visitors gawk from above at this 164-foot triple-decker Roman aqueduct—a feat of engineering from the first century a.d.—you’ll paddle a canoe below along the Gardon River en route to the village of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. There, lace up your hiking boots for a 12.5-mile trek through olive and almond groves and up the limestone cliffs of the Alpilles Mountains (immortalized by Vincent van Gogh during his stay in Saint-Rémy in 1889). Traveling east to Gargas and the Lubéron Mountains, a rare experience awaits: mountain biking the red dirt and rocks of an area called Colorado, Provence’s answer to the Four Corners. "It’s otherworldly," says Loren Siekman of Pure Adventures. "And most people who go to the Lubéron never even see it."
Pure Adventures; discoverfrance.com
Next: Italy: Tuscany by Sea
Tuscany by Sea
Jeff Cooper, owner of Maine-based kayak experts H2Outfitters, has a degree in classical archaeology and a serious affinity for Vernaccia, panzanella, and other Tuscan culinary specialties. The logical extension of his interests is a sea kayaking/cooking/archaeology trip in Tuscany—the first of its kind. The journey begins in the village of Impruneta, where clients apprentice themselves to chef Cristophe Becucci, whose family has owned the Casa Bellavista Inn since World War II. You’ll perfect Tuscan stews, fried rabbit, and bread salad and, in September, take part in the local grape harvest festival (the town’s white Vernaccia wine is world famous) before boarding a ferry to the island of Elba, in the Tuscan Archipelago. The mountainous isle houses red-tile villages and leftover fortifications against the Vikings, Swiss, and Germans. "Coastal Italy has been invaded by everybody—it was a battlefield for centuries," says Cooper. "During World War II the Germans constructed defensive positions made of rebar; Italians created works of art." Those masterpieces—stairways etched into cliffs leading to tiled archways and canons—are visible only from the sea. As you paddle around the island (its clear waters protected by Tuscan Archipelago National Park), the coastline alternates between wide, sandy beaches and hidden harbors tucked into rocky cliffs.
Next: Jordan: Kayak Civilization’s Cradle
Kayak Civilization’s Cradle
"Kayaking hasn’t existed in Jordan," says Jeff Cooper of H2Outfitters. "Until now." Another new exploratory trip from H2O launhes on the Gulf of Aqaba, a 110-mile-long, 15-mile-wide finger of coral-rich, 75-degree water within the Red Sea. Best known as a diving and snorkeling spot (sea turtles, soft and hard corals, 29 types of starfish), its calm waters provide kayak access to four Middle Eastern countries—Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Post-paddle, clients are shuttled by 4x4 to Wadi Rum, the former home of Lawrence of Arabia, where sandstone and granite cliffs rise from a desert pocked with Bedouin villages. Next is the luminous city of Petra, then the Dead Sea, where boats hover on water eight times saltier than the Mediterranean. But all of this is only a rough plan. Cooper expects a fair amount of spontaneity on this groundbreaking trip. "We’re looking into the possibility of paddling to Egypt—it’s only five miles away," he says. Sure bets include tasty Jordanian dishes like mansaf (lamb cooked in yogurt sauce) and the utterly silent and starry-skied Arabian Desert.