Professional climbers Caroline Ciavaldini and James Pearson are used to travelling the world, but with travel restrictions in place and a young son in tow, they found paradise 100km from their home in France
At the end of May, my husband James, baby Arthur and I embarked on a project that has been close to our hearts for the last few years.
What made this project special, however, was we decided to leave our van at home in Connaux, Gard and make the journey on our mountain bikes – 30 days to ride around the Alpilles, some of the best cliffs in the South of France, carrying all our gear on our backs and bikes, and using as few roads as possible.
The idea for a trip like this grew from a few separate seeds, the first, and perhaps most important, was a simple desire to reduce the carbon impact of our climbing trips while still maintaining an aspect of adventure.
James and I love travelling for many reasons and discovering new things is a very important part of our lives, and one we are keen to share with Arthur, who is one year and seven months old. What we don’t love quite so much is how much pollution just one flight halfway around the world puts out.
The original idea was to follow the Danube river from the Black Forest in Germany, all the way to the Black Sea. Then Covid-19 came along, the borders closed, France declared a 100km travel limit from your home and it seemed like our adventure was over before it had even begun!
Then we remembered why we chose to live where we do in the first place, that our house is surrounded by cool cliffs, picturesque villages and that if we stuck to small tracks and mountain bike trails, 100km was actually a pretty good distance.
We planned a route, chose a departure date and our Tour des Alpilles was born – the only thing left was to actually do it!
In Bouches-du-Rhône we discovered the magnificent windmills of Fontvieille built in the early 1800s, a troglodytic village near Lamanon lived in until the mid-1500s, got lost on little forest paths and found some ancient stone villages, but also came across a bakery with incredible croquants, a crunchy biscuit with almonds, or mini croissants with pine nuts and many other little surprises along the way.
We got to climb at awesome cliffs like Orgon and Buoux, a classical crag with five-star routes in Grades 5 and 6, and just a few metres further, historical old ladies like les mains sales.
We usually don’t go to these crags: too far away for a day trip, but not far enough for a holiday and we met up with friends along the way that we hadn’t seen in far too long! It was a trip where life slowed down and simplified, problems were limited to fixing punctures, remembering to charge our battery on the mountain bikes and stocking up on nappies before riding into a valley without any shops.
Most of our nights were spent at one of the many fantastic local B&Bs in the area where we’d start our day with a big breakfast of pain au chocolat, coffee and croissants. We’d pack the cargo trailer in the precise way we’d found that kept wobbles to a minimum, strapped Arthur into his seat, set off and our adventures began.
It sounds funny to use the word ‘adventure’ to describe our home climbing areas, but this is really what it felt like. Just before the confinement we spent three weeks in Ethiopia with The North Face, climbing sandstone towers in the desert. We’re used to going to the other side of the world to find the unknown and we love it, but never did we think we’d be able to find similar experiences less than 100km from our house.
A trip like this teaches, and allows you to go with the flow. With no fixed time constraints, nor hardcore climbing objectives, everything felt pretty easy and fun, and by keeping the stress and pressure low, we were so much more open to appreciate life itself.
Follow Caroline and James’ climbing adventures at onceuponaclimb.co.uk
Caroline’s essential gear list:
Trailers – tout-terrain.de/en/the-products/trailers/
Gear for all weather – thenorthface.fr/
Baby tent – deryan.shop/en/product/babybox/
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