After 4 very happy years here at Serre Des Ormes we are excited to share with you a selection of our favourite recipes and rides. We hope you enjoy reading it and please let us know if you have any feedback or requests for future editions.
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In Britain at least it seems you can’t go a single day without seeing a pro-Vegan or anti-meat program or newspaper headline and after watching, the acclaimed “The Game Changers, ” on Netflix, which is definitely worth a watch, we decided we should at least give a plant based diet a trial run. Our main motivation behind this was environmental but we were intrigued to see if it would also improve our, already pretty good, energy levels and it also gave us renewed motivation to try out some new recipes over the quiet(er) winter season.
It must be said that there were certain caveats to the new diet. I hesitate to use the word vegan as it can drum up a bad image, and reluctantly use the word “diet” as it implies restricting ourselves on what we eat. When I looked it up synonyms for the word diet include; regime, fast, restriction and even starvation but the a plant based lifestyle can actually open up a whole new variety of recipe options. The word “diet” actually comes from the Greek Diaita meaning “to live one’s life,” and from the Latin root word, “diaeta,” meaning a “manner of living”.
Anyway, I digress, the caveats…firstly we would continue to eat eggs laid by our free range chickens, not doing so simply doesn’t make sense to us. Secondly if invited to eat out we realised we may need to have some flexibility as we didn’t want friends or family feeling forced to change their cooking habits. The French restaurant scene has still not quite grasped the concept of a Vegan diet. Amusingly ,the menu on our local “vegan friendly” restaurant proudly presents Salmon served in a Vegan crust, on it’s A La Carte menu, no doubt served with a salad laced in mayonnaise and followed by a selection of local cheeses.
So November arrived and with no guests to cater for Kate excitedly started the meal planning. I am well aware we have a bit of a head start here. We have always had a fairly “flexitarian” diet, mainly vegetarian but with the occasional meat and fishes dishes. At this time of year the local market stalls are still overflowing with locally grown, organic fruit and vegetables, with more variety and colours than any supermarket back in the UK. Secondly Kate is a fantastic cook and will make the most out of the great ingredients to hand. Thirdly, our lifestyle at Serre Des Ormes allows us to have more free time for cooking, you will probably spend more time commuting to work than we do in the kitchen.
So did we feel healthier?
We wanted to find out for ourselves whether a plant based diet really made us feel healthier. We often wonder whether the celebrities who claim a vegan diet changed their life, saw the improvements simply because they had given up a lifestyle of late nights, drinking, drugs, smoking and a poor diet, rather than switching to Soya lattes for their morning caffeine hit!
We have to admit that there was no instant miracle feeling as some suggest, in fact we both felt pretty fatigued in the first week. However the timing of our trial also coincided with the end of a busy season at Serre Des Ormes and as the weather turns there is always a seasonal lethargy at this time of year.
For us this is the “Game Changer”. Many newspaper articles will harshly lead you to believe mass industrialisation is not to blame for climate change but daisy the cow is! Giving up meat, however, is probably the single biggest thing we can do as individuals to help climate change. In my opinion we would yes be better to reduce our consumption of meat but also show willing to spend more on local, responsibly farmed meat promoting local farmers and producers rather than Supermarkets driving down prices and cutting producers profits, thus leading to more efficient, less environmentally farming methods. When we return to the UK the shelves and shelves of cheap meat in the supermarket is quite staggering compared to France.
We have certainly learnt a lot reading into the benefits of giving up meats on the environment and in the future would certainly change some of our habits but probably without cutting out all meat based products all together.
Perhaps this was the greatest benefit to come out the “trial”. Kate enjoys nothing more than browsing through recipe books but this time with the added challenge of being dairy and meat free. There are so many vegan recipe books available and online recipes she was quickly dishing up amazing vegan burgers, delicious nut roast and I even managed a spinach lasagne. A plant based diet is not without its treats either; Vegan flapjacks and brownies will definitely be added to the assortment of bike snacks and I bet you didn’t know you can make meringues with chick pea water?
A plant based diet may need a bit more thought though and you can’t just open the fridge and make a quick cheese and ham sandwich but there is always a substitute, probably more nutritious and tasty.
Our OWN thoughts:
Remember one diet doesn’t suit all. Despite the headlines insisting one minute that a high protein / high fat diet is the way ahead and the next that a vegan diet is the new miracle cure for both your health and the climate very few headlines will conclude that perhaps somewhere in the middle is best. Eat healthy & exercise = feeling great!
Yes giving up meat may be the best way forward for the climate but don’t set yourself up for failure. If we just reduced our meat intake and treat it more as a luxury item supporting your local producer, farmer or butcher then we will drive out this obsession for low cost, bulk animal based products often coming from the far corners of the world.
Experimenting with a plant based diet has been a worthwhile and interesting exercise for us. Whilst I don’t expect us to change our habits significantly we will probably reduce our meat intake, particularly during the winter months when we have no guests staying at Serre Des Ormes. When we do buy meat or dairy products we will be certainly be prepared to pay more for local, responsibly farmed products. Spending a few more minutes in the kitchen experimenting with plant based recipes opens up a much wider choice of meals. One of the biggest benefits of the vegan craze is that there are so many food outlets offering a vegan menu… even the infamous Greggs Vegan Sausage roll! And there are masses of vegan recipes available on line.
So don’t necessarily give up on your turkey this Christmas but do have a think about where it has come from and perhaps consider alternatives such as a nut roast.
On a recent mountain bike trip to the alps, two walkers looked at our bikes in an amazement. “Wow, they are not electric” they said as we struggled past them. In France, home of the Tour de France, cycling’s most gruelling race, electric bikes are becoming more and more popular and not viewed as cheating but simply as a way to get out and explore the stunning surroundings.
The e-bike market is growing rapidly across Europe, in the Netherlands, for example, revenue already outstrips traditional cycle sales. Their popularity in the UK is also growing rapidly and in cities such as London they are becoming increasingly popular for commuting to work. But is British pride limiting their recreational use as e-bikes are viewed as an easy way out? They shouldn’t be even, Fabian Cancellara one of the world’s greatest road time trialler sees the benefits “E-bikes are fantastic. I use them all the time. You can take the kids up mountains. You can arrive in your good clothes at a meeting. It’s so easy.”
For us at Serre Des Ormes, it is all about enjoying the fantastic countryside and sunshine together. The more people on two wheels the better, even if a little bit of battery power is needed to help boost moral and the enjoyment. We have had a number of guests now stay with us who have rented or brought their own electric bikes. For couples of different cycling levels they provide an opportunity to spend more time together on the bike and enjoy longer rides. Non-cycling partners come back from a ride grinning from ear to ear, for once it is not them suffering to keep up.
In Europe the bike’s battery cuts out at 25km/h and it is all leg power which does mean a little bit of awareness is needed when cycling together. Hit a hill and that is when the e-bike comes into their own, even iconic mountains such as Mont Ventoux are no longer limited to the super fit. On a recent group trip to ride through the stunning Gorges de La Nesque and then up the much feared Bedoin climb of Ventoux, Kate accompanied 3 guests on electric bikes and 2 on road bikes. It’s one of those special days on a bike but 80km in length and with 2000m of climbing, it’s beyond many riders capabilities. Everyone came back that day with big grins on their faces.
By using less and less power assistance e-bikes are also a perfect way to build both confidence and fitness and riders can feel than sense of progression. For keen cycling partners, by having your very own derny to chase around they can provide training motivation. My quickest time up the top half of Ventoux was achieved trying to chase an e-bike!
At Serre Des Ormes there are so many fantastic routes on quiet roads for everyone to enjoy and we can suggest routes suitable for all types of bikes and riders. E-bikes can easily be rented from Albion Cycles which has a simple to use online booking system. Booking in advance is highly recommended, particularly in the peak summer season.
Some top tips:
Remember the assistance is limited to 25km/h, this can be particularly important when riding with others on road bikes.
Build up the length of a ride gradually on an electric bike as although you will suddenly be able to go further with the battery assistance you may not be used to being on a bike for such a long time. If renting an electric bike think about taking your own saddle along to reduce the risk of saddle sores.
The battery will last most people at least a full day’s riding but remember not to be too over ambitious when planning a route. E-bikes are heavier than normal bikes due to the weight of the battery and would be very difficult to get over that final hill without battery assistance.
If riding with others on road bikes we would suggest renting the E-Road Bike from Albion cycles. These are more efficient at keeping up with road bikers on gradual downhills when the battery assistance cuts out.
Remember to charge the battery overnight! Also look out for charge points on route, the café at Chalet Reynard on Mont Ventoux has an arrangement with Albion Cycles to allow battery recharging whilst stopping for a quick coffee.
E-bikes are generally more expensive than equivalent road bikes and therefore unfortunately theft is not uncommon, therefore don’t leave your E-bike unattended.
For 2019 we are extremely excited to be running our first mountain yoga week at Serre Des Ormes. A relaxing week in stunning mountain scenery with daily yoga classes tailored to suit you.
The twice daily yoga classes will be led by Caroline Lofthouse who has an extensive background in both dance and yoga. Where possible we will hold the classes outside in our gardens and are planning at least one hillside yoga session so you can really immerse yourself in stunning natural surroundings. The group size will be limited to 6 and therefore we will be able to offer an exclusive and personal approach during your week with us.
Between yoga sessions you will be free to explore the fantastic walking, trail running or cycling on offer around Serre Des Ormes. We will be on hand to suggest our favourite routes and trails to help you make the most out of the holiday. Alternatively just relax by our own private pool, or on the sunny terrace.
On Thursday there will be the opportunity to visit the local Provençal market in Laragne. There are many stalls selling local and organic produce and you can buy a picnic before we make the short trip to the beautiful Lac de Riou. If conditions allow we are planning a yoga session on the shaded grassy lake shore before enjoying a picnic lunch and perhaps a swim.
The accommodation for the week is in our newly renovated 18th century farmhouse, Serre Des Ormes. With luxury en-suite rooms, library, rustic dining room, terrace, pool and gardens. Each morning a healthy, nutritious breakfast will be served including; porridge, muesli, granola, croissants, fresh bread, fruit juice, homemade jams and freshly laid eggs from our own hens. On 6 nights of the week a delicious two course evening meal will be prepared, using locally produced organic food where possible. Aperitif, hors d’oeuvres and wine is included with the evening meals.
Each afternoon a freshly baked cake is served; tea, coffee & fresh fruit are also freely available throughout your stay. Free WiFi is also available.
Our 8 day (7night) yoga week will run from Saturday 7th to 14th September. The price is €945pp (based on 2 people sharing a room) and includes group airport transfer from Marseille airport or Aix TGV, 7 nights catered accommodation, local transport and yoga classes.
Kate has been busy testing out menu ideas for the year ahead. These breakfast pancakes are simple to make, delicious and a perfect way to set you up for a morning on the bike. There is no added sugar but the banana makes them nice and sweet and they can easily be made gluten free too. Serve with fruit or bacon and maple syrup. I’m sure they’ll be an instant hit with our guests this year.
2/3 cup of oats
1/3 cup of brown flour or oatmeal for GF
1 mashed banana
¼ cup of milk or any liquid for dairy free
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp chia seeds or any seeds you have
Good grind of salt
Mix together all the wet ingredients then add all the dry ingredients and mix well. Fry small dollops in coconut or any oil.
400 eggs laid by our hens for breakfast, 94 cakes baked to re-charge you every afternoon, far too many Strava discussions to mention, numerous ascents of Mont Ventoux and plenty of glasses of wine – what a brilliant season we have had in our 1st full year at Serre Des Ormes.
We have loved meeting you all and whilst it may be a cliché, it really has been a case of you arriving as guests and leaving as friends. The amazing feedback you have given us about your holidays here is what makes it all worthwhile for us both. So, a huge thank you to you – we have enjoyed helping you discover and explore the stunning gorges, quiet roads and rolling hills that surround us whether that be biking, walking or running.
You might be curious as to what is happening at Serre Des Ormes at the moment… well, the hens are taking a break and roaming the garden, jam production has started, a new kitchen is being put in so that Kate can get testing even more delicious dishes for evening meals and we are getting out and about to find more fantastic routes to share with you in 2018.
We are delighted a number of you have already secured your booking at Serre Des Ormes for next year.. if you haven’t got round to it yet then please give us a shout so we can get the dates you want in the diary. A few of us have asked if you can take over the whole house for your stay – you absolutely can as long as there are enough of you – just get in touch and we can talk through the options for your club or group.
Whether you are looking just to get to the top of this iconic mountain, or after a bigger cycling challenge then here are some top tips for climbing Mont Ventoux.
The Easiest Way to cycle up Mont Ventoux.
The easiest side to climb is definitely from the historic village of Sault. Although the longest climb (26km), Sault is at 760m so you already have a 400m headstart over the climbs from Bedoin and Maulacene. With an average gradient of only 4.4% it is still a fabulous climb but much more forgiving on the legs.
The Best Way Up Mont Ventoux
For an unforgettable day on the bike we thoroughly recommend combining it with a descent through the Gorges de la Nesque. Again starting from the market town of Sault, cross the plateau of lavender fields before climbing to the viewpoint at the head of the Gorges de la Nesque where you can enjoy the views before the long gradual descent through the Gorges. From here head North to Bedoin and the climb of Mont Ventoux before descending back down to Sault. It can get extremely hot on the south facing slopes of Mont Ventoux during July and August so you may want to consider doing this loop in an anti-clockwise direction or starting really early. Check out the route on Strava here.
3 Times up Mont Ventoux
If you are looking for a bigger challenge why not try climbing the three sides of Mont Ventoux in one day. With 4400m of climbing and descending, the “Cingles” (French for crazy!) is one of the ultimate cycling challenges. We recommend an early start for this one, often starting the climb in the dark which adds to the atmosphere of the day. By climbing the Bedoin side first you get the hardest and hottest climb out the way before descending to Malaucene and finally ending with the Sault climb. We can offer a full van support throughout the day so all you need to worry about is the pedalling.
The weather can be a bigger challenge than the climb itself, if the Mistral is blowing it can be extremely windy at the summit and you will see where the mountain gets it’s name,vent in venteux meaning wind in French. It can also get very cold at the top so be prepared to take plenty of clothes, you can be descending for a long time.
How steep is it?
Like the French Alps, the climbs are not as steep as back in the UK just a lot longer! The maximum gradient peaks at 12% and there are sustained sections of 10%. You need to be comfortable peddling at this gradient though the climb typically takes between 1 hour 45 minutes and 3 hours so you don’t want to be running out of gears in the first few kilometres.
There is lots more technical information on each climbs profile on Climb by bike Climb By Bike.
Come and find out for yourself!!
Please get in touch with us if you need any more info or tips for climbing Mont Ventoux or too start planning your cycling holiday with us today.
We just spent a great week ski touring in the Queyras. Food choice on a trip like this is really important as you need to carry all your daytime snacks for the whole week. These bars worked really well and they taste great. The best thing about this recipe is you can change most of the ingredients to incorporate what you fancy or what you have in the cupboard. The following is a recipe for one of our favourites. Our guests can look forward to these during their relaxing cycling holiday at Serre des Ormes this summer. I just need to resist testing them with a cup of coffee.
Melt the butter and honey in a pan, add all the dried fruit then add all the other ingredients and thoroughly combine. Push into an 20cm square tin and level off with a fork. Bake for 25 at 150 degrees, cool slightly in the tin then cut into 16 squares before completely cooled. Store in a sealed container in the fridge.
Here at Serre des Ormes we are always looking for healthy new recipes to fuel our bike rides or runs. These Muffins are great as they use hardly any sugar or fat and they are delicious as well as filling.
Ingredients (Makes 18):
200g of Wholemeal Flour or Rye Flour
200g Porridge Oats
75g Soft Brown Sugar or Honey
3tsp Baking Powder
2 Mashed Banana
2 eggs, separated
3 tbsp Sunfower Oil
125g Mixed Berries (or berry of choice) – fresh or frozen
50g Pecans or Almonds
Preheat oven to 180 degrees.
Mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl, mix in the mashed bananas, milk, oil and egg yolks then the berries. Finally, whisk the egg whites until stiff and then fold them into the mixture. Share the mixture between 18 muffin cases and bake in the oven for about 35 mins or until golden brown on top.
On January 15th 2016 my partner, Paul and I got the keys to our new house in the Hautes-Alpes. We had quit our jobs and moved to France to set up a cycling retreat in a beautiful and undiscovered area within cycling distance of both Mont Ventoux and the Alps, Le Serre des Ormes.
We started the year in a whirl of DIY and French bureaucracy, but with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck we managed to open our doors to our first guests in June.
I was a newbie to Strava, having resisted for several years knowing it would drive my competitive spirit to do stupid things, and within one week I had already signed up to the Rapha Festive 500! However we knew it would motivate us to get out on the bikes during the festive period and it would be a great way to end a year that had been all about cycling for us.
We were raring to go and despite having a couple of non cycling guests staying over Christmas we decided that there would still be plenty of time to get the required miles in during the day.
We planned to do the challenge together but Christmas Eve dawned and Paul had come down with a cold and was not in any way up for cycling on the first day. I was a little disappointed having envisaged cycling together but I had signed up so undeterred I went out anyway.
Paul, unusual for him, stayed in bed. I willed the guests to finish their breakfasts so I could clear up and get going. The weather with us in France is admittedly probably better for cycling than our native UK but the mornings over the festive period were bitterly cold so I didn’t want to start too early. Fortunately it is such a dry climate the roads are dry and ice isn’t a big problem. Lots of layers are needed first thing but by the afternoon it is generally quite warm, a 20 degree difference is quite normal. For that reason I decided to take a rucksack full of clothes and snacks.
Our challenge this week was also to find flattish routes as we both normally love riding up the local cols, but not the best way to knock of the miles or the greatest in the cold. So I started out towards Sederon to take in the Tour of the Jabron which is a picturesque route mainly on the valley roads. Once I had warmed up I quite enjoyed cycling through the winter wonderland and up the gentle Col de la Pigière at the head of the valley, there was still quite a bit of snow at the side of the roads from weeks earlier but the roads themselves were ice free. I had a very early and very strong coffee, for a quick warm up after the descent from the Col, in a traditional French bar in Les Omergues. The local wild boar hunters were the only other people in the bar, also trying to warm up, but with Pastis. Buzzing with the hit of caffeine, I continued the next 30km of mostly descent into the Citadelle town of Sisteron. Sisteron is known as the Gateway to Provence and is an impressive town with incredible rock formations, popular with local climbers. I consumed a very ‘healthy’ selection of savoury pastries from a Boulangerie and decided I had the energy to put in a few additional kilometers. I headed up the canal towards Gap, with a great view of the snowy mountains of the Ecrins National Park as my backdrop, before looping back and up through the stunning Gorges de la Méouge. With 112.6km done I thought it was not going to be too much of a problem to finish the challenge and after all I had a great head start on Paul.
On Christmas day we planned to cycle through the Méouge Gorge to our friends house in Ribiers for Christmas lunch but Paul was still feeling unwell. Keen to knock of some more miles and build up an appetite for the feast ahead I put in a quick flat blast of 34km up the road. In Provence they traditionally eat 13 desserts after Christmas dinner, the desserts represent Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. Although some of the desserts are things like nuts and dried fruits it is still a lot to get through after Foie Gras and roast dinner. Another reason to get out on the bike and burn of those calories.
Day 3, Boxing Day in the UK, Paul was feeling a bit better so finally we cycled together. Despite the extreme cold in the mornings the weather was spectacular, blue skies and sun everyday. The area has had the driest December since records began. We cycled North towards Aspremont, with the imposing snow capped Pic de Bure always visible, then back around and over some smaller hills to Col de Faye and a blast back home along the Canal with the strong Mistral wind assisting us. Another 110km knocked of the total.
The following day we decided that we wanted to go over a couple of Cols and have a look across to Mont Ventoux to see how much snow was on it. We headed out and up the North Facing and cold Col de la Pigière and Col de Negron. Fortunately by the time we headed down the South side the sun had warmed things up a bit. Coming back around Sault and up and over the appropriately named Col de l’Homme Mort I started to feel a bit worse for wear, the miles and the start of a cold were starting to take their toll but it was another 95.5km completed. We have tried to find out why it is called dead mans Col but there doesn’t seem to be a definitive answer, all sorts from an assassination and the death of brothers heading back to their farm in a snowstorm and subsequently being eaten by a wolf packs to a mis-translation when the cartographers for Napoleon did not understand the local ‘patois’ meaning of Col of the dead Elm.
On 28th January I finally succumbed to Paul’s cold and really could not do anything for the next two days and it was looking like it would not be possible to finish with 150km to go and feeling terrible. Paul used the two days to catch up with me with strict instructions not to do anymore distance than I had.
Friday we put in a fairly easy and flat 56.1km but I was not on top form. Going out cycling in sub-zero temperatures was probably not the best idea but I had a Strava/Rapha challenge to complete.
For some crazy reason and despite my ongoing cold we wanted to complete the challenge on a high (literally) and thought it would be good to finish on Mont Ventoux. It seemed appropriate to be climbing such an iconic hill on New Year’s eve. With the car showing -10 degrees we left at 8am and drove back across Col de l’Homme Mort to start in Ferassières. We needed to get in 30km before starting the climb and I think it is the coldest 30km I have ever done on a road bike. Fortunately after a coffee and pain au chocolat in Sault it was getting warmer as we started the climb up Ventoux. We met and rode with a crazy Hungarian who has been serving in the French Foreign Legion for 8 years. He had recently bought a bike having decided he would like to cycle back to Hungary for a “holiday” one day so was getting some good practice in. After a while we decided to press on and left him to ride at his own pace on his heavily loaded bike. Surprisingly we saw quite a few others on bikes but not the normal summer crowds. At Chalet Reynard there was a big classic car rally going on so we were quite glad we hadn’t come up the Bedoin side which was busy with cars. After Chalet Reynard the road was shut so there were just the odd cyclist and some walkers. The views were stunning with a cloud inversion to the South and the snowy peaks to the North. We enjoyed a sandwich at the summit chatting with other cyclists and after a cold descent from the top stopped to warm up with a chocolat chaud at Chalet Reynard. A vin chaud seemed more tempting but we still had 30km to go. I think it was the 26km of descending that brought back my cold. And by the time I reached Sault I was wrecked! The last 10km back to the car were brutal and every pedal stroke was an effort. Finally we reached the car though and knowing we had only just scraped over the line thought we had better do a celebraory lap of the village to make sure there were no GPS errors! We had done it though, the days ride of 94.1km and 1700m of climbing had taken us over the 500km mark and we had completed the Festive 500.
It was really good to do it and I definitely rode on days I wouldn’t have normally gone out just to get the miles in. I hope it bodes well for 2017 and we can encourage lots of guests to come to Serre des Ormes to cycle.
The challenge had completely finished me though and the return of my cold meant I was happier to enjoy New Years Eve on the couch in front of a warm fire before an early night. We woke up early on New Years Day and leaving our bikes behind went for walk in the mountains. During the walk Paul got down on one knee in the snow and proposed to me. He said he had considered it on Mont Ventoux but I looked too unwell, a shame as it would have been good for the story. Oh, I said yes!!!