Cycle the French Wine Regions
With their lush greenery, slower pace of life and medieval villages nestled in the countryside, these French wine regions are not to be ...Read more
Every year thousands of people flock to go cycling in Provence - many of them with Cycling for Softies. It's easy to see the appeal: sultry days under azure skies; bustling towns filled life and glamour; dishes bursting with freshness and Mediterranean flavour.
We've been organising cycling holidays in Provence for over 35 years, so we feel we've got the measure of the place. If you're looking to get the most out of your trip, here's what we recommend.
The Luberon region is the fragrant epicentre of France's enormous lavender growing industry. Each meadow is a sea of purple – it takes several plants to harvest just a few drops of the precious lavender oil coveted by France's perfumeries. As you cycle through field after field, notice the soft light which attracted painters like Cézanne and Van Gogh here in the 1890s. Be sure to visit the former asylum, where Van Gogh stayed towards the end of his life, which is now a museum in his honour.
The name Provence dates back to Roman times when the region was considered a province of Rome. Today, the cycleways are strewn with Roman ruins, the most striking of which are easily accessible. Highlights include the triple-arched Pont du Gard, one of the most impressive aqueducts in existence. And don't forget the ruins at Glanum, an excavated Roman town, which today resembles something of a petite Pompeii.
The cobbled, charming Provençal streets provide a romantic backdrop to some of the region's best restaurants. As you walk around, enjoy a coffee at the Café de la Bourse in the town square.
Saint Rémy de Provence has exceptional and unique culinary delights. It's home to classic restaurants like the Bistrot du Paradou, as well as more contemporary and experimental places like Chez l'Ami, which marries French and Japanese cuisine. A forty-minute cycle south of Saint Rémy, the two Michelin star l'Oustau de Baumanière is renowned for being one of the region's finest.
As faithful lovers of Marcel Pagnol's Manon des Sources will know, Provence's verdant countryside is filled with waterways that criss-cross the region. The best way to see these a little closer is by briefly abandoning your bike in favour of a gentle canoe from Fontaine de Vaucluse to Isle sur la Sorgue.
Pass through craggy ravines on your way to Isle sur la Sorgue, Provence's famous 'island city'. Surrounded on all sides by arms of the Sorgue river delta, over the centuries the city has grown to envelop all of the delta's many banks. On a Sunday, the village's streets are transformed by its famous market. A typical Provençal sight, stalls sell regional cuisine, as well as dried lavender, handicrafts and bric-a-brac.
No trip to Provence would be complete without a good browse in at least one of its fabulous markets. Peppery wafts from the barrels of olives mingle with the sweetness of the lavender stalls. Pick up a picnic lunch of juicy melon and peaches, dried ham, spit-roasted chicken with potatoes and beans, and of course a bottle of something local to wash it down with. For presents, look for stalls selling brightly coloured pottery (a potential challenge to carry back on the bike), truffles, or the more portable Provençal linen with their distinctive designs.
If you're lucky enough to catch a traditional festival while cycling in Provence, we guarantee it will be the highlight of your holiday. In St Rémy, we love the beautiful and ancient Fête de la Transhumance, when thousands of sheep and goats are brought through the town on their way to their summer pasture in the Alps. The altogether more raucous Feria de St Rémy in August celebrates the area's bovine heritage (without ever killing the bulls). Throughout the region you'll find open-air music and, of course, food and wine feature heavily in the events calendar.
There are many wonderful places to cycle in Provence but a great place to start is the Luberon Cycle Trail. It's a fabulous 236km route that you can pick up at any point. Using tiny back roads in the foothills it encompasses many of the region's best sites and prettiest villages. Cycling is pretty easy as it tends to follow the contours of the landscape but affords you magnificant views across the plains. Make sure you plan your route carefully (our Provence assistant helps our holidaymakers do this) to avoid the occasional big road that cuts across.
Our gourmet cycling holidays in Luberon and Provence include delightful 3 and 4* hotels, welcome aperitif, gourmet suppers, bike hire, luggage transfers and our expert on-the-spot assistant to make sure everything goes smoothly. For an extra touch of luxury try our special five-night itinerary with 4* hotels and a Michelin-starred meal every night.
Brits are used to being busy - perhaps it's part of our relentless attempt to beat the cold. In Provence there is no such urgency. Lunchtime starts at 12 and may continue until 2 or even 3pm. It is perfectly respectable to spend an afternoon in a café terrase, sipping pastis and watching the world go by. Alternatively, find a shady olive tree and be lulled to sleep by the see-saw hum of the cicadas. When exploring Provence by bike we always suggest you do the bulk of your pedalling in the morning before the sun reaches its full strength.
To find out more about our cycling holidays call our experts on 0207 471 7760.
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