Provence, the South of France, and leisurely meals are synonymous terms for describing a way of life that is far from the hustle-bustle of big cities and the stresses of everyday life. Perhaps more than any other region, Provence stimulates all of the senses with fragrances, flavors, friends and photo-opportunities beyond words. The colors are rich and vibrant, dominated by yellow, red, lavender, blue and olive. The changing leaves on shrubs and trees will blend into our consciousness to create a visual tapestry of color and texture that one must experience slowly.
Spring in Provence is magical; cherry tree blossoms with sweet fragrances and cool evening air to enjoy. The villages are waking from Winter nights and Spring crops fill roadside produce stands. It is the time of year when cyclists stretch their legs in the warm sun after a long Winter in the Northern Hemisphere. Spring fragrances of blooming flowers and fresh tilled soil will intoxicate our senses as we enjoy Provencal feasts prepared by masterful chefs using only the freshest of ingredients. The produce and products displayed at the weekly markets are changing from Winter wear, herbs and fruit to lighter textiles and fruits as the local people of Provence prepare for Summer’s faster pace.
We designed this tour for couples to enjoy shared cycling pleasure with vast varieties of distance, elevation and endurance options. In keeping with a more leisurely approach to life, our cycle-tour of Provence incorporates a few of the many wonderful villages for our nightly rest and repast. Whether you are seeking a leisurely 60km roll thru the countryside or a strenuous 90km loop over the Giant of Provence (Mt Ventoux), you get to choose your tempo and distance with our expert guidance each day.
Day 1 – Arrival
After meeting your flight into the Cote d’Azur airport we will help get you settled into our gateway hotel in nearby Vence. Riding, reading, resting or roaming the Old Town; you decide, we are here to help. Welcome dinner will introduce you to the flavors of Provence.
Day 2 – Vence to Seillans
69-91km, 800-1300m climbing
The roads to Seillans are many and all choices lead to a wonderful introduction to the varied colors, flavors and fragrances that will be our backdrop for the coming days. We leave the hustle-bustle of the Cote d’Azur behind as we follow winding roads deeper into the rock and oak covered hills and gorges of the Loup and Ceylon river drainages. Along the way we can sample wonderful confectionery delights at the Confisserie Florian at the lower end of the Gorge du Loup. Afterward we ride above the gorges to the cliff-side village of Gourdon, where we are treated to the varied fragrances produced in nearby Grasse. Grasse is the self-proclaimed perfume capital of the world and what a wildly fragrant world it is indeed. (The more direct route to Seillans passes thru Grasse itself). Leaving Gourdon we continue our pleasant ascent into the pine forests of Andon. From Andon we glide down, down to Mons before our final secluded roadway into Seillans.
Day 3 – Seillans loops
33-91km, 200-1425m climbing
The sleepy village of Seillans awakens to the sound of church bells and chirping birds. Breakfast on the terrace under the giant plane trees next to the fountain is served with locally produced honey. This is an absolutely delightful way to start the day. Wander thru the cobbled streets and walkways to catch morning sunrays and enjoy a truly relaxing morning.
The quiet roads of this area beckon to be ridden and that is just what we will do. The suggested loop traverses an old railroad bed, vineyards a few gorges and oak forests. The Gorges du Pennafort and Gorges du Blavet are cut into the rocks that form the hills above the Mediterranean Sea. The scars of a forest fire years ago are slowly healing and giving way to new growth and wonderful colors.
Day 4 – Seillans to Tourtour
55km, 1060m – or—81km, 1650m
The villages of Provence beckon us to linger often as we explore their fountains, village centers and of course patisseries. The tiny roads connecting the villages have carried produce, sundries and supplies for centuries; today these roads will transport us thru time to savor the scents of the hills and fields. The forest of scrub-oaks parts as we descend into Bargemon and continue on to Montferat to enjoy a mid-ride cafe. The ride down the Gorges du Chateau Double may be the finest stretch of twisting roadway in all of Provence. A rolling climb thru Ampus takes to the top of our final ridge surf of the day. The final 10km into Tourtour are rewarded with splendid views of poppy fields and wild flowers. Tourtour’s numerous art galleries and great sidewalk cafes invite us to stay just a little bit longer before we coast to our beautiful lodging for the night, where relaxing poolside seems most appropriate.
Day 5 – Tourtour to Aix-en-Provence
105km, 925m climbing and 1350m descending
Today’s ride is a wonderful “ridge-surf” all the way to our picnic lunch. The roads are smooth and the hills are small as we quickly ride to Varages, where we’ll stop in a pottery/ceramics shop famous throughout the world as Faiance style. From Faverges we ride thru wheat fields and vineyards to Rians, where we first glimpse Mont Victoire. A winding descent thru scrub oaks brings us to our picnic spot, where we feast on fresh produce, tapenade, goat cheeses, fresh baguettes and delicious pastries presented to you by our helpful staff. The final kilometers into Aix-en-Provence are dominated by the ever changing views of Mont Victoire; immortalized in the paintings of Cezane and others. Gradually the quiet roads thru vineyards and farms yield to the more urban fringes of this university town and cultural focal point of Provence. Here is where the Provencal style sprouted and flourishes today. Enjoy!!
Day 6 – Aix-en-Provence to Gordes
68km, 700m climbing; or 82km, 1000m climbing
Aix-en-Provence is a great town for exploring and shopping, so we have a late departure (after lunch) arranged today. We will pack our bags and get ready to leave, but remain in our walking clothes for exploring the cathedrals, galleries and market. After lunch we will ride together out of town to the smaller quiet roads that we enjoy as we leave Mont Victoire behind and climb over a ridge into the Luberon.
The village of Lourmarin is a wonderful stopping place for a mid-afternoon ice cream before the climb up to Bonnieux with views of the Luberon region; made famous from the writings of “A Year in Provence”. Here we preview the riding options of the next day as we take the more direct route across the Luberon to Gordes.
Day 7 – Gordes Loop Rides
72km, 1300m climbing or 30km, 200m climbing
Today we explore the many hilltop villages of the Vaucluse; an area known for rich textures, brightly colored shutters and fascinating history. The longer route circumnavigates the entire Vaucluse region, while the shorter route takes us to the source of the Sorgue River. And of course there are myriad options to explore. Enjoy!!
Here are some highlights:
Fontaine-en-Vaucluse – this is the source of the Sorgue River, which is sparkling fresh and clear as it flows past cafes and restaurants; a wonderful location for a relaxing lunch. The walk to the source of the river is pleasant and very interesting as the water percolates thru the rocks from a deep underground pool. Along the way there is a working parchment paper mill where you can watch the craftsmen ply their trade and later you can buy parchment paper for gifts and souvenirs.
Opede-le-Vieux – fascinating old village perched high on the hillside. The walk up to the old church is rocky, but worth the effort for viewing the art contained within the old walls.
Ménerbes –this art community is well situated for good lighting and splendid vistas looking toward Mt Ventoux. The old chateau of the Marquis des Sade is located here and recently is undergoing renovations; it provides a great backdrop to the village.
Lacoste – is a charming town situated above vineyards and farms on the road to Bonnieux.
Bonnieux – we passed thru here yesterday, so today we can spend a bit more time exploring and enjoying the views from the high-points in town. Notably, the old church sits atop the rocky ground and offers tremendous views of Mt Ventoux in the distance beyond Roussillon.
Saignon – the ride to Saignon passes thru lavender fields where you can still smell the lingering aroma of cut lavender in the air. For the best photo-op of Saignon, ride up D48 toward Auribeau and Castellet about 500m. Leaving Saignon follow D48 into Apt.
Apt – you can enjoy a Provencal lunch under the shade of the Plane trees. When you leave, follow the Luberon bike route out of town toward Cavaillon until you find signs pointing toward Gargas and Rousillon.
Rousillon – this unique village is built upon ochre red rocks and boasts art and craft stores everywhere. It is a popular tourist spot, so expect lots of tour buses and tourists, but don’t let it detract from your own experience. There are dozens of restaurants and near the middle of town in a pedestrian area is a great ice cream shop.
Joucas—this is a quaint little village situated on a small hillside overlooking vineyards of the Luberon.
Gordes – known as one of the most photographed villages in France the best vantage point is easily accessible by bike by following the D2 west, then the D15 into Gordes. The obvious photo-op spot is before you enter town.
Day 8 – Gordes to Vaison-la-Romaine
56km, 700m climbing
Today we leave the Luberon and Vaucluse regions as we ride along the slopes of the imposing Mt Ventoux. The lavender was harvested long ago, but the vineyards are alive with activity as the grapes are brought into the wineries by the truckload. Riding over the Col du Murs we take one last look over the Luberon before dropping into the Cotes du Rhone wine producing region; famous for Gigondas, Chateauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, Sablet, Cotes du Ventoux and dozens more lesser known vintners. Bedoin will be our lunch with great views of Mt Ventoux, before continuing on to Vaison-la-Romaine. Vaison-la-Romaine (literally Vaison the Roman one) is filled with artists and artisans, historical amphitheatres, century’s old chapels and buildings and a Roman bridge. Fortunately the ride today is short, so you will have ample time to explore the town or relax by the pool overlooking the newer part of town.
Day 9 – Vaison-la-Romaine Wine Loop Ride
57km, 500m climbing
Today is a great day for sampling wines, selecting your favorite Provencal fabrics, purchasing herbs or gifts for friends and family. Walking thru Vaison or riding the wine route; either way you will have an enjoyable day. The wine route traverses most of the major Cotes du Rhone wineries in the villages that lend their names to delicious red wines. Sablet, Seguret, Gigodans, Vacqueyras, Suzette are but a few of the great labels you can sample if you dare on this wonderful loop.
Day 10 – Vaison-la-Romaine to Sault
51km, 500m climbing or 69km, 800m climbing
Today we ride around the north side of the mountain on quiet roads with great views of Mt Ventoux. Along the way we’ll take a little deviation from the valley road up and over the Col des Aires. An early lunch or late morning café is appropriate here for enjoying the dramatic view of Mt Ventoux from a different perspective.
Day 11 – Sault to Manosque
68km, 600m climbing
There are many roads to choose from today, so we offer one of our favorites. Gently rolling terrain with good pavement and ever changing views await as we leave Mt Ventoux behind and ride toward the Haut-Provence region. Once again, we are treated to fields of wild flowers, early signs of fall and fresh tilled fields prepared for winter wheat. Manosque is a trading hub of the Durance river valley, so we will linger here for two nights to enjoy a local market and explore this walled city.
Day 12 – Manosque to Moustiers-St Marie
73km, 500m climbing
Today we continue our travels east and higher into the Haut-Provence region across the Valensole plateau to the charming village of Moustiers; famous for fine porcelain. The route crosses the Durance river before climbing onto the Valensole plateau from the spa town of Gréoux-les-Bains along the Verdon river. We ride along rock cliffs overlooking the Verdon river, as we wind our way from village to village on the way to the plateau. Once we reach the plateau we are rewarded with great views of the Alpes-Maritime and now dormant fields of lavender. Eventually we ride high above the Lac de St Croix before descending from the plateau to the foot of Moustiers-St-Marie.
Day 13 – Moustiers to Castellane
65km, 1100m climbing or 85km, 1500m climbing
Moustiers-St-Marie to Castellane is truly an amazing ride as we traverse the north edge of the Grand Canyon du Verdon. We pass thru scrub oak forests, lavender fields and ride on roads carved in vertical walls of rock. The color of the water flowing thru the Verdon Canyon is almost surreal; almost turquoise in color it is unique to the Verdon river as a result of minerals upstream. We will ride high above the river along the corniche road to observe goats climbing the rocky hillsides. Near the top of the climb we will stage a delicious cliff side picnic where we can watch rock-climbers testing their skills on vertical walls of rock. Finally, we cycle upstream along the Verdon river past numerous “swimming holes” on our way to Castellane.
Castellane is on the Route Napoleon, so during the tourist season it is very busy. During early fall in September it will be quiet and pleasant to visit. This is likely your last good opportunity for purchasing Provencal fabrics and wines before packing your bikes for your return to the states. The small church perched on top of a cliff behind town is a wonderful hike; offering great vistas of the village below and the gorges to the south.
Day 14 – Castellane to Vence
74km, 800m climbing or 83km, 1200m climbing
This is our final day of riding as we return to our starting hotel in Vence. What a great day it will be as we climb an almost forgotten mountain road, view a stunning gorge, travel where sheep and goats are beginning to move from the high country to the lower valley meadows and have lunch on the Mediterranean side of the rocky mountains known as the Alpes-Maritime. Of course, there are always additional options for those desiring a little more riding or more shopping for a special souvenir. Finally, we view the Cote d’Azur from the top of the Col du Vence, before an exhilarating descent to poolside at our hotel.
Day 15 – Nice departures
We will transport you to Nice Cote d’Azur airport for you flight.
Comfortable family operated Bu0026amp;Bs, inns and hotels well situated to enjoy local culture and flavors.
Group breakfasts and dinners featuring typical local flavors and dishes prepared individually for our enjoyment. Breakfasts provided by our lodging partners. Dinners generally include a variety of choices for each course (starter, first course, main course, dessert); paired with wines, beer and after dinner coffee. Most dinners served from the kitchens of our hotels, others taken in nearby restaurants.
14 nights, 14 breakfasts, 12 dinners, daily road snacks/picnics, maps and route descriptions, luggage transfers, on-the-road ride guides, van support (sag wagon).
Lunches, 2 dinners, tips u0026amp; gratuities, airfare, museum entries, trams or lifts, trip insurance
Nice, France – Cote d’Azur
Arrive: Nice 14 September or earlier
Depart: Nice 28 September or later
$4500 double occupancy per person
$5250 single occupancy per person (3 spaces possible)