2013 was really an incredible bicycling year for me, with many new destinations and cycling experiences. Reflecting back on the year, I wanted to share some of my favorites with you. Perhaps one or more of my favorites will inspire your trip planning for the upcoming year! So here is my list of my favorite places visited in 2013:
An easy bike ride from Bordeaux, this area has it all: fantastic vineyards, great markets, incredible restaurants, charming places to stay and miles and miles of low traffic roads, perfectly suited to exploring by bike.
Definitely one of my favorite towns along the Canal du Midi, Castelnaudary is a perfect Languedoc market town. Located about 30 km from Toulouse, it was a favorite of the Romans, and is now most famous as the home of Cassoulet. A day or two here is just what you need to settle into the lifestyle of the South of France.
The Canal du Midi
I was fortunate to bicycle along the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to the sea while the plane trees are still standing. It is hard to imagine what the Canal will look like in another 5-10 years when the diseased trees have been cut down. If you have the opportunity to spend a couple of days bicycling part of the route, you will enjoy some breathtaking scenery.
With a history dating back to 3500 BC, a visit to Carcassonne had long been at the top of my list of places to see. To visit it by bicycle was definitely a highlight of my summer trip! It is the largest walled city in France, with over 3 km of walls, a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers. Looking at the fortress from a distance almost looks surreal, like the set for a theme park. To think that the fortress was almost destroyed in the 1800’s by Napoleon is unimaginable.
Marseillan isn’t mentioned in most French tour books, but was top on my list of places to visit this summer! It definitely did not disappoint. The town of Marseillan sits on a beautiful port, a protected heritage site on the Bay of Thau. The town and its companion beach side town, Marseillan Plage are the perfect places to sit, relax and take in life in France. There really isn’t a lot to do, other than enjoy the gorgeous scenery, enjoy great bicycle paths to the sea and back, and eat some of the best seafood in France including Bouzique oysters from the Bay. Charming doesn’t even begin to describe this town with buildings and homes dating from the 12th century.
Chateauneuf du Pape
It’s hard to imagine how such a small medieval village built on the side of a hill is the focal point for one of the most famous wines in the world! This village, with narrow winding streets is only a small part of the beauty of Chateauneuf du Pape. In order to really experience the area, you need to explore the surrounding vineyards, and what better way to do so than by bike. Only then can you really appreciate the unique qualities of this very famous wine.
One night in this town was definitely not enough! Called the Venice of France, this town is just oozing with charm, great little cafes along the water, wonderful small B&B’s, antique shopping and a Sunday market that is one of the largest and most popular in the South of France. There are plenty of bicycle routes in this area to make this a wonderful home base for several days or longer. I cannot wait to return.
One of the most famous of the Provence hill towns, Bonnieux is located in the Luberon, one of my favorite destinations this summer. Definitely hilly, but Bonnieux is the home of Sun-e-Bike and their wonderful network of itineraries to explore on electric bikes. This area is full of Roman history and artifacts, including Pont Julian which was built in 3 BC. Bonnieux has plenty of charming and affordable B & B’s to stay, great places to eat and plenty of bicycling to keep you happy for a long weekend or even longer.
To think that I never would have visited this town were it not for a strong recommendation from Florian at Sun-e-Bikes! I had never heard of this village, few people have….except for those who have somehow discovered it. Oppede-le-Vieux is one of those villages it seems like time has forgotten. Built on a rocky hill in the Luberon, this town dates back to the 12th century. It is a long climb up to the village and one that I don’t think that I would have done without an e-bike. The town was virtually abandoned in the early 1900’s and stayed that way until after WW II when an artist’s colony was started here and painters and sculptors began to occupy and renovate empty buildings. Arriving into the village by bike is nothing less than breathtaking. There are several B&B’s in the village, but very little in the way of food, except for one cafe that is the exchange point for Sun-e-Bike batteries.
There is so much to see and do in Vaison-la-Romaine that I would love to return and spend a week or more exploring the town and surrounding area. From famous wine villages, to Gallo-Roman ruins to one of the best markets in the Upper Vaucluse, this is a town that is waiting to be explored. Vaison is actually two towns, the “old town” which is located on the banks of the Ouveze River, and the medieval city which is located high on a rocky cliff. The two parts of Vaison are joined by an ancient bridge that dates from the 1st century AD. There are a wide variety of accommodation options here, making it a perfect base for bicycling. The surrounding area is full of bicycling itineraries but they are definitely a bit on the hilly side, so may not be best suited to less experienced cyclists.
Region around Mont Ventoux
It’s sad to think that most visitors to this area rarely see more than one of the ascents to Mont Ventoux. I didn’t make the ascent to Mont Ventoux, but I did spend a week exploring the region around it. Whether you are an experienced cyclist who wants to climb Mont Ventoux or a recreational cyclist that simply wants to explore some of the most gorgeous landscape in Provence, this area has something for everyone.
Avignon is the perfect starting point for a bicycling trip to any of the above destinations. Make sure that you allow some time at the beginning or end of your trip to explore the many attractions of this historical city. The Palace of the Popes is a must. Do yourself a favor and don’t spend much time on the touristy Rue de la Republique. Explore the narrow alleyways, visit Pont Saint Benezet, walk the city walls. Traffic in Avignon is pretty intense, so I don’t recommend bicycling in the city.
Do you have a favorite destination from a recent bicycling trip to France? Send a note to share it with us!