Today is Bastille Day, a perfect day to watch one of the most exciting stages of this year’s Tour de France! From a start in Montpelier, the Peloton travels to Vaucluse, the heart of Provence, home to Mont Ventoux, the Beast of Provence and dream destination of many serious cyclists.
While this region is widely recognized for some of the most challenging cycling in the world, very few outside France know that it also has great itineraries for recreational cyclists. Make no mistake about it, this region is home to one of the most tortuous mountain ascents, Mont Ventoux from Bedoin and has many miles of expert trails. But there are itineraries perfectly suited for recreational cyclists too. Bottom line, if you’re watching Le Tour, captivated by the gorgeous landscape and charming towns in the Vaucluse, don’t discount this region because you’re afraid the cycling is too difficult. With some careful planning, you can enjoy a great French cycling holiday here, exploring the home of the Giant of Provence.
While the upper Vaucluse is sprinkled with miles of signposted cycling, there are 3 itineraries near the base of Mont Ventoux that are rated easy, suitable even for families. There are another 7 that are rated average level with more hills and ascents. For the very experienced cyclist, there are another 4 itineraries to challenge strength and stamina. The easy and average level itineraries range in length from 10.5km to 35km. All itineraries are round trip and provide a perfect opportunity to slowly explore the small towns and villages of this very special part of Provence. All itineraries provide the opportunity to gaze at the famous Ventoux, weather permitting.
Despite being classified as “easy”, it’s important to note that these itineraries are not totally flat. There are inclines and rolling hills but there are also plenty of long downhills to help catch your breath. The secret to having an enjoyable time cycling here is to plan your itineraries carefully, trying to not cover too much territory in one day. It’s a much better idea to savor the beautiful environment, enjoy a picnic lunch with a glass of wine from a Ventoux winery.
One of the best of the easy itineraries is Entre Chapelles et Vergers. This is a 22.4km itinerary leaving from the parking lot of Bedoin behind the Office of Tourism. This itinerary offers a sampling of the best of Provence: miles of vineyards, many with tasting, orchards, ochre cliffs and traditional Provencal farms. If you go, be sure to pick up picnic supplies in Bedoin for a picnic lunch at Mormoiron Lake along the way.
Les terrasses du Ventoux itinerary goes through the Muscat of Ventoux area and is where the black figs of Caromb are grown. The departure point for this itinerary is the village of Methamis, but it can also be accessed in Mormoiron from the above itinerary. I cycled part of this itinerary from Mormoiron to Villes-sur-Auzon and took the cutoff to Malemort-du-Comtat, to Mazan and then back to Mormoiron. If you’re lucky enough to be there on Monday, don’t miss theProvencal market in Mazan. On Tuesday, the market is in Mormoiron on Tuesday. There’s plenty of wine tasting along this route, especially near Villes-sur-Auzon. The towns along this route are charming and oozing with history. Many Tour de France pelotons have traveled these roads, and you can too.
Another favorite itinerary, Entre Plaine et Piemont is classified as average rather than easy due to the short but steep climb to the gorgeous village of Crillion-le-Brave. Don’t let this hill deter you. The climb is well worth the effort, even if you need to walk a bit. Be sure to treat yourself after the uphill ride with an expresso and pastry! The views from this village are amazing!
This 35km itinerary starts and ends in Caromb which has a great tourism office and a wonderful charcuterie. Be sure to visit the tourism office to pick up maps of the Provence a Velo itineraries, and visit the charcuterie for picnic supplies for your ride. This itinerary goes through some of my favorite towns in the area: Crillion-le-Brave, Bedoin, St-Pierre-de-Vassols and Mazan, and of course Caromb.
The area around Mont Ventoux is packed with history, incredible scenery and charming villages, each more warm and inviting then the next. This area is perfect to explore by bike, and the magic of the famous Ventoux is not diminished in the least if you don’t make the climb to the top. Great care has been taken by local tourism organizations to develop support services for visiting cyclists. Over 100 tourism professionals, accommodations, guides, bike rental services and taxis have signed the “Welcome Cyclists” pledge to help insure a great stay in the region. More information on all of these partners can be found at www.destination-ventoux.com or at www.provence-cycling.co.uk.