Cycling In Provence: A Week Just Won’t Be Enough!

Provence was the first region in France I visited as a tourist and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since.  Despite my love of Provence, it was only several years ago that I had the courage to tour the region by bike. Like many people, I equated cycling in Provence with the Tour de France and killer hills….the hills scared me to death.  The good news is that I took my first cycling trip there about 5 years ago, which led to a second and a third. I can’t wait to return there in 2018! There are lots of hills, after all Provence is home to the famous Giant of Provence–Mont Ventoux. But there are also many itineraries perfectly suited for recreational cyclists as well as a growing network of e-bike options for cycling the hilly terrain.

Bedouin, charming town at the base of one ascent to Mont Ventoux                                                

The weather is wonderful, the scenery varied and uniformly gorgeous and the food is spectacular…Provence should definitely be on your short list of regions to plan a cycling trip.  Do not discount this region because you’re afraid that the cycling may be too difficult!

Quiet vineyard roads outside of Chateauneuf du Pape

The biggest challenge you’ll face if you choose Provence as your destination for an upcoming trip is deciding where to go and how long to stay. My favorite cycling area is the Vaucluse which is perfect for cycling almost any time of the year except when the Mistral winds are blowing. Don’t think that targeting the Vaucluse will make your trip planning easy, this will not be the case.  From the Roman towns of Vaison-la-Romaine and Orange to Chateauneuf-du-Pape and the famous Mont Ventoux, the lavender town of Sault, unforgettable Avignon, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the Venice of Provence and the hill towns of the Luberon, a week cycling in this part of Provence will never be enough!

The famous waterwheels of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Whether you’re an experienced cyclist looking to challenge Mont Ventoux, a weekend cyclist not afraid of some minor hills, or a recreational cyclist interested in leisurely experiencing the backroads of Provence, the Vaucluse Region has something for everyone.

Summer markets in the Vaucluse are a 4th of July for the senses!

There are 1500 kilometers of signposted circuits in the Vaucluse, most of which are on low-traffic rural roads.  Unlike long distance French cycling routes many of the itineraries in the Vaucluse are shorter distances, perfectly suited for a long weekend of cycling.

With Mont Ventoux at its center, this region has long been a popular destination for bicycling enthusiasts and professional cyclists. I had always imagined this land of the Tour de France to be the domain of experts, not an area welcoming to an average recreational cyclist like me. That opinion changed when I had the opportunity to explore the area by bike, both a regular bike and an e-bike.  For recreational cyclists, there’s no question this is an area where planning is important, but to experience this part of France by bike is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fortunately there are terrific resources to help you plan the perfect vacation with just the right amount of cycling based on your level of experience.

The breathtaking cliffs of Roussillon in the Luberon

If you want to see Provence in a way few tourists experience, you definitely need to add Vaucluse to your bucket list of cycling destinations! From the ochre cliffs of Roussillon to the Dentelles de Montmirail, to the Roman ruins at Vaison-la-Romaine, the lavender fields in Val de Sault, the hilltop villages of the Luberon, the river of the Pays des Sorgues, the Cotes-du-Rhone vineyards and Chateauneuf-du-Pape and on and on, you will never run out of things to see and do here!

The Veloroute du Calavon is the gateway to the Luberon’s spectacular hill towns

If visiting the gorgeous towns and villages of Provence by bike is something you’d like to explore further, here are some of my favorite resources to help with your planning:

Vaucluse en Provence

This is the most comprehensive website for planning a trip to the Vaucluse. If you’re thinking about a trip to Provence, this should be your first stop. This website has all the general information you could possibly need to plan a trip to the region, and it’s the perfect resource to help you learn about the many different places to visit.  Click on the Explore button and you’ll access information on all the different places to visit in the Vaucluse.  If you need more inspiration, click here to watch a video clip on the many attractions in the Vaucluse.

Provence Cycling

One you’ve become more familiar with this part of Provence, and you want more information on the cycling itineraries in the region, make Provence Cycling your next stop. La Provence a Velo, or Provence Cycling is one of the best resources on regional cycling in France!

Cycling in Provence’s Vaucluse Region (Courtesy of Vaucluse Tourism)

You can search for cycle routes by level of difficulty, destination, type of surroundings you prefer such as vineyards, lavender, hill towns, family, ochre and the distance you want to cycle.  You can choose an existing cycle route or you can create your own. Once you zero in on an area that you’re interested in, there’s a support services section where you can access information on where to stay, where to rent bikes, regional guides and tour organizations, where to eat and taste wine.  If you’re not up to going it alone, there is a great section on tours organized by local companies that will arrange all your hotels and transport your bags for you.

You can access the Cycling Map which lists all signposted routes in the region, and on the same page, you can access brochures on 39 cycling itineraries in the Vaucluse.  This website is a wealth of information, so be sure you take the time to bookmark it!

Le Luberon a Velo

If you are headed for the Luberon and hilltop villages like Lacoste, Bonnieux, Gordes, Roussillon and Menerbes, your first stop for bicycling information in the area should be Le Luberon a Velo by VeloLoisir Provence.

A view of Lacoste from below, just one sight from the Hill Town cycling itinerary

Since the hill towns of Provence are a favorite cycling destination of mine, I use this website a lot, and am happy to report that VeloLoisir Provence continues to improve it every year.  This organization has long advocated the development of cycling circuits and services in the Luberon and the Verdon Natural Regional Park, an area that extends from the Alps to the Mediterranean, from Cavaillon in the Vaucluse to the Alpes de Haute Provence.  It includes well-known Provencal villages like Apt, Cavaillon, Gordes, Roussillon, Lacoste, Menerbes and Loumarin, just to name a few. There are many incredible itineraries to explore by bike, including the popular Autour du Luberon a Velo, a 236km adventure around the Luberon Regional Natural Park on a route signposted in both directions. Regardless of the type of information you are looking for, if it has to do with cycling in the Luberon, you’ll find it here!

Destination Ventoux

If you’ve already decided that the area around Mont Ventoux is where you want to cycle, here is the website to help you plan the details of your trip.  Destination Ventoux is a great resource for everything there is to discover about the area surrounding this famous cycling area. Under Cycling Ride you will find detailed information and maps on cycling itineraries around Mont Ventoux including 4 classified as easy, 7 average and 4 as difficult. Like other cycling websites for the region, there is extensive information on support services for cyclists found under the section, Ventoux Velo Network.  You’ll find information on where to stay and eat, where to rent bikes, taxi companies for baggage transport and things to see and do.

The ViaRhona, EuroVelo 17 

One of the most exciting new cycling itineraries to travel through Provence is the ViaRhona, part of the EuroVelo network. The route is 700km and runs from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean, traveling through Provence on the way.

Numerous stages of the ViaRhona are complete, particularly those near Geneva. Unfortunately much of the route in Provence is still in development, but this website is a great place to visit regularly to monitor progress.  I’d love to explore this route next year, so will be reporting on stages of the route as they are completed.

Sun-e-Bike

If the terrain of Provence still seems too challenging to you, I highly recommend you consider experiencing this region by electric bike!  Exploring the hill towns of Provence by e-bike several years ago was one of my favorite cycling experiences…..one I will never forget.  You can read about my experience cycling in Provence last summer on a Sun-e-Bike by clicking here.

Sun-e-Bike has helped make Provence accessible to recreational cyclists by developing a network for exploring this challenging region with the help of electric bikes. From its first location in the gorgeous town of Bonnieux, the company has expanded to three additional locations: Saint Remy, Vaison-la-Romaine and Chateauneuf du Pape. You can easily spend a week exploring the itineraries in Bonnieux, or you can choose two or more locations to explore.

Approaching Saignon, one of the gorgeous towns I visited by electric bike

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the new expanded Sun-e-Bike network!

Cycling in the Pays des Sorgues

One of my favorite areas of Provence is the vicinity around L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Called the Venice of Provence, this town is gorgeous, quite unlike anywhere else in France.  This is a perfect Provencal town to spend a long weekend, or  longer. Warning:  the longer you stay, the longer you will want to stay.  There is something about this town that makes it hard to leave.  It’s a perfect town to base yourself out of for a long weekend, taking day cycling trips to explore the surrounding countryside.

The gorgeous canals of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

Fortunately there is a wonderful website to help you plan a cycling holiday in this area.  Cycling in the Pays des Sorgues has detailed information on five cycling itineraries, all of which are rated easy and suitable for families.  Most can be done easily in a day. 

Important note, the directions for the itineraries are only in one direction and signposting can be sporadic, so travel with a GPS is highly suggested. We had some pretty good adventures last year making our way along the route! In addition to detailed information on the specific itineraries in the area, the website also has information on places to stay, where to eat and where to rent bicycles.

The last suggested resource I would recommend if you are planning on cycling in the Vaucluse region is a good map. For this particular region, I like the IGN Map series, Carpentras, Vaison-la-Romaine, Dentelle de Montmirail (#3040ET). Don’t purchase this map online as you’ll probably get an outdated copy of the map. You can purchase this map in a local bookstore, sporting goods store or tobacco shop after you arrive in France.

I hope I’ve enticed you to consider choosing Provence for an upcoming cycling trip, or to add a cycling component to an upcoming trip.  No matter how many times you travel to this part of France, you’ve never experienced it the way you will on a bike!

Posted by Maggie LACoste

I love the adventure and unpredictability of experiencing France by bike. Cycling in France is the ultimate slow travel adventure, an opportunity to see it through the back door in a way few tourists experience. One week on a bike in France and life takes on a different meaning! I created Experience France By Bike to inspire recreational cyclists to visit France the slow way....by bike, and to be the best source of information for planning the perfect bicycling adventure. I encourage readers to embrace the uncertainty of the road ahead and to take the path less traveled, exploring roads, towns and villages that you would never experience traveling by car.