Cycling St. Emilion, the Canal du Midi and Provence

After several months of not being able to decide where to bike this summer (yes, I have the same decision-making problems as you), I finally made a decision.  Sort of.  I’ve decided to divide my time exploring three different areas and I couldn’t be more excited! It took a bit of time to work out the logistics, but with that behind me, it’s full steam ahead with the planning.

First, the specifics:  I’ll spend one week bicycling the Canal du Midi from Toulouse to Sete with some deviations into the vineyards along the way, one week in Provence and almost a week exploring the vineyards in the Medoc and St. Emilion.  It’s a trip that will enable me to sample some of the best bicycling itineraries in Southern France, visit 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and share more insight with you on these popular cycling areas.

Here are a few thoughts on each area of this year’s bicycling adventure:

Canal du Midi

I’ve wanted to bike along the Canal du Midi ever since last summer when I learned about the fungus that has infected 42,000 trees along the Canal.  I wrote a post about this fungus, called canker stain (http://experiencefrancebybike.com/42000-canal-du-midi-trees-threatened-by-fungus/) and from that time the Canal du Midi has been on my list of top itineraries to do.  While a major redevelopment project is underway to replace the 300 year old plane trees, this 10-15 year project will forever change the appearance of the Canal. The current plans estimate that 4,000 trees will be cut down and replaced each year, beginning this year. Bicycling the Canal during the initial phase of this project will enable me to enjoy the majestic beauty of the decades old plane trees, while at the same time get a sense for what the future look will be.

Trees along the Canal du Midi

Trees along the Canal du Midi

The trip along the Canal will be full of incredible experiences including the opportunity to explore over 20 towns and villages along the route, including Carcassonne, Europe’s largest walled city.  I’m also looking forward to seeing the operation of the 64 locks along the route and learning more about the mechanics of the Canal, considered one of the greatest engineering achievements of modern times.  And then there is the wine.  We will definitely need to set time aside for the tasting the wines of Corbieres, Minervois, St. Chinian and Faugeres and also for exploring the daily markets along the route.

The Vaucluse Region of Provence

What a difference 5 years has made in the development of cycling itineraries in the Vaucluse. While I have been off exploring bicycle routes in the Loire, Burgundy, Brittany, Aquitaine and the Atlantic Coast and the Dordogne, Provence has been busy establishing itself as a cycling destination, not just for the Tour de France enthusiasts, but also for recreational cyclists like me. The expansion of cycling in this region is just another example of the French commitment to cyclotourism.

Bicycling in the Vaucluse

Bicycling in the Vaucluse

Divided into 5 areas with 1,500 km of mostly signposted cycling routes and over 250 Accueil Velo service providers, the Vaucluse just may become my new favorite cycling destination.  The area has something for everyone from killer rides up and around Mont Ventoux to easy, weekend and longer itineraries for families and recreational cyclists, and everything in between.  There are famous wine towns like Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and Vacqueyras,  several of the most beautiful villages in France including Seguret, Bonnieux and Menerbes, the little Venice of Provence, the town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Fontaine de Vaucluse, the Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve, lavender fields in bloom from late June through July, the Luberon Natural Regional Park, Castles of Pays d’Aigues, local markets, and the list goes on and on and on.  My only regret is that I will only have one week to spend in an area one should spend the summer!

Bike routes in the Luberon

Bike routes in the Luberon

I am still in the process of developing my itinerary for this region but I will be sampling some of the more popular routes in the Luberon including the Veloroute du Calavon, the itinerary through the Land of Ochre which includes the famous town of Roussillon, and the Veloroute of the Luberon.  Information on all of these routes are available in English from Velo Loisir en Luberon, a resource that I wrote about several weeks ago.  This organization along with Vaucluse Tourism in Provence are not only some of the best bicycling resources, but their customer service is top notch!  You quickly get the feeling that this region really wants you to come to visit. They will do everything they can to provide you with exactly the information you need to plan the perfect trip.  Your biggest problem will be trying to zero in on where you want to go!

St. Emilion 

Last but not least, I will spend several days exploring the vineyard routes around St. Emilion, including Pomerol and Fronsac. These itineraries are perfect for a weekend cycling trip if you are visiting Bordeaux or the Charente Maritime, so I’ll look forward to providing you with information on these routes and the attractions along the way.

View of St. Emilion

View of St. Emilion

For those of you who know how much I love canele, the incredible breakfast treat that come from this region, it should come as no surprise that when I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days here, I didn’t have to think twice.  In addition, it gives me the opportunity to stay at one of my favorite places in Aquitaine, Chateau Franc-Pourret.

Bike routes through the vineyards

Bike routes through the vineyards

For now, I’ve got to get back to planning…….and dreaming about fresh canele!20120514-133144.jpg

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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.

  1. I love reading your posts. France is on my short-list of biking destinations. I especially like that you seem to spend a lot of time on bike trails like canal paths. That’s my favorite way to cycle. Less stress, more scenery, slower pace, & safer.
    If you’re ever up for writing a guest post for Trailsnet.com, I’d enjoy publishing your writing about any of the trails in France.
    In the meantime, thanks for the great biking information and for your entertaining writing style. You’re definitely one of my favorite blogs.

    1. Hi Kevin!

      Thanks so much for the great note! One of the reasons that I started Experience France by Bike almost three years ago was to inform people about the wonderful car-free, mostly car-free bicycle routes in Europe, particularly France. Fortunately for all of us, for the last 5 years, departments throughout France have been renovating and developing an extensive network of safe, signposted bicycle routes unlike anything that we have in the United States. The thing that makes these routes in France and Europe so attractive is the many attractions, towns and villages along the route. The bike is simply a way to navigate from one attraction to the next, enjoying the wonderful countryside along the way, enjoying things you would probably never see in a car. There also is a wonderful side benefit to traveling by bike and that’s adventure. I always take deviations when I have a chance, turning down the road to investigate an interesting road sign or attraction. Some of my best experiences have happened when I take a deviation.

      I definitely write for the recreational cyclist, and love providing information on how to plan and take an independent bicycling trip. With the new generation of signposted bicycle routes, if you have a sense of adventure and can read a road sign, you can have a terrific bicycling adventure that just may change your life. I have not done that much long distance hiking, but I would imagine that it is the same/similar type of adventure.

      If you think that your readers would ever be interested in reading about bicycling in France I would be happy to write a blog post for your website. I would imagine that people who like to hike are people who would love to bike. Otherwise, I do come across information on interesting hiking routes that I could also do a short post. Just let me know what you think.

      Thanks again, and happy that you enjoy Experience France by Bike!

      Maggie LaCoste

      1. Thanks for the great information, Maggie. It sounds like you started your website/blog for about the same reasons I did.
        Trailsnet is generally a trails website, but so far it has been mostly a site for bike trails since I am a huge biking fan.

        I look forward to reading more about the car-free cycling routes in France. For the last 15 years, I have led international student tours. I would like to start leading bike tours (mostly on car-free routes) for adults/families now. So any advice you can give regarding great biking paths would be appreciated.
        Thanks again for your correspondence.