Provence by Bike: From French Castles to Croissants
The town of Bedoin, with Mont Ventoux in the distance.
Provence France is the land of the Romans, Van Gogh, and Peter Mayle. Its skies are a brilliant shade of blue, medieval hilltop towns glow pink no matter the time of day, and in July, fields of lavender stretch as far as the eye can see. I love the areas around the beautiful foothills and vineyards of the French Alpilles Mountains, as well as the stunning, quintessential villages of Lubéron Valley. In the spring, encounter ripe fruit trees, fields of red poppies, and Van Gogh’s irises. In the fall, stunning vineyards change colors in the sun.
Cari explores the fields of lavendar crop that up every July for a fragrant moment.
Most people fly to the excellent airport in Marseille or train to Avignon. If you arrive in Avignon, take time to wander around the old town. It’s an hour’s drive from the airport or train station. But my choice transportation to take Provence by bike; strap on a helmet and explore the region on two wheels. Here’s my journey trough the quaint villages and the sights to see along the way.
The pay-off to biking: the view overlooking Gordes.
DAY BY DAY
Sunday is market day in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (ISS). This is one of the best markets in the region and also feature antiques. The town is built along five branches of the Sorgue River, so there are canals throughout. The market meanders through the town, with different sections with a laundry list of offerings: meats, cheese, olives, fruits, clothing, soap, and table linens. Be sure to stop at a bakery to pick up a quiche for lunch and some croissants for later. Then put on your bike clothes or jump in the car. Head north to Pernes-les-Fontaines, climb up to the ridiculously scenic hilltop village of Venasque, then head south to see the waters of Fontaines de la Vaucluse (the biggest natural spring in France).
The cliffs of Roussillon: one of the rewarding views of the bike ride.
A winding road from Roussillon, visible in the background.
At least one day has to be spent exploring the iconic hilltop towns of the Lubéron. First up (literally) is Gordes. Here you’ll find galleries, a 12th century castle, panoramic views, and stone bories (little round huts once used by shepherds and hunters). Due to its beautiful location and architectural charm, Gordes has been listed as “one of the most beautiful villages in France.” Then it’s on to the red-earthed hillsides of Roussillon for a café au lait.
Next up will be the charming village of Bonnieux. There’s an optional uphill detour to Lacoste, home of the Marquis de Sade’s castle, before we press on to lunch and a wine tasting at the Bastide de Marie hotel. A nice afternoon wander to work off lunch can be found along the streets of hilltop Ménèrbes.
The road to Ménèrbes.
Lunch alfresco at a vineyard.
Another day has to be around quaint Saint-Rémy, where it’s market day on Wednesday. On two wheels, peddle uphill to the medieval village of Les Baux, perched above picture-perfect vineyards, olive groves, and orchards. Explore the castle remains before the crowds and, if it’s clear, enjoy views of the Mediterranean Sea. Afterwards, bike down to a wine tasting at Mas de la Dame, whose vines are entwined in history.
Continue on to Mausanne-les Alpilles for a tasting at an olive oil factory. A bit more biking brings you to Gilles Bistro in the picturesque town of Eygalières (great pizza!). There’s a 23 km option for biking afterwards if you ate a bit too much.
Baux provence castles.
Walkers can meet bikers at the castle in Les Baux and hike down to Saint Rémy or meet up with bikers for lunch in Eygalieres.
Back in charming Saint Rémy, those with a sweet tooth won’t want to miss visiting hottie chocolatier Joël Durand. In the late afternoon, do a walking tour of the many places Van Gogh painted while he lived in Saint Rémy. Do a wine tasting at the region’s best vineyard, Domaine de Trevallon. Eat dinner at the Maison Jaune.
For cyclists, the ultimate ride is the ascent of Mont Ventoux. Mont Ventoux is geologically part of the Alps and is the tallest mountain in the region of Provence. It became famous on the 13th of July, 1967, when the British cyclist Tom Simpson rode himself to exhaustion on the slopes and died. There’s a memorial to Tom Simpson on the southern side of the mountain, just over one km from the summit. For the cyclists out there: This route gives an elevation of 1612 m and an average gradient of 7.5%. This is the southern ascent and the one used by the Tour de France on 14 occasions since 1951.
The top of Mont Ventoux.
WHERE TO STAY
Terre Blanche Hotel Spa Golf Resort is both charming and chic. Take in country views from the infinity pool and dine at four on-property restaurants. The spa services will last as long as you want them to, from a half-day to a full weekend of relaxation and treatments. It’s truly a luxurious experience if you’re looking to indulge.
Bastide de Marie is in Ménèrbes. More specifically, the hotel is within the Domaine de Marie vineyard. The property is surrounded by lush gardens and landscaped grounds. Bastide Marie is only 15 rooms, an intimate location for fine dining, tasting and repose.
A close-up of one of Provence’s main attractions: wine.
Chateau des Alpilles in Saint Rémy is located in the foothills of the Alpilles mountains. This chateau is quite literally a castle, offering several accommodations within the chapel, washhouse, and main castle with 19th century furnishings.
Crillon le Brave, near Bedoin, provides 360 views of Provence’s mountainous landscape. The property has a history dating back to 1988 with eleven rooms. Today the hotel has 32 but still possesses its historic charm. The collection of buildings looks more like a village than a hotel, all centered around a large pool ideal for lounging in the sun.
If you’re looking for a modern approach to Provence, book one of the modern villas at Domaine Manville, a brand new property in Les Baux with golf course, spa and only nine villas.
Thank you to the guides who showed me Provence by bike.