Colors of Van Gogh Cézanne, flavors of the Mediterranean diet, the gentleness of the climate and the timelessness of the towns and their Roman relics, still very much a part of city fabric... Arles, Avignon, the melons of Cavaillon, parasol pines of the Alpilles and lavender fields of the Luberon.... A feast of soft colors and softer smells make the appeal of Provence easy to understand.
Day 1: The trip meets tomorrow morning at breakfast, but most of us will arrive in Nimes today. If you have subscribed to our Access Package, it includes a Saturday night hotel in Nimes. You should also receive a document called “Arriving in Nimes,” offering our suggestions for making use of whatever time you have here before we all get together over coffee tomorrow morning.
Day 2: All Travellers... We assemble at our hotel in the morning. Those starting their journeys can practice pedaling outside the hotel. Those arriving from the Cévennes, or from another Blue Marble itinerary, may wish to visit Nimes a bit before setting out. Then it’s off to Arles. The ride is flat, but options add distance, hills, or the historic Pont du Gard, a triple-deck Roman aqueduct that inspired the modern freeway interchange.
The villages you pass offer narrow alleys leading to lovely places shaded with sycamores. The faded pastel colors and lazy rythms of the locals will put you in the mood for a pastis and a game of pétanque (bocci) before you can say eh bien. Arles itself would be worthy of a week’s stay. Search the town center for images from your favorite Van Gogh. Marvel at the vestiges of the Roman Empire. Visit the pretty cafés and admire the view of the Rhône down on the waterfront. Plot your return.
Day 3: A more than full biking day. But how richly you will be rewarded for your effort! Les Baux is a standard against which citadel villages are measured. Not to mention the center of a lucious little wine appellation, and the first place where bauxite was mined (hence the name). Have a glass of the local elixir while you smelt some aluminum, or whatever one does to make aluminum. Nearby St.-Rémy offers further remarkable proof of the “civilization” in “Roman Civilization.” But the real interest of the day is in the natural beauty of the Alpilles limestone ridge, lined with cypress trees and offering views out to the Mediterranean. Glorious biking amongst the vineyards and olive groves. Cavaillon, a market town on the banks of the Durance, will be our home for two nights.
Day 4: Lots of options for a baggage-free day: head into Avignon along the banks of the Durance River to visit Provence’s most famous city. Seven popes resided here, and left a magnificent palace behind to remember them by. The bridge of “French 101” fame offers itself for your dancing pleasure. Or bike to the “Vaucluse fountain,” where a subterranean river surges from a rock. On the way back, stop to visit the charming cafés which line the river in Ile-sur-la-Sorgue, and perhaps tour an old olive oil mill. Back home, wander through Cavaillon, a center of provençal Judaism. The wholesale fruit market here is the biggest in France, and the town has given its name to a yummy variant of cantaloupe.
Day 5: Today we head into the Luberon, the area of Provence popularized by Peter Mayle (in French, by Marcel Pagnol). Our route follows the hillside through lovely stone villages, so different from the pastels of the plain. Oppède-le-Vieux, Ménerbes, Bonnieux…. Lacoste is home to lots of cloth alligators, and was once home to the Marquis de Sade. You'll understand his point of view after biking up there.
Grape vines cover the hillsides, lavender graces the fields up top. A hilly day, but the base distance is kept short, to allow you to enjoy the views and the town squares along your route. Think “post card writing” – something about the surroundings seems to put people in the mood. Our next two nights are spent in an isolated country inn set in extraordinary surroundings.
Day 6: A day to explore the mountain. Climb onto the ridge for a glorious cycle in the national park, on a road closed to cars, with views to the Mediterranean. Or go hiking on the secluded paths behind our hotel. Scout out a country restaurant with a terrace for a leisurely lunch. A cycle path follows the old rail line from Apt to Cereste, if you’re tired of hills. Return home from wherever you have gone for a glass of rosé and a country dinner.
Day 7: We ride out of the hills, and past the pretty provençal market town of Lourmarin (an extraordinary selection of fresh produce, flowers, honey…), on our way to Aix-en-Provence, a beautiful university town. Cézanne’s inspiration is ours as well, as we sip a sunset pastis in the oft-painted decor of the Cours Mirabeau. If your trip ends with this ride, it disbands upon arrival in Aix-en-Provence, to much sniffling. An evening TGV, a late flight, or an overnight train can take you to a variety of places. But Aix is beautiful. We suggest that you stop the night, for a flight from Marseille, or a TGV to Paris or direct to Charles de Gaulle airport, on Saturday.
- Bike rental included in trip price!
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