We'll visit the source of the river Sorgue at Vaucluse, one of the most powerful springs in the world, as well as the ruined fortress at Les Baux-de-Provence, surrounded on all sides by a 200 meter vertical drop. As ever, we've tried to put together the most interesting week we can. We cycle mostly on quiet country roads, as well as some tracks and cycle paths, and each evening we stay at good quality, comfortable hotels and enjoy some of the best food and wine of the region. The food this week is outstanding.
Day 1: We start in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, facing the magnificent Palais des Papes in Avignon across the Rhône. We stay at the Residence des Cedres, named for its cedar trees. We’re among friends, and it’s lovely.
Day 2: Chateau neuf (25 miles/40 Km). North, to Orange, via the famous vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape. It’s easy cycling along the Rhône to a lunch stop in Chateauneuf, followed by a tasting in Provence’s most prestigious wine appellation. The rules here are bizarre – 5% of all grapes must be discarded, and up to 13 different grape varieties are allowed. We need an expert to guide us through, so that’s what we get. It’s a flat ride into Orange, site of a spectacular Roman theater. Still a venue for live opera, seating 8,000 people, this theater is simply unmissable. Orange also boasts a magnificent Triumphal Arch. We stay at the Hotel Glacier, and enjoy Provençale cuisine at the Garden restaurant in the center.
Day 3: Uzés (30 miles/48 Km). We leave Orange to join the river l’Aigues where it meets the Rhône, a wonderful secret crossing to an island, then following the island before crossing the 2nd channel further upstream. We cycle through beautiful countryside all the way to Uzés, through picturesque villages, past cherry trees, fig trees and orchards of apricots. Our hotel, the St Genies, is just outside Uzès, but we eat in the centre of this stunning medieval town. The food is exceptional, and it’s worth a stroll round the old town square.
Day 4: Rhône (30 miles/48 Km). We follow the path less traveled to the Pont du Gard, a fantastic route for biking. It’s difficult not to resort to hyperbole in describing this astonishing Roman aqueduct. It’s 275 meters (900 feet) long and 48 meters (157 feet) high. Each of it's three tiers were offset in two dimensions for structural strength – traffic can still use it today, two thousand years later. Most amazingly, the water collected by this aqueduct was always gathered from north-facing slopes because it’s colder, and less likely to contain organic pathogens. Clever lot, these Romans. We usually have lunch at the Pont du Gard, and perhaps a swim, and then head for Beaucaire, where the great canal that runs all the way from Bordeaux finally enters the Rhône. Our hotel is the Doctrinaire, where if it’s possible the food gets even better.
Day 5: Les Baux - St Rémy-de-Provence (23 miles/36 Km). Crossing the Rhône, we return to Provence from the Languedoc, and head up into the Alpilles, toward Les Baux de Provence. This town gave its name to Bauxite, the ore from which we get aluminium, although mining stopped long ago. The wines from Les Baux are also worthy of note, having been granted their own appellation status 15 years ago - we'll visit Chateau Dalmaran, for a pre-lunch tasting. The highlight is Les Baux itself, built on top of a 200 meter high outcrop, overlooked by a ruined fortress.
The Lords of Les Baux claimed descent from King Balthazar of biblical fame. From its powerful position these renegade Lords wreaked havoc for centuries until Cardinal Richlieu resolved the problem by destroying the castle, but it still looks amazing. We leave Les Baux towards St Rémy-de-Provence, once home to Van Gogh. On our way we pass the Roman village of Glanum, but it’s a tough ride, and you may be glad to get to the courtyard of the Auberge de la Reine Jean for a well-earned respite.
Day 6: St Rémy - Rousillon (35 miles/56 Km). Our route out of St Rémy is memorable. We cycle on tiny roads and tracks beside Alpilles mountains, a ridge of spectacular hills accompanying our lovely flat route. The best of all worlds – views, mountains, and flat cycling. It’s a rare combination, so make the most of it. This route is named after Jean Moulin, leader of the French Resistance and a fabled figure in France. We cross the Durance and we’re finally in the Lubéron.
This range of hills, made famous by Peter Mayle’s “A Year In Provence”, is a National Park, home to wild boar and vultures. This is the most beautiful part of Provence, and we follow a cycle route through Maubac, Oppède-le-Vieux and Ménerbes before a long climb to Rousillon. I keep wanting to write “beautiful” about every village, because they all are. Roussillon itself sits on cliffs of bright red ochre and is famous for its spectacular panoramic views. We stay at the Rêves d’Ocre, and eat at the classy Piquebaure.
Day 7: Avignon (35 miles/56 Km). Leaving Roussillon is a wonderful descent, before climbing to another beautiful village, Gordes. From Gordes, we take a little-known route along tiny roads headed for the resurgent spring at Fontaine de la Vaucluse. We’re surrounded by cliffs and mountains, but our route is fairly gentle, and the spring, the source of the river Sorgue, is a good place for lunch. After lunch we begin our return to Avignon, passing through Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, a charming town with a famous antique market.
Our route into Avignon is flat but uneventful, and we take advantage of a cycle lane as we approach the old walled city. Avignon itself is spectacular. Contained within its vast wall, the central square is dominated by the Palais des Papes, where the Popes briefly made their home in the 14th century. This is the largest Gothic palace in the world, described by Froissart in his Chronicles as “The most beautiful and strongest house in the world”. If you read what he wrote about the English, then clearly his comments are suspect. Our hotel in Villeneuve is a short cycle across the Rhône, and up one final hill for the memory.
Day 8: Trains for Paris and London leave about 9.00am, so an early start but nothing too brutal.
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Europe France Outdoor: Land Rambler Bicycle Touring Cultural Journey