Bicycle Tour of Provence, France // June 2nd – June 16th, 2018
Riding Provence is a rite of passage for cyclists interested in riding Europe. It’s a uniquely rewarding tour, and we are thrilled to be riding here again in 2018! It’s a favorite ride of ours—and many of our guests (and it’s one that is often repeated). It’s a matter of intangibles, Provence a place that proves the whole is greater than the sum of the parts! From food and wine to roads, routes, history and scenery…there is just so much to offer everyone. Cycling in Provence is something you must experience for yourself: like us you’re also sure to be taken in by the unique “terroir” of the South of France that must be seen, tasted and ridden to understand.
Provence in any season stimulates all the senses with fragrances, flavors, friends and photo-opportunities beyond words. Colors are rich and vibrant: yellows, reds, blues, lavender and olive. For our 2018 tour we’ll arrive at the heart of spring—witnessing flowers, blooms and buds all vigorously announcing the return of the sun, warmth and life to the quaint villages waking from the darker days of winter.
The produce and products displayed at the weekly markets are changing from Winter wear, herbs and fruit to lighter textiles and fruits as the local people of Provence prepare for summer’s faster pace. Fragrances of lavender, rosemary, thyme mingle with fresh tilled soil serve to intoxicate our senses as we ride—building an appetite worthy of the Provencal feasts prepared by masterful chefs using only the freshest of ingredients and matched with uncomparable Cote du Rhone, Gigondas and other world-class wines.
We designed this tour for cycling pleasure for all—each day offering a variety of distance, elevation and endurance options. In keeping with the more leisurely Provencal approach to life, our cycle tour of Provence incorporates a few of the many wonderful villages for our nightly rest and repast. Whether you are seeking a leisurely 60km roll thru the countryside or a strenuous 90+km loop, you get to choose your tempo and distance with our expert guidance each day. Space on our tours is limited, so don’t miss your chance to ride Provence with VeloSki in 2018, contact us today!
June 2nd, 2018
Day One —Arrival Vence
Gorges du Loup 36km / 555m
Col du Vence loop 66km / 1616m
The Hotel le Floreal and Vence are integral partners with VeloSki for all of our tours passing through the amazing Provence region. Leslie, reservations manager, and I met at the conclusion of my first Geneve-to-Nice tour in 1996. From the very beginning she helped guide me through the processes of the “French hotel reservations” protocols. Changes in ownership have rarely deterred her in providing the best “guest experience” for every one of our guests. Cheery greetings and pleasant smiles are her signature.
The 2nd floor patio is the access for the bike storage shed. This is a great place to re-assemble bikes after their long journey. The “front desk” is the curator of the keys.
There are myriad loop rides just out the drive from le Floreal. We highlight a couple of perennial favorites to ease the jetlagged mind. Each route can be ridden either direction.
Day 2 —Vence to Fayence
90km / 1800m
The roads to Feyence are many and all choices offer a wonderful introduction to Provence. The varied colors, flavors and fragrances that will be our backdrop for the coming days. We leave the hustle-bustle of the Cote d’Azur behind as we follow winding roads deeper into the rock and oak-covered hills and gorges of the Loup and Ceylon river drainages. Along the way we will sample wonderful confectionery delights at the Confisserie Florian at the lower end of the Gorge du Loup. Afterward we ride above the gorges to the cliff-side village of Gourdon, where we are treated to the varied fragrances & scents produced in nearby Grasse. Grasse is the perfume capital of the world—and what a wildly fragrant world it is indeed. (The more direct route to Fayence passes thru Grasse itself). Leaving Gourdon we continue our pleasant ascent into the pine forests of Andon. From Andon we glide down, down a swooping descent into Mons before our final secluded roadway into Seillans.
Day 3 — Fayence to Tourtour
48km / 1100m
80km / 1760m
Fayence – the morning starts with a short and gentle 4km climb from town on D19 toward Bargemon. Once over the top of the climb it’s a great twisting road thru a forest of scrub-oaks to Bargemon. Here cafes line the streets of this small village, so it may be fitting that a stop for café and patisserie is in order before deciding whether to add a little extra loop or continue on to our hotel in Tourtour. No matter, all roads ridden are delightful.Tourtour –here are numerous art galleries and several great sidewalk cafes here. There are two old churches in town; one in the middle of town and the other above town to the left as you get into the middle of town.
Day 4 — Tourtour loops
91km / 1425m climbing
Cotignac loop: 68km / 1000m
Tourtour sits on a hill overlooking the vast oak forests and vineyards stretching all the way to the Mediterranean Sea. The countryside is laced with quiet roads connecting small villages amid vineyards and farms. One of the highlights is a visit to the village of Cotignac. Here you will find a wonderful shaded centre ville with restaurants and shops. And if we are fortunate to be there on market day, it is a very special treat.
The cliff dwellings the dominate the Cliffside backdrop to town are worth exploration. And the tiny roads rambling thru the vineyards give pause to contemplate and embrace the rhythm of the crops.
Day 5 — Tourtour to Aix-en-Provence
100km / 1000m
Today’s ride is a wonderful “ridge-surf” all the way to our picnic lunch. The roads are smooth and the hills are small as we quickly ride to Varages, where we’ll stop in a pottery/ceramics shop famous throughout the world as Faiance style. From Faverges we ride thru wheat fields and vineyards to Rians, where we first glimpse Mont Victoire. A winding descent thru scrub oaks brings us to our picnic spot, where we feast on fresh produce, tapenade, goat cheeses, fresh baguettes and delicious pastries presented to you by our helpful staff. The final kilometers into Aix-en-Provence are dominated by the ever changing views of Mont Victoire; immortalized in the paintings of Cezane and others. Gradually the quiet roads thru vineyards and farms yield to the more urban fringes of this university town and cultural focal point of Provence. Here is where the Provencal style sprouted and flourishes today. Enjoy!!
Day 6 — Aix-en-Provence to Gordes
74km / 1000m
Aix-en-Provence is a great town for exploring and shopping, so we have a late departure (after lunch) arranged today. We will pack our bags and get ready to leave, but remain in our walking clothes for exploring the cathedrals, galleries and market. After lunch we will ride together out of town to the smaller quiet roads that we enjoy as we leave Mont Victoire behind and climb over a ridge into the Luberon.
The village of Lourmarin is a wonderful stopping place for a mid-afternoon ice cream before the climb up to Bonnieux with views of the Luberon region; made famous from the writings of “A Year in Provence”. Here we preview the riding options of the next day as we take the more direct route across the Luberon to Gordes.
Day 7 — Gordes to Vaison-la-Romaine
56km / 700m climbing
Direct route: 65km / 1000m of gently rolling terrain
Climbers route: 91km / 1500m
Gordes du Nesque AND Mt Ventoux: 122km / 2800m
Today we leave the Luberon and Vaucluse regions as we ride along the slopes of the imposing Mt Ventoux. The lavender was harvested long ago, but the vineyards are alive with activity as the grapes are brought into the wineries by the truckload. Riding over the Col du Murs we take one last look over the Luberon before dropping into the Cotes du Rhone wine producing region; famous for Gigondas, Chateauneuf du Pape, Vacqueyras, Sablet, Cotes du Ventoux and dozens more lesser known vintners. One the most beautifully paved road descents in all of Provence is down the flanks of the Gorges du Nesque; this is a route that should not be missed.
Bedoin will be our lunch with great views of Mt Ventoux, before continuing on to Vaison-la-Romaine. Vaison-la-Romaine (literally Vaison the Roman one) is filled with artists and artisans, historical amphitheatres, century’s old chapels and buildings and a Roman bridge. Fortunately the ride today is short, so you will have ample time to explore the town or relax by the pool overlooking the newer part of town.
Unless….you choose to experience the Giant of Provence – Mt Ventoux
Day 8 — Vaison-la-Romaine Wine Loop Ride
50km / 775m
Today is a great day for sampling wines, selecting your favorite Provencal fabrics, purchasing herbs or gifts for friends and family. Walking thru Vaison or riding the wine route; either way you will have an enjoyable day. The wine route traverses most of the major Cotes du Rhone wineries in the villages that lend their names to delicious red wines. Sablet, Seguret, Gigodans, Vacqueyras, Suzette are but a few of the great labels you can sample if you dare on this wonderful loop.
Day 9 — Vaison-la-Romaine to Sault
51km, 500m climbing or 69km, 800m climbing
50km / 1000m
63km / 1250m
74km / 1500m
Today we ride around the north side of the mountain on quiet roads with great views of Mt Ventoux. Along the way we’ll take a little deviation from the valley road up and over the Col des Aires. An early lunch or late morning café is appropriate here for enjoying the dramatic view of Mt Ventoux from a different perspective.
Day 10 — Sault to St. Michel l’Observatoire
68km / 600m climbing
62km / 880m
123km / 2300m (for anyone who wants one last epic climbing day)
There are many roads to choose from today, so we offer one of our favorites. Gently rolling terrain with good pavement and ever changing views await as we leave Mt Ventoux behind and ride toward the Haut-Provence region. Once again, we are treated to fields of lavender and wild flowers. Tuesday morning is “market day” in Banon. A fun solution to lunch is to peruse the market offerings to create your own unique medley of flavors.
Lavender blooms should be reaching their zenith in the next week and the fragrance will be delightful. Watch for bees or maybe keep jerseys zipped up snugly to prevent an unpleasant sting.
Saint-Michel-l’Observatoire is the “host town” of the Haute-Provence Observatory, a nationally ranked facility. It is considered, by many astronomers, to be the best European low-altitude (400 meters) observatory in operation. There is also an astronomy center for educational purposes. An evening stroll seems appropriate to observe the night skies.
Day 11 — St Michel l’Observatoire to Moustiers-St Marie
76km / 1000m
1000km / 1616m
Today we continue our travels east and higher into the Haut-Provence region across the Valensole plateau to the charming village of Moustiers; famous for fine porcelain. The route crosses the Durance river before climbing onto the Valensole plateau. Lavender fields spread across the landscape provide a beautiful contrast to the sun bleached stones near and far. At Valensole the longer route continues south to Allemagne-en-Provence, where we turn eastward to to Montagne. We ride along rock cliffs overlooking the Verdon river, as we wind our way from village to village on the way to the plateau. Eventually we ride high above the Lac de St Croix before descending from the plateau to the foot of Moustiers-St-Marie.
Day 12 — Moustiers to Castellane
65km, 1100m climbing or 85km, 1500m climbing
65km / 1982m
82km / 2300m
Moustiers-St-Marie to Castellane is truly an amazing ride as we traverse the north edge of the Grand Canyon du Verdon. We pass thru scrub oak forests, lavender fields and ride on roads carved in vertical walls of rock. The color of the water flowing thru the Verdon Canyon is almost surreal; almost turquoise in color it is unique to the Verdon river as a result of minerals upstream. We will ride high above the river along the corniche road to observe goats climbing the rocky hillsides. Near the top of the climb we will stage a delicious cliff side picnic where we can watch rock-climbers testing their skills on vertical walls of rock. Finally, we cycle upstream along the Verdon river past numerous “swimming holes” on our way to Castellane.
Castellane is on the Route Napoleon, so during the tourist season it is very busy. During early fall in September it will be quiet and pleasant to visit. This is likely your last good opportunity for purchasing Provencal fabrics and wines before packing your bikes for your return to the states. The small church perched on top of a cliff behind town is a wonderful hike; offering great vistas of the village below and the gorges to the south.
Day 13 — Castellane loop
101km / 2685m
Castellane is a recreation hub in the Alpes-Maritime of Provence, so we have an abundance of recreation and riding options on tap for today. Highlighted on the accompanying map is one of my favorite loops which affords great vistas, quiet roads and stunning geological formations. In addition, there are more riding loop combinations from Castellane than we can possible explore or describe in the course of our tour.
St Auban and the Clue du St Auban mark the entrance to the Var river drainages in dramatic fashion. Here we pass thru a tunnel that opens into a huge cavern carved by wind and water. Continue downstream toward Brianconnet, but it is not all downhill leading to this remote village; there is a bit of a climb, after all we are in the Alpes-Maritime now.
Brianconnet – there is a great fountain for refilling water bottles here and if the sun is shining you will want plenty of hydration today. Immediately after leaving town take the road that climbs sharply up to the left and toward Entrevaux. The top of the climb, Col du Buis, offers a great panoramic view of the valley we will descend into on our way to Entrevaux. The descent is smoking steep, so pay attention to rim temps and watch and listen for approaching traffic (fortunately it almost deserted). At the bottom of the descent stay to the right; you will climb a bit to the Col de Felines before descending to Entrevaux.
Entrevaux, the mid-point destination of our longer loop is a fortified mediaeval walled town complete with drawbridge laying in the shadow of a mountaintop citadel. It was founded in the 11th century on the rocky spur in an angle of the river Var. The bridge was not added until 1658 to provide better access from the more fertile “river bottom” soil to the south. Lunch or café, your choice. Leaving Entrevaux take an immediate right (coming across the main road from the drawbridge) on D610. This tiny road traverses above a small stream taking us almost back to the base of the descent from the Col du Buis. Stay to the right onto D10 toward Ubray and Rouaine.
Rouaine, we join Route Nationale D9202 (formerly N202) toward Saint Julien du Verdon and At Andre les Alpes.
Near St Julien du Verdon bear left toward Castellane and ride along the lake almost all the way back to our hotel.
Castellane – ride into town and relax.
Day 14 — Castellane to Vence
81km / 1700m
110km / 2400m
This is our final day of riding as we return to our starting hotel in Vence. What a great day it will be as we climb an almost forgotten mountain road, view a stunning gorge, travel where sheep and goats are beginning to move from the high country to the lower valley meadows and have lunch on the Mediterranean side of the rocky mountains known as the Alpes-Maritime. Of course, there are always additional options for those desiring a little more riding or more shopping for a special souvenir. Finally, we view the Cote d’Azur from the top of the Col du Vence, before an exhilarating descent to poolside at our hotel.