Tour de Provence Luberon
- Duration: 7 Days (approx.)
- Product code: PPWQHR
- The spectacular hilltop village of Gordes
- Ochre cliffs at Roussillon
- The lunar landscape of Mont Ventoux
- Wine tasting in Gigondas and Beaumes de Venise
- Roman history at Vaison-la-Romaine
Provence, from the Roman Provincia Gallia, lies between the Côte d’Azur and the Rhône, stretching inland to the Alps. Provence is more than a geographical area – olive trees, lavender, sunflowers, and sunshine give it an identity all of its own. The quality of the light in Provence has attracted artists like Van Gogh and Gauguin who lived in Arles and Cézanne with his many studies of Mont Ste-Victoire. The cuisine of the region is as distinctive as the light, with emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, seafood and the herbes de provence which grow wild on the hillsides. There are also great wines, such as the grands crus like Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas in the Rhône Valley above Avignon.
Our Luberon tour takes in the Provence made famous in Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’, with its lavender farms and olive groves, visiting charming villages
with bustling markets overlooked by apricot-coloured houses with pastel blue shutters. Menerbes, Gordes, Roussillon with its ochre cliffs, Vaison-la-Romaine
and its Roman bridge – all will entrance you, as will the earthly delights of the wineries of Gigondas and Beaumes-de-Venise. Dine on seafood from the Mediterranean,
lamb from the high pastures, glorious fruit and vegetables, and culinary masterpieces suffused with herbes de provence. The tour is a feast for all the senses as we
take in the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that make Provence so unique.
We can pick up from either of the Avignon train stations (the TGV or the centre ville), any of the hotels in Avignon, or from other nearby locations (eg Nîmes airport) by arrangement. We arrive at our hotel near the market town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where bikes are fitted and adjusted to your individual requirements. Spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool, or take a short trip into the village, which is famous for its antiques and bric-abrac market and stores. Early arrivals may wish to ride to the Fontaine de Vaucluse to see the famous resurgent spring of the river Sorgue. In the evening, after a briefing on the week’s ride, we will sit down to the first of many gourmet meals, washed down with one of the excellent wines from the slopes of Mont Ventoux, whose imposing profile dominates the region.
Today we are heading into the heartland of Provence - the Luberon - and the picturesque villages depicted in Peter Mayle’s ‘A Year in Provence’. The first, and most westerly of the Luberon’s villages, is Oppede-le-Vieux, followed by Ménerbes, both perched atop small climbs, with the corresponding downhill reward afterwards. We will take a leisurely route through these villages, maybe stopping for a coffee or a pastis. For lunch we will visit perhaps the most photogenic of the Luberon villages, Gordes, perched on a hilltop and overlooked by its 16th century Château. We will be staying an easy roll downhill from Gordes tonight, so the afternoon can be spent in the village itself, or by the pool at the hotel. There are also optional excursions to the Abbaye de Senanque - a perfect example of romanesque architecture dating from the 12th Century, set in a valley amongst picturebook fields of lavender – or the nearby Village des Bories– a fascinating hamlet of traditional Provencal dry-stone dwellings. Total distance: 40km / 57km optional (hilly)
Heading north from Gordes, we swing east and south to arrive at Roussillon, perching above the ochre cliffs. Roussillon was one the major producers of ochre for paints and pigments, and boasted 17 different colours. A sign-posted trail leads to the quarries where the shades of red, orange, yellow and purple rock contrast startlingly with the deep blue Provencal sky. From Roussillon, we cycle over the Pont St Julien, a Roman bridge, before crossing the plain on a lovely cycle path and climbing again into Lacoste, where the ruined chateau of the Marquis de Sade looms over the village, and Bonnieux, with a few options for lunch and superb views over the various villages. One more climb all the way out of Bonnieux takes us over the top of the Combe de Bonnieux and down a picturesque road into Lourmarin for the night. Home to Albert Camus, and renowned as one of the most charming Luberon villages, Lourmarin has a well preserved historic centre of narrow lanes to explore and the chateau, known as the Villa Medici de Provence, houses an art gallery. Total distance: 44km
There is a gentle climb from the start today, going back up the road on which we came into Lourmarin. A short downhill followed by another easy climb takes us through a couple of hamlets before descending into the market town of Apt, where a coffee stop and a sampling of the town’s famous crystallised fruits should provide the energy for a very steep but short rise out of town. After a flatter ride past vines and olive trees, we reach St-Saturnin for lunch, and climb past spectacular gorges and the ancient Chateau de Javon, before emerging into the lavender fields and sheep pastures of the Plateau d’Albion, with immense views of Mont Ventoux dominating the horizon. A long, spectacular, descent takes us to the bottom of Sault before riding up through the town to the hotel. Sault is a local centre for wild products - wood mushrooms, pheasant, wild boar and other game – and one or more are likely to feature on the menu tonight as a reward for the hard work. Before that, a dip in the hotel pool or spa will help to ease any aching limbs! Total distance: 60km
Today can be an easy day, or a tough one! The easy option is to descend along the southern flank of Mont Ventoux, nearly 50 kilometres of freewheeling and flat pedalling, into Bedoin. Our route takes us down the spectacular Gorges de La Nesque where a heart-stopping panorama is around every turn. After coffee in Bedoin, a climb over the Col de la Madeleine (a modest affair compared to the monster of the same name in the Alps!) brings us into Malaucène, and from here it is a few flat kilometres to the hotel. For those who would like a bit more exercise, and to take home a little piece of cycling legend, we can climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux. At over 1,900 metres this is not for the faint-hearted, but the approach from Sault (which is already at 750m) is very steady until reaching Chalet Reynard at the tree line. One kilometre from the top stands a memorial to Tom Simpson, a British cyclist who died here during the Tour de France in 1967, his last words ‘put me back on my bike’. The final approach to the summit, which is devoid of vegetation, is tough, but the effort is more than worth it as you are rewarded
with one of the most exceptional panoramas in Europe. You will have conquered ‘the Giant of Provence’! The exhilarating descent is another reward as you reach improbable speeds on smooth roads that are resurfaced every time the Tour de France comes to the mountain. Total distance: 62km (Gorges de la Nesque) / 55km (over Mont Ventoux)
Our final day in the saddle takes us into the spectacular landscape of the Dentelles de Montmirail, a range of jagged edged hills edged by prestigious wine producing areas. The first of these that we visit is Gigondas, home to a red wine that can equal Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe using similar grape varieties - principally Grenache, with Syrah and Mourdevre. We stop at a cave in the middle of the village for a tasting accompanied by goats cheese. We continue south through the village of Vacqueyras, and begin to head back towards Islesur-la-Sorgue and back to the Mas de Cure Bourse, our first night’s hotel. After lunch quiet flat roads pass through villages, small towns and fields, bringing us back to the Mas de Cure Bourse. At the Mas we can wash off the dust of the trail with a dip in the pool before our final celebratory dinner. Total distance: 64km
After breakfast, take the opportunity to swap numbers and e-mails and maybe popping into the village for the amazing Saturday morning market, we transfer back to Avignon for our onward journeys.