Tour de Provence Roman
- Duration: 7 Days (approx.)
- Product code: PXXPJ4
- The stunning Roman Theatre at Orange
- Pont du Gard – a World Heritage Site
- Winetasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe
- Flamingos in the Camargue
- Follow in the footsteps of Vincent Van Gogh at Arles and St‑Rémy
- Meeting new friends and socialising in the small group (max 16 riders)
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 Roman Heritage tour follows the traces of the civilisation that gave the region its name. You will discover treasures in Arles, Orange, Nîmes, Uzès and at the Pont du Gard, and taste liquid treasure in the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The landscapes shift from the fruit-growing pastures of the Rhône Valley to the dry garrigue of the hills to the panflat expanses, of marshland that make up the Camargue, dotted with rice paddies and pastures for the famous black fighting bulls.
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 (e.g. 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.
An easy start to our week’s touring as we cruise along tiny lanes in the shadow of Mont Ventoux towards Orange. A stop for coffee in the village of Bedarrides alongside the River Sorgues, then on to the highlight of the trip for winelovers - a tasting at a vineyard of the celebrated Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe. After picnicking amongst the vines, it’s a short hop to Orange for our overnight stop. Here we will see some superb examples of triumphal Roman architecture, including the Theatre Antique, built around 10AD. The theatre, which is still used for concerts, is wonderfully preserved and seats over 10,000. A fascinating audio-visual tour is included in the trip. Our hotel is in the heart of the pedestrianized centre of the town, so there is plenty of opportunity for exploring before dinner – or you can take a dip in the rooftop swimming pool! Total distance: 49km
Today we set out across the flatlands of the Rhône River, which we cross at Coustellet. We are now entering the vineyards of the Côtes du Rhône Villages, where every hamlet has its own take on how wine should be made. Our route brings us to the bustling town of Bagnols-sur-Cèze, where the town hall houses early Picassos, and works by Monet , Renoir and Gauguin in its low-key gallery. Back on the bikes, we trace our way through a landscape of vineyards and cherry trees, then after climbing a low ridge (with a fantastic picnic spot!), descend to St-Quentin-la-Poterie, which as the name suggests is a historic centre for ceramics, with artisan workshops selling their beautiful work direct to the public. Our final stretch of the day takes us west of the magnificent medieval city of Uzès, to the village of Arpaillargues and the outstanding Chateau d’Arpaillargues, now a beautiful hotel where we stay for two nights. We should arrive in time to relax in the garden or swim in the large pool. Total distance: 50km
Boasting a beautiful cathedral with its “Tour Fenestrelle” or windowed tower, and the Chateau of the Duchy of Uzès, the town of Uzès has a wealth of medieval sites to visit, as well as plenty of boutiques to satisfy any shopping urges! We cycle up the short hill into town first thing in order to make the most of the produce market (a great source for the makings of a picnic lunch!), before rolling downhill out of town to the Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built by the Romans as part of a system to carry water from Uzès to Nîmes. It is an
awe-inspiring feat of engineering, and its harmony with its setting over the River Gard is remarkable. Rather than cycling the whole way to the bridge, we complete the final part of the journey by canoe, taking in the splendour of the Gard gorges – and the Pont itself - from the water. We have lunch within sight of the bridge,
before making our along back roads to Uzès through the garrigue, the rugged, beautiful country of the départment of Gard, taking in the scent of wild thyme and basil, and maybe spotting a wild boar in the undergrowth or a red kite wheeling overhead. Total distance: 32km (+ canoe trip to Pont du Gard 10km).
Heading south from Arpaillargues and skirting the city of Nimes, there is more dramatic, rugged scenery before we sweep out into the plains which reach to the Camargue and the Mediterranean. On the way we cross the Pont du Gard, this time on two wheels. From here it is easy cycling through a series of villages, each with a church showing the wrought ironwork belfries so characteristic of the area. A picnic lunch is followed by a wine tasting at the Chateau Morgues du Grès, a prestigious winery of the Costières de Names appellation. After lunch, we ride through the northern fringes of the Camargue, through paddies growing the red rice of the region, and fields of the black bulls which are bred for the bullrings of Arles and Nîmes. We then cross the Rhône to our hotel in the heart of ancient Arles. We arrive early in the afternoon, so there
should be plenty of time before dinner to have a look around the immaculately-preserved Roman Amphitheatre - or next door’s equally-impressive Roman Theatre, or to take a short walk to the Alyscamps Roman cemetery or the 15th century St-Trophîme Cathedral, with its shaded cloister. Elsewhere in Arles is the Van Gogh museum – you are guaranteed not to run short of things to see in Arles! Total distance: 56km
Our last day of riding takes us east towards the Alpilles massif. Riding out of Arles along tiny back roads - where meeting a car is an event in itself - we tackle a short stiff climb to the hilltop village of Les Baux. The bottom-gear effort is richly rewarded by the sublime views and the town itself, which is dramatically
perched on a rocky outcrop. From Les Baux, we go over the massif known as the Val d’Enfer (Valley of Hell, although it honestly isn’t that tough a ride!), stopping at the stunning Carrière de Lumière, a sound and light show in a converted quarry, which has to be seen to be believed. Then it is on via a gloriously twisty descent to the pretty little town of St-Rémy-de-Provence for lunch. St Rémy, the birthplace of Nostradamus, is also celebrated as the subject for many of Van Gogh’s paintings and drawings. After lunch, we can stroll round the Roman arch and monuments known as les Antiques, or visit the hospital of St-Paul-de-la-Mauseole, the sanitorium where Van Gogh committed himself after his argument with his best friend Paul Gauguin. Our final stretch of riding takes flat, quiet lanes through orchards and melon fields, with a choice of a final hill or a flatter option before a short hop back to the Mas de Cure Bourse outside L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for our final night’s celebration dinner. Total distance: 58km.
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.