France: from the Mont Ventoux to Menton
Cycling in the Provence
The Provence is one of the most visited regions of France, and that’s perfectly understandable: a good climate, beautiful, varied scenery and an excellent cuisine almost guarantee a great holiday. Despite the hustle and bustle in many places, this is also an ideal cycling area, because there are so many small country roads – sometimes not even to be found on the Michelin map – that it’s quite easy to avoid the roads with a lot of car traffic.
Due to the varied landscape it is not difficult to create easy (flat) or challenging (mountainous) routes. There's something for everyone. One of the best cycling regions can be found around the Mont Ventoux, a barren isolated mountain with a height of nearly 2000 meters, visible from a distance of tens of kilometers away in the hilly landscape. Another highlight is the Lubéron, in the centre of Provence, where picturesque villages are situated in an attractive landscape. There is even a signposted cycle route of over 200 km.
Ambitious cyclists climb the Mont Ventoux obviously by bike (up to three times a day via different routes!), but the motorway is accessible almost to the top. There are also several hiking trails to the top, for example from the ski resort Mont Serein at 1400 m altitude.
From the pleasant tourist town of Bédoin you can make a nice cycling tour, with the Mont-Ventoux visible in the northern background all day. From Bédoin this cyclng route leads over almost deserted roads (D4-D15) via Venasque to Sault and then descends through the beautiful Gorges de la Nesque slowly to Bédoin. The mistral is blowing frequently in this region and should be a factor to take into account when planning trips.
Situated at the foot of Mont Ventoux, Bédoin is particularly popular with cyclists who want to measure their strength with this formidable mountain. The village lives largely on tourism, but has managed to preserve the authentic Provencal atmosphere, except in high season maybe.
On Monday there is a large market where all kinds of local products predominate: next to stalls full of traditionally made cheese and sausages you will find lavender soap, pottery and other souvenirs.
The village has some good restaurants, where the Provencal cuisine is served, accompanied by the excellent wine from the vineyards in the area.
Southeast of Avignon is the Lubéron, a mountain range with many picturesque villages in the foothills. In recent years, some of these villages have become very popular, especially since the publication of Een jaar in de Provence by the British writer Peter Mayle, who lived in Ménerbes. Mayle even had to flee his house because the tourists brutally invading his garden.
The Tourist Offices of the Lubéron have set up a beautiful, signposted 236 km cycling route (gpx-track) that goes all the way around the mountains. The route largely follows narrow country roads without a lot of traffic (often not on the Michelin map) and is not too difficult. There are a number of steep slopes, but they are hardly ever very long. We completed the route in three long days. The signposting along the way proved to be excellent almost everywhere. A guide describing the route has been published and is available at the local tourist offices (approx. € 20).
On the north side of the Lubéron are very touristy villages like Bonnieux, Ménerbes and Lacoste (where Marquis De Sade lived) with their Provencal houses in pastel colors, art galleries and restaurants, but you will also find quiet hamlets, where many buildings now serve as second homes for wealthy citizens.
The south side of the Lubéron has a somewhat different character. Here it is drier and the mountains rise steeper out of the landscape. Also here you will find attractive villages, such as Cucuron, where on the very picturesque village square a large rectangular pond has been constructed, surrounded by giant plane trees. There is plenty of accommodation in this tourist region, but for those who want to camp, some planning is recommended because sometimes the distances between campsites are quite large or they are a bit away from the cycle route.