From the seat of your bicycle you can just see over the tops of lavender bushes, as row after row of soft purple shrubs zip past. You smell their sweet scent as you roll down the road. The sky is clear and blue, the air is fresh and hot, birds chirp, squirrels scurry, and you have a day full day of pedaling, vineyards and cheese ahead of you… What could possibly be better?
Provence is one of the most spectacular regions in France, offering quaint villages, picturesque vineyards, beaches, and hills. Tucked against the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France, the weather is splendid year-round with hot, dry summers and mild winters full of sunshine. There's no better way to explore than on a pedaling pilgrimage. Whether you opt for both the north and south loops or just a few routes here and there, Avignon is a great base to start your journey.
Once the seat of Catholic popes, Avignon is still home to the medieval papal palace. And it is no wonder why the popes of old decided to take up residence here – it lies along the Rhone River and is an exceptionally beautiful.
Avignon will serve as both your point of launch and finish line. Check out the fine arts museums like the Musee Calvet and Collection Lambert. Or visit some of the city’s historic landmarks, like the many “ portes” or points of entry along the old walls/fortifications. But get some rest! Your two-wheeled journey will be incredible, tasteful, and unforgettable… but no one said it was going to be a walk in the park.
From Avignon you will make your way westward, through the Gard forests and vineyards. The first point of interest along your route is Pont tu Gard, and it should be easy enough to spot. The ancient Roman aqueduct stands 165 feet above the river below, demanding the attention of anyone within sight.
After about 23 miles, you’ll come across the first city on your journey, it's an excellent place to call home the first night. If you arrive in time for the Saturday Market you will get to experience an authentic Provencal shopping experience.
The next day, ride the loop that takes off and arrives back in Uzes, snaking through the small villages of Vallabrix and Saint Quentin la Potiere. Known for it's ceramic shops, there's even a ceramic museum along the route. Stay the night in Uzes again, and savor the amazing French flavors at of one of the local restaurants.
When you've soaked up all the culture of Uzes, head south towards Arles, through Collias (where the Alson and Gardon rivers converge). Stop by the Chateau de Tarascon before making your way into Arles – it is a beautiful castle situated directly along the river.
This amazing city along the Rhone was famously the inspiration for many of Vincent Van Gogh paintings. The town features many ancient Roman ruins, like the amphitheater (which still hosts plays, concerts and bullfights). Once the provincial capitol of Rome, you can see the historic remains throughout the architecture. The ride here from Uzes is about 32 miles.
From Arles you will head east towards Saint Remy de Provence. Along this short ride you can stop along at the Abbey of Montmajour, a fortified monastery, and at Baux de Provence, one of the most beautiful seaside towns in Southern France which holds the ruins of a castle overlooking the plains.
St Remy de Provence
Saint Remy de Provence will be your next stop. A dreamy, romantic town 16 miles away, many of the old houses are covered in vines and surrounded by thickets of trees, feeling like something out of an Alexandre Dumas novel. This is also the area where Van Gogh did over 150 of his famous impressionist paintings. Perhaps the landscape will inspire you similarly – and if it doesn’t, the wine surely will.
Between Saint Remy and Avignon you'll want to visit Barbentane to see the beautiful 10th century Abbey of Saint Michel Frigolet. An amazing sight to behold, it's a great place to take a breather and stop for some lunch.
After 11 miles, the first half of your journey is complete. Rest up before you head out to explore the vineyards in the northwest. Grab a bite at one of Avignon’s fantastic restaurants, and take the time to explore Old Avignon where the palaces were built.
Chateauneuf du Pape
The first stop on the second half of your journey and 10 miles away, this small medieval town is the perfect way to celebrate. The road here will take you through the rolling vineyards of Cotes du Rhone de Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The wine in this area is revered by critics, so take the opportunity to indulge in a few glasses while you are here.
St Paul III Chateaux
Riding north you will pass more vineyards and countryside that looks as if it jumped straight out of a oil painting. The next point of rest will be St Paul III Chateaux, an old walled town that must be entered through the medieval portes (points of entry). Not a whole lot has changed here since the 12th century.
This town features a majestic renaissance castle, amongst the iconic rows of lavender. Everything about Grignan is a trip for the senses – the floral smell perfuses the air, excellent wine is offered in every café, and every year the city hosts the “Festival of Correspondence” in memory of Marquise de Sevigne. You can choose to stay here and explore the well preserved medieval ramparts, or continue southward towards Vaison la Romaine.
Before you arrive in Vaison la Romaine, you have the opportunity to stop at Valreas for some food, drink and rest.
Vaison la Romaine
This is a town of art, rich in both history and culture. Settled on Roman foundations with ruins scattered throughout, stay the evening in one of the historic 15th century mansions, and enjoy a nice local bottle of wine while taking in the sunset. The ride is about 18 miles.
Continuing towards Bedoin you can ride through the small villages of Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Beaumes de Venise, on a charming and relatively easy route. If you are up for more of a challenge, try the Giant of Provence, a famous Tour de France track that is sure to get your blood pumping.
A 22-mile trip, in Bedoin you can take solace in the gorgeous mountain scenery and neighboring vineyards. Explore the Vignerons du Mont Ventoux, and taste the rich flavor of this region’s local wines. You'll want to explore the Marche Provencal, a market that features fresh spices, cheeses, wines, and a host of other locally produced goodies.
Just 9 miles from Bedoin, Carpentras is the last stop before you make your way back to Avignon for the final time. Known as “Rome of Southern France,” there are well preserved architectural remnants of the Italian occupation like the Maison Carreé and Temple of Diana. Here you can see how drastically the Roman’s affected French culture, while toasting to the last leg of your journey. The ride to Avignon is 17 miles so rest up before heading back.