For cyclists, arts and culture fans, wine lovers, and purveyors of architecture, the region of Provence in France is hard to beat. Many world-renowned artists called Provence their home. The lavender fields are considered some of the most stunning. The Provençal rosé, the historic city of Avignon, and Calanques National Park are already fantastic reasons to visit. There’s no doubt you’ll find even more as you learn about this beautiful region in the south-eastern corner of France.
Provence is located in SE France, comprising the Mediterranean coastline. The region borders the Mediterranean Sea and Italy. Cyclists of all experience and capabilities will find Provence the perfect destination for them. Its varied landscapes are ideal for all styles of recreational biking and superb for e-biking. For cyclists looking to challenge themselves, there are a ton of places to choose. Provence has one of the most famous, yet slightly arduous Tour de France climbs, Mont Ventoux, dubbed “The Giant of Provence” for good reason.
If Provence sounds like a great region for you to elevate your cycling, along with an authentic – French immersion experience? We’ve got you covered. Here are our top 6 Tour de France inspired rides and places to visit:
1. Mont Ventoux Loop
Mont Ventoux is one of the most gruelling Tour de France climbs. It’s the ideal playground for sportspeople, including cyclists. Spanning 55km with about a 1800m ascent through Bédoin, Mont Ventoux, and Malaucène. The Bédoin climb is considered the most difficult, with an average gradient of 7.43%. Amateur riders can take more than two hours, whilst pros take about 75 minutes or less. Take note that the last kilometres can have strong mistral winds.
The climb from the Malaucène direction is about as difficult as the Bédoin climb, but you can be slightly more sheltered from the wind. For a shorter yet scenic experience, start at Chalet Reynard. Continue cycling to the final 6km and head straight to the top of Mont Ventoux.
Here at the summit, you can bask in the glory of 360-degree views of the region, offering sights of the Southern Alps down to the Mediterranean. When you’ve had your fill of the glorious landscape views, it’s time to head down to the unique countryside, which you can reach through the pleasant 21km downhill ride.
2. Gorges de la Nesque
With a total distance of 60km and elevation gain of about 1000m, this ride can be completed in three hours, more or less, depending on your abilities. Gorges de la Nesque is a spectacular detour into the area around Mont Ventoux.
Going uphill towards Sault is certainly an excellent choice, mainly if your goal is to enjoy the beautiful scenery. You can go slower and ride to Sault. Alternatively, you can descend from Monieux and skip Sault altogether. From there on, you’ll mostly ride downhill, which also gives you more time to see the views.
Cycling through Gorges de la Nesque is great for amateurs. The temperatures are often mild with a huge bonus of lovely views you won’t forget. Mont Ventoux is in the background, as well. You’ll find this ride a good warm-up for a big climb ahead.
3. Avignon Pont du Gard Loop
Reaching Pont du Gard, the marvellous Roman aqueduct, from Avignon is pretty easy via bike or car on smaller roads until you get to the famous 165-hectare bridge.
If you’re cycling, you’ll embark on a 70km loop ride with 600-metres of climbing. Take note that you cannot cycle on the historic site. Cyclists are allowed to arrive by bike, which you can leave securely in one of the racks located at the entrances on both river banks. Whilst here, you can cool off with a swim in the river and enjoy the Museum Pont du Gard offerings, which include an outdoor exhibition of human occupation in the area as early as 2,000 years ago. There’s also a restaurant cafeteria sitting on both sides of the river.
In Avignon, don’t forget to pay a special visit to Pont Saint-Bénézet. Also known as Pont d’Avignon, this medieval bridge was built between 1177 and 1185. It’s made of wood and still partially spans the Rhône River, a significant body of water in France connecting to Switzerland. And if you’re visiting in July during the Tour de France, you’re in luck! Watch out for the Avignon Festival, where the entire city becomes a theatre, showcasing its architectural heritage and more.
4. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence – Berre-l’Étang – Aix-en-Provence
This whole cycling route takes about 90km and ascends 800m. It starts in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, which is known for fishing, specifically due to Lac Peiroou. This reservoir is bordered by the Alpilles mountain range and a thick forest. It’s comfortable to cycle here, even with the summer heat. The shaded banks of the lake are indeed a genuine delight for cyclists and visiting people alike. You can’t bathe in the lake, though. But you can always sit down for a picnic and even a little siesta.
Head over to Berre-l’Étang in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, just a short distance from Marseille. It’s located along the Étang de Berre, a stretch of saltwater from the Mediterranean Sea. This small city has been around for about two millennia, so it’s rich in history.
The end of this route takes you to Aix-en-Provence, a city once the capital of the Provence region. It’s in a plain that overlooks the Arc river. The warm climate makes cycling easy, mainly because of its inland location.
5. Fontaine-de-Vaucluse Loop
There are plenty of cycle routes for outdoor enthusiasts in Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This suggested loop runs for 90km with a 1050m climb, starting at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, letting you move past the towns of Apt, Gordes, and Venasque. It’s an intermediate bike ride that requires reasonable fitness. The small roads are well maintained, so you can try this route even if you’re a beginner.
In the latest census, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse has a population of less than 600. But it’s very popular for good reason with tourists, don’t let that deter you. This charming commune’s highlight is the fountain itself. Follow the Sorgue river upstream and move past the shady trees and some vineyards. You will then arrive at the town. If you walk a bit further along with the stunningly clear freshwater, you will spot a high cliff, which has one of the largest springs in the world arising fully formed right at the very foot of that cliff.
6. Châteauneuf-du-Pape – Orange – Vaison-la-Romaine – Gigondas – Vacqueyras
We’ve dubbed this the “wine and culture ride,” which begins in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and ends in Vacqueyras. Take your trusty bike or your e-bike. The small roads are suitable for beginners and intermediate riders. It’s a 60km ride made of a 500m climb, which starts at the bottom of the Rhône River Valley, close to the tip of Provence. If you’re a wine enthusiast, you can already tell this village is renowned for its vineyards and, of course, its namesake red wine.
From Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we continue the journey to the sunny city of Orange. It’s famous for many things, including its history involving Romans. It’s where you can find the incredible Roman theatre where Emperor Augustus’ statue stands. Interestingly, few Oranges are grown in Orange ;-)
Vaison-la-Romaine is your next stop, which is as historical as Orange. Located between Mont Ventoux and the Rhone River Valley, this town is made of hilly countryside. As you ride past, vines and olive trees perfume the lands.
Another commune for wine lovers is Gigondas, which produces over five million bottles of wine each year. Vineyards cover a total of 12 square kilometres. This small village has a population of 550. Like the other places in this ride, Gigondas was also inhabited by Romans. They even called Gigondas “Jocunditas,” which means pleasure or enjoyment.
We conclude the wine and culture ride in Vacqueyras, another popular area in the southern Rhône Valley wine region. The foothills of Dentelles de Montmirail dominate the landscape. And if you’re looking to witness the finest vineyards in the area, head to the southwest-facing slopes made of limestone east of the town. It’s a steep ride, but it’s definitely worth the experience.
READY TO EXPLORE FRANCE?
Are you excited to explore France, Provence or the Tour de France more? You could be cycling through France in summer enjoying the amazing culture, food and wine experiences, all the while seeing the colour of the Tour de France and challenging yourself on some beautiful rides on this list!
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