The Luberon and Provence region in France provide you with some very picturesque, scenic riding. Nestled in the south of France between the Mediterranean Sea and French Alps, the region shot to fame with the publishing of Peter Mayles book – a year in Provence. Indeed, for many a holiday to France isn't complete without a visit to see the lavender fields or perched villages which are themselves a picture perfect postcard scene. Whether you are after a leisurely ride in this quintessential French landscape, or yearn for a challenge of the vertical nature there is something here for everyone.
Mont Ventoux. The Giant of Provence. An almost mythical climb it is often the main reason why road cyclists seek out this region of France. Made famous by its use in many editions of the Tour, this mountain summit is at the top of many a cycling bucket list. You can see the lunar landscape of the the peak rising up taunting you in the distance and you know a ride up to the top will be nothing short of memorable. Perhaps you are even looking to join a very exclusive Club des Cingles du Mont Ventoux, by taking on the challenge of riding all three approaches of Mont Ventoux in one day!
Of course there is more to riding in this region than Ventoux itself. A ride along the picturesque Gorges de la Nesque may not be as famous but it is nothing short of stunning. In addition you can enjoy a riding loop to some of the famous perched hilltop villages the area is known for as well as a spin amongst the beautiful lavender fields in the provencal countryside. The Ancient Romans have also left their mark on this region and you will spot a lot of evidence of their influence as you discover this area.
For your benefit we have mapped out a number of routes which are linked below. Each route includes the ability to download files to a range of devices and includes other helpful information. Some of the routes are a loop so can be ridden in either direction. As the region is spread out over quite a distance each route has a different starting point so be sure to check this out to see how far it may be from where you are staying. One thing is certain , whether you choose a strenuous climb up Mont Ventoux or a more sedate spin amongst the lavender fields, you are certain to enjoy pedalling in this region. Click below to see each of the riding options in greater detail:
Aix en Provence is the largest city in the region. It is well connected by regular bus and rail services with onwards connections to to the area. Whilst smaller in size Avignon is equally well connected and serves up as another option for you. For your benefit we have included transport information for both cities below. Rome2rio.com is an excellent site to help plan your trip to the French Luberon and Provence regions. Simply enter your start and end points and it will tell you the different options available, cost range and timetable.
Air – Marseille is the closest international airport which services the Luberon and Provence. Depending on the airline you travel with, you may have to fly first to Paris and then make your way down by car, train, bus or another internal flight. The international airport at Lyon airport is another option although it will take a little longer to make your way to the region from there.
Rail – There are TGV train services operating in and out of both Aix en Provence and Avignon from either Marseille or Lyon. From Marseille the trip to Aix en Provence will take just 12mins and 35mins on the high speed rail service to reach Avignon. Both services run direct. Be aware the TGV station is located outside of the Aix-en-Provence town centre. If you are travelling from Lyon the trip will take just over an hour to Avignon, and one hour 25min to Aix-en-Provence.
Road – If you are arriving from Marseille take the A51 autoroute to Aix-en-Provence. (36min). If you are travelling to Avignon the trip will take approximately 1hr 07 mins via the A7. If you are travelling from Lyon the trip to Avignon will take approximately 2hr 27 min via the A7. The trip from Lyon to Aix-en-Provence will take just under three hours. We recommend reviewing the route planning tool on the ViaMichelin website which will also indicate any tolls along the route as well as fuel stations.
Bus – A regular bus service runs from Marseille to Aix-en-Provence and Avignon offering an alternative to needing your own car This is also handy for any non-cyclists in your group who can choose to take a day trip to Marseille and explore the city while others are out cycling. Further information regarding bus services to the region can be accessed here.
Cycling friendly accommodation in Provence and the Luberon
Being a popular cycling destination there are a number of accommodation providers that cater specifically for the cycling market. Typically these establishments provide secure bike lock up and maintenance areas, bike wash down area, special catering and of course plenty of local advice on conditions and where to ride. A number of these places also operate tour style businesses where you stay in the one place and ride set routes each day which are fully supported. To help plan you stay we have included a list of the cycling specific accommodation options below.
There are plenty of other options available to you if this style of accommodation is not what you are after. To help you plan we have provided links to a number of booking sites so you can see what is available. Have a look at our page on French accommodation types if you are not sure what is available.
There are no shortage of places to eat and drink in the area and we generally turn to tripadvisor.com to look at options for restaurants and cafés, or just take a punt on a place that looks nice and busy which is open and serving food. We have yet to be disappointed using this strategy.
There are a number of weekly farmers markets in the region that are worth checking out if you have the time. Here you will find lots of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as local cheeses, small goods, seafood and meats.
Times for the markets in various towns are listed below:
Aix-en-Provence– Daily morning markets year round
Apt – Tuesday mornings – 8am – 12pm
Avignon– Daily markets held in Les Halls – closed on Mondays
Bedoin – Every Monday morning
Carpentras – Thursday morning
Cavaillon – Daily evening markets are held between 5pm – 7pm from 23 April to 15 Oct
Cadinet – Saturday markets held between May 01 – to 31 Oct – (cancelled in bad weather)
Saint Martin de La Brasque – Sunday mornings from 8am between May 01 to 31 Oct
If you find yourself in this region in winter time than perhaps you'd also like to discover the infamous truffle markets. These are held in the towns of Carpentras and Richerenches every Friday and Saturday from December to March.
Every region in France has is culinary specialities and Provence and the Luberon are no different. Indeed, if you are a keen food lover you will be in heaven dining out in this region. The climate makes for great growing conditions meaning the produce is of a very high standard. You will notice this for yourself when browsing any of the stalls at the local produce markets. Of course, due to the fame which food from this area has received, it is highly likely a lot of the dishes listed below will be familiar to you. We always think it is great to sample the local faire on offer for comparison though!
Ratatouille – If any dish is quintessentially Provençal than it has to be ratatouille. Made with the best seasonal produce of tomatoes, peppers, courgettes and aubergines this bright and colourful dish is a must to try when staying in the region.
Tapenade– With so many olive groves to be found in the region it is no surprise to see that this olive paste is a favourite in the region. Made by crushing the olives Tapenade is best served with huge chunks of crusty French bread!
Bouillabaisse – This hearty dish of fish stew is renowned in the region. Admittedly more commonly found in Marseille, you will also see many versions of it being served throughout Provence. This is a testament to just how close the region is to the Mediterranean Sea.
Herbs de Provence – Not so much a dish in itself, but this region is renowned for producing some beautifully fragrant herbs which are a feature in most of the local cuisine. You will often see the Herbs de Provence being sold in bunches at the farmers markets,
There are many options for cycle hire in the Luberon and Provence region thanks to the popularity of cycle tourism in the area. In the table below you will find an outline of cycling stores as well as places which offer rental bikes.
If you are looking to hire a bike for your cycling holiday we would recommend getting in touch directly with the hire shop and arranging this in advance of your holiday. This will avoid the disappointment of missing out on a rental due to popular demand.
Another tip is to make sure the bike you hire is equipped with gearing which will allow you to climb the mountains with a greater level of comfort. Most road bikes for hire will now come with compact gearing to allow for this, but it is best to be certain!
The Provence and Luberon region of France offers some diverse options of both cities and villages to use as a cycling base. We have listed some of these below. When compiling this list we have taken into account ease of access to each of the rides, accommodation available as well as other services such as bike hire and eating establishments.
The city of Avignon is a popular choice when holidaying in Provence. Set in an idyllic location on the banks of the Rhône River, it is also an easy destination to get to thanks to its transport connections. The city is most famous for its historical significance of once being the seat of the Popes. Indeed, there are many buildings which hark back to this era and are now recognised with UNESCO world heritage status. A visit to Avignon would be incomplete without taking in these sites.
Due to its size Avignon also offers up a wide variety of options in relation to accommodation as well as restaurants which will suit any budget. All in all, it is a great option to choose as your holiday base while in the area. You can discover more about Avignon here.
Aix-en-Provence – known simply as Aix, to the French – is the largest city in the region. Its proximity to the international Airport at Marseille also means it is quite easy to navigate to with excellent public transport links as well. It is worth noting the train station is located just out of the centre of town so keep this in mind if making your way to the city by rail.
One of the most famous streets of Aix – the Cours Mirabeau – is lined with magnificent Plane trees which provide a shady green canopy to be enjoyed in the summer months. As with Avignon, there are numerous options to choose from for all budgets when it comes to accommodation and dining out. We definitely recommend a stroll through the open air food markets if you are staying here. To discover more about Aix-en-Provence click here.
If you are visiting the area to primarily tackle the Mont Ventoux climb, than the small village of Bedoin makes for a perfect choice. Located 40kms/ 25miles from Avignon, Bedoin finds itself at the very base of the most famous approach to the climb. The village is flanked by one of the largest forests in France and also has stunning views to the famous 'Giant of Provence'.
Whilst obviously not as populous as Avignon or Aix-en-Provence, Bedoin still makes for a great option for a cycling base. There are still good choices for accommodation and dining out and due to the proximity to the Ventoux climb, there are also good services here for cycle tourists such as bike hire and bike stores. Discover more about Bedoin here.
Whether you want to spend some time off the bikes or have family members that are not keen cyclists there are plenty of things to do around this area. Included below are some of our suggestions.
Mention Provence to many people and the first thing which comes to mind are fields of purple lavender. It is no surprise then that there is an annual lavender festival held each year in August.
Or course regardless of whether you are visiting in festival season or not, a trip to a lavender farm to see the famous purple fields should be high on your list. There are numerous options you can choose from- some examples are here.
This region is characterised by some of the most spectacular villages which are set high up on rocky hilltops. Known as the 'villages-perches' in French, they are quintessential of the region. Due to their location they also offer up commanding views of the surrounding areas. If you are without your own transport you will find many local tour operators who run trips of the villages. As many of them are located near each other it is also quite easy to see more than one or two of these villages in a day. If you'd prefer you can take in a few of the villages on this riding route as well.
For something a bit different there is also the possibility of some day trips. This region is well connected with TGV stations at both Aix-en-Provence meaning you can easily travel to other cities with just a short trip.
The city of Nimes is a great option for a day trip with trains running regularly from Avignon and taking just over 30mins. The city is renowned for its ancient Roman architecture. The Arena in Nimes is certainly a sight to behold and is one of the best preserved Roman amphitheatres in the world. It is still used regularly for concerts and the like so perhaps with a bit of preplanning you could even watch a live production there.
If you are after a bigger city break than Marseille is a definite option. Indeed from Aix-en-Provence a trip to Marseille is only 12 minutes by train. Located right beside the Mediterranean Sea Marseille is the second largest city in France and as such is rightly a destination in its own right. Whilst it once didn't have a great reputation the city has worked a lot on its image and is now becoming more popular as a place to visit. The old port area is a must if you get here.
Built during Roman times this feat of engineering is well worth seeing for yourself. The aqueduct of Pont du Gard was built during the first century AD with the prime reason of delivering water more than 50kms to the Roman colony of Nemausus. It is located between Nimes and Avignon and is certainly a worthy of a day trip excursion in itself.
Shaped by the Verdon river, the Gorges du Verdon is a popular natural site to see while staying in this region. Flanked by a huge rocky cliffs which vary in size from 200 – 700m in height the area boasts a range of activities. Whether it is watersports or hikes there are many options to enjoy whilst spending time here. More information about what is offer can be found here.
A number of operators in the region offer horse riding tours. Whether on horseback or in horse and cart there are a number of different options to choose from which provides another perspective to discover this landscape from. More information on horse riding tours can be found here.
If a vertical challenge is more to your liking there are a number of Via Ferrata options for you. Many levels are catered for whether you are a beginner or have experience. More information can be found here.
Perhaps you have had a strenuous trip up Mont Ventoux and now need to relax those tired muscles. The Spa at Montrbun-les-Bains offers you up that perfect opportunity – and you can even enjoy views back to Mont Ventoux from the rooftop jacuzzi! More information is available here.
We have included some useful web sites to help you see what is on offer and plan your trip.
Viator.com – book a range of tours and attractions before you leave home
Luberon Provence Official Tourism Site – great resource from the official tourism office of the Luberon Provence region.
Baronnies Official Tourism Site – includes lots of information about the Drôme area which is in the south of this region.
Aix-en-Provence Tourism Site – a fantastic resource of information with things to do and see in Aix-en-Provence.