We love Provence. The sun is all but guaranteed, the scenery is fantastic and the food is good. Having previously toured the Luberon on a marked bike route, we were hoping to find another similar route. Unfortunately there isn’t one, at least not an official one.
Fortunately online route-planning provides a solution. I linked together a number of shorter routes from the Provence cycling website to create a 312 km tour on some of the most promising roads. I settled on a tour of Mont Ventoux, starting and finishing at Camping La Garenne in Bedoin, since we’ve been before and it is one of our favourite campsites. It is larger than we would usually go for, but the tent areas are generally secluded and have excellent views and the site is right in the town.
I hoped to be able to find a route through Avignon, but unfortunately couldn’t work out anything that looked safe to do with kids. We decided instead to go through Orange and Chateauneuf Du Pape. Riding with young children, I was keen to avoid any busy or any particularly difficult off-road sections, so I used Google Streetview to preview as much of the route as possible. This method is much more reliable for the busy bits than the bumpy farm tracks which the Streetview car hasn’t yet explored, but the route worked out very well in the end.
One caveat for those considering following in our tyre tracks with kids – it is very hilly. We had the equipment to tow both children and it was certainly necessary. With nearly 4000 m climbing in 7 days, this would be a moderately challenging tour even without children.
The downside of starting in Bedoin and riding anticlockwise is that the first day is a solid climb along the Gorges de la Nesque. As a reward, the scenery is spectacular. The final kick up into Sault is a sting in the tail, and if camping, you will have to continue through and out the other side of the town before you can rest. The campsite is large and generally rocky, but we found a lovely grassy area to pitch our tent.
The ride on the north side of the mountain was all new to us, including a lovely descent along a valley and some beautiful old towns. We camped at Camping de l’Ecluse near Propiac which was fairly busy but an attractive site with a restaurant.
For the next couple of days, as the route descends to and along the Rhone, the climate gets hotter, the settlements more dense and the land dustier. It is also generally flatter. This variety of scenery, despite the relatively short distance ridden, is one of the fun things about this route. In Orange, we took the time to go to see the famous Roman theatre and had a touristy evening wandering around the old town. From the upmarket L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, the route heads for the bike path to Apt. This runs parallel to the Luberon tour we’ve previously ridden, and looking over the Luberon mountains in the sunset from the campsite above Apt brought back some good memories. It is worth noting however that the climb out of Apt is extremely steep – if this concerns you, it may be worth looking for another route rather than following my GPS track blindly!
The last day was the best of all, with a beautiful climb over a pass, and then a spectacular descent to Bedoin. A fitting end to an excellent tour.