Its name conjures images of undulating meadows, fairytale villages, and the smell of lavender. The Romans made this place their first settlement beyond the Alps and, even today, we can see why. Many argue that Provence is the loveliest region of France. For centuries, historians, artists, and wine lovers have all rushed here, craving its unique culture, climate, scenery, and cuisine.
Cornered by Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, Provence is the southeasternmost region of France. Officially part of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, it is also known as Région Sud. French regions are divided into departments (for Americans, counties) and then into communes (townships or municipalities). Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur has six departments: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes, Bouches-du-Rhône, Hautes-Alpes, Var and Vaucluse. Our tour will begin in Bouches-du-Rhône and then we will spend most of our time cycling the gorgeous Vaucluse, soaking in all of the elements that make Provence so precious to so many.
Along the coast, remnants have been found from some of the earliest known human settlements anywhere in Europe. Stone tools dating to over one million years BC were discovered in Grotte du Vallonnet, and later, pieces of Europe’s first fireplaces were uncovered near Nice.
Two ice ages led to dramatic sea level changes, which allowed for a remarkable discovery in 1985: Diver Henri Cosquer found a submarine cave just below the calanque (narrow, steep-walled inlet) at Morgiou near Marseille. The underwater entrance led into a cave above the sea level, the walls of which are adorned with drawings of bison, seals, auks, horses and human hands, all of which date to approximately 25,000 BC.
Before the Romans came at the end of the second century BC, the region saw the Ligures (from modern-day Liguria, over the border in Italy), Celts from Central Europe, and Etruscan traders. The Greeks landed their first traders from the island of Rhodes in the seventh century BC. They called their ancient town and its nearby river Rhodanousia, which would evolve into Rhône, as the main river through Provence is now known. The Greeks established their first permanent settlement around 600 BC and named it Massalia, atop modern-day Marseille.
Romans legions arrived answering a call for help from the citizens of Massalia who were struggling against the Ligures. They came three times to battle Ligures and Celts. After the third battle, they decided to establish permanent settlements in Provence. In 122 BC, they built Aquae Sextiae in present-day Aix-en-Provence and introduced amphitheaters, baths, temples and aqueducts to their other strongholds. Their first province beyond the Alps, they called it Provincia Romana, their provincia eventually leading to the name Provence.
The Middle Ages saw the arrival of Christianity, several Germanic invasions, and later the rise of the Counts of Provence as the region became a prize in complex rivalries among Catalan rulers of Barcelona, Kings of Burgundy, Angevin Kings (the House of Valois, which also ruled Naples), and German rulers of the Holy Roman Empire. The Counts ruled from Aix-en-Provence until 1481, when Provence became a province of the Kings of France.
During the French Revolution, and the exceptions of the big towns, the people of Provence were rural, conservative, and largely royalist. One now infamous exception was the Marquis de Sade of Lacoste in the Luberon, who was a deputy from the far left in the National Assembly.
Provence also produced the most memorable song of the time, now the French national anthem: La Marseillaise.
Napoleon restored power to the families of the old regime in Provence, and the nineteen century saw Provence prosper. Its ports at Marseille and Toulon connected it to the expanding French Empire in North Africa and the Orient, the latter particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal.
Between the World Wars, the Provençal were bitterly divided: Conservative in the countryside, more radical in the cities. Marseille saw widespread strikes and there were riots in Toulon. When France was divided into occupied and unoccupied zones following French defeat to Germany in June 1940, Provence lay in the unoccupied zone. Cooperation and passive resistance gradually gave way to active resistance, and after the end of the war, the region faced the enormous task of repair and reconstruction, particularly of its ports and railroads.
When new highways opened in the 1970s, Provence became a destination for mass tourism from all over Europe. The British in particular bought summer houses in the area. The arrival of the TGV high-speed trains shortened the trip from Paris to Marseille to less than four hours.
Despite having been a part of France now for over five hundred years, Provence yet retains its distinct cultural and linguistic flavors, particularly in the interior. With its idyllic Mediterranean climes and breathtaking natural and cultural backdrops, we welcome you to Provence. À bientôt! (See you soon!)
CYCLING TOUR IN PROVENCE
TOUR DATES AND PRICES
Minimum of 8 participants, maximum of 14, with a maximum guide-to-guest ratio of 1 to 8
DATES (7 days)
June 6-12, 2020 | September 19-25, 2020
For more info, other dates and availability please contact us.
Per person in double occupancy from $3,890 to $4,290
(this tour will feature 4-star hotels, chateaux, chambres & tables d’hôtes. Tour price will vary depending on group size)
Single Supplement: $690
In addition, we pledge to donate more than 1% of your trip price to food literacy and environmental non profit organizations
- Discover two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves: Natural Park of Luberon and Mont Ventoux (optional loop on day 5)
- Tastings of regional foods and visits to local wine and olive oil makers
- Savor the local traditional cuisine featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients and learn more about local recipes
- Enjoy some of the best wines of Provence such as Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, Mourvedre and more!
- Relax in unique, elegant 4-star hotels, chateaux and maisons & tables d’hôtes distinctively representing the local cultures and traditions
- Delve into history, traditions and culture in this unique area of south of France
- Exhilarating rides in some of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France
Absorbed into France over five hundred years ago, Provence manages still, somehow, to hold fast to its pre-French roots. The cultural and linguistic flavors here are unlike other parts of the country.
We designed this 6-night tour to balance unforgettable riding with memorable cultural and culinary experiences. This is your vacation, your time in Provence, so let us know how you prefer to travel!
If you prefer to arrive the day before please let us know and we will help you organize your pre night at the same hotel used on tour, and early transfer from Avignon TGV train station at additional price. Avignon is easy to reach via high speed train either from Paris, Lyon and Nice airports. This is recommended just to allow you more time to settle in and get ready for the tour.
Cycling Route Info on day 1: Main Route: 24mi/1200ft of elevation gain | Extra loop adds: 6mi/500ft or more!
Cycling Route Info on day 2: Main Route 32mi/1700ft | Extra loop adds: 10mi/700ft or more!
Fly into Paris, Lyon or Nice Airport and catch a high-speed train to Avignon TGV train station. Then catch our 30-mins group transfer to our accommodation for the next two nights in Saint Remy de Provence. Check in and relax before meeting your guide for a light lunch and introduction to the tour.
We begin in Saint-Rémy, a village of the Bouches-du-Rhône department (district) of Région Sud. (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, the official name of Région Sud, has six departments. Our tour takes us into two: Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse.) Saint-Rémy flaunts all the charms of the Provençal way of life: Shady boulevards flanked by century-old plane trees; narrow lanes opening into charming town squares with their cheerful fountains; cozy cafés and art galleries.
Over our two days in Saint-Rémy, we fan out into the countryside to bask in the magnificent views of the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles. The Alpilles are an extension of the much larger Luberon range, which we will see later on. Though not as tall as their neighbors, the Alpilles nonetheless impress—their limestone peaks rising abruptly out of the Rhône Valley and the pancake-flat plain of Crau.
We stop in Les Baux, a village perched atop a rocky outcrop, which boasts the superlative designation of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. This is an association founded in early 80’s to promote tourism in well-kept and culturally-rich villages in the country; currently there are 159 villages listed and we visit five of them on our tour. Les Baux’s centerpiece is a ruined castle overlooking the southern plains. In Provençal, a bauç is a rocky spur, and the name Les Baux references its physical location. (In addition, the mineral bauxite gets its name from Les Baux, where it was mined in local quarries, no longer in use.) The mistral wind shoots violently over Les Baux from the north and northwest, especially in winter and spring. Also along our route, we visit olive oil and wine makers to taste and learn about local grapes such as Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault and Carignan. Back in Saint-Rémy, we explore the village with the help of a local guide and discover, among other things, the places that Vincent Van Gogh adored to paint.
Cycling Route Info on day 3: Main Route: 37mi/2000ft | Extra loop adds: 8mi/1000ft or more!
Cycling Route Info on day 4: Main Route: 37mi/2800ft | Extra loop adds: 8mi/750ft or more!
Our third day sees us out of Saint-Rémy and heading east, across the Durance River, which doubles as the natural border between Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse. Now in the Vaucluse department, we ride into the fabled National Park of Luberon to reach the area of Gordes, our base for the next two nights in a maison et table d’hôtes (traditional inn) where we enjoy a cooking demo before dinner. (An extra loop today carries you to the exquisite Abbaye de Sénanque, among the most-photographed spots in Provence, from the side and set behind fields of lavender.)
Highlights of our routes for the next two days include the villages of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, known for its waterwheels, and Fontaine de Vaucluse. In Occitan, Fontaine de Vaucluse is simply called Vauclusa, from the Latin vallis clausa or “closed valley”. The fourteenth-century poet Petrarch lived here for a time, until the death of his son, and there is a museum celebrating his life in the area. We also dedicate an entire day to a loop within the National Park of Luberon, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve consisting of two mountain chains (the Luberon and the Vaucluse) and contiguous to the Mont Ventoux Biosphere Reserve just to its north. While in the park, we stop in Roussillion and Menerbes, two of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Here, we visit a winery focused on the vintages of Luberon and taste with a local sommelier. On June departures, we are also able to enjoy some local black summer truffles found in this area.
Cycling Route Info on day 5: Main Route: 27mi/2200ft | Extra loop 1 adds: 12mi/700ft and extra loop 2 to Mont Ventoux adds: 41mi/5900ft (recommended only to expert cyclists)
Cycling Route Info on day 6: Main Route: 27mi/3200ft | Extra loop adds: 19mi/400ft
On our fifth day, we ride on to Mazan via the perched village of Venasque, another one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. We reach Mazan, our base for the next two days, in time for lunch, thus allowing energized riders to pedal on in the afternoon while others may choose to relax in town or at our hotel, once a residence of the infamous Marquis de Sade! Optional afternoon rides on our fifth day include a loop to the charming village of Mormoiron and another to spectacular Mont Ventoux in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. (We recommend the Mont Ventoux ride only to expert cyclists or those up for a major challenge. This is a world-famous climb, regularly featured on the Tour de France).
For our last day, we ride along the dramatic Gorges de la Nesque with its breathtaking open views. Our lunch stop includes a visit to a lavender ferme (farm in English) to learn about this celebrated crop. Lavender is used to repel insects, heal bites and burns, and to soothe headaches. Some also use it to treat acne. As the essential oil in lavender has antiseptic properties, it was used in hospitals during World War I. And, of course, there is aromatherapy: Lavendar is put in the bath, in drawers and closets to freshen things up, and under the pillow to aid with relaxation and promote sleep. Upon our return to Mazan, we enjoy a celebratory final dinner together at our hotel.
Absorbed into France over five hundred years ago, Provence manages still, somehow, to hold fast to its pre-French roots. The cultural and linguistic flavors here are unlike other parts of the country. We designed this 6-night tour to balance unforgettable riding with memorable cultural and culinary experiences. This is your vacation, your time in Provence, so let us know how you prefer to travel! À bientôt! (See you soon!)
After breakfast catch our 40-mins group transfer to Avignon TGV train station from where you can connect to Paris, Nice and Lyon airports. If you have more time consider to extend your stay in the area. Bon voyage (“Safe travels” in French) and à bientôt! (see you soon!)
- 6 nights of accommodation in 4-star hotels, chateaux, maisons and tables d’hôtes (traditional inns)
- 6 breakfasts and 2 lunches
- 5 dinners with a 3-course menu (for June departures at least one including black truffles)
- Exploration of Saint-Remy de Provence, Mazan, Vaucluse and other quaint Provençal villages
- Discover five of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France: Les Baux, Roussillon, Gordes, Venasque and Menerbes
- 1 visit and tasting to a winery and olive oil producer near St. Remy
- Exhilarating rides in the must-see places of Provence including two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves: Natural Park of Luberon and Mont Ventoux (optional loop on day 5)
- 1 visit to a lavender farm and 1 guided visit to Van Gogh’s famous painting locations
- 1 cooking demo in a maison et table d’hôtes
- 1 wine tasting and visit to a local winemaker in Luberon area
- Bike rental (see more info here) and Garmin Touring Edge unit (if you have one, bring yours and we’ll upload the routes onto your unit)
- Comfortable transportation and assistance by 9-seat van for all travel on tour as cited in the itinerary
- Refreshments, snacks, fruits and other local delicacies during our rides
- 2 bilingual, professional Tour Leaders
- Group transfers from/to Avignon TGV train station
- Local taxes and gratuities for luggage porters and restaurant servers during tour
- 4 lunches and 1 dinner on your own
- Alcoholic beverages at group dinners (including wine and spirits)
- Round-trip airfare and expenses to/from the tour
- Trip cancellation, baggage loss or travel delay insurance (this optional coverage is highly recommended and is not provided by Food.Stories.Travel.)
- Gratuities for your Tour Leader
Cristiano Bonino has led tours for North Americans all over Italy for more than thirteen years. Currently, he resides in the Boston area with his American wife. Cristiano likes to say that he has been “hybridizing” over the past three years in the U.S. He mixes the best of the both American and Italian cultures, which he loves, but never forgets his native roots in Turin.
Davide Marchegiano has designed and led tours all over Italy and Europe for the last sixteen years; he loves to teach Italian using games and songs, as well as to bring guests to meet his many friends across his country. Davide was born in Ivrea, in Piedmont and he loves hiking and everything with pedals and wheels: he’s been riding and racing bikes for 30 years.
Andrea Marchesini was born in Alassio in Liguria and for more than ten years has been working as a tour leader and trip designer leading groups of north Americans. He is committed to sustainability, authenticity, care for the environment, and a good clean and fair approach to life and tourism. He is eager not only to show you his Liguria, but also to learn with you through your own unique and multi-sensory experiences.
Your itinerary has been meticulously hand-designed by Food.Stories.Travel and its team. We created your adventure around some of our favorite flavors and unforgettable past experiences. Every establishment you visit has been personally vetted, tested and enjoyed.