It can be argued that Provence is the loveliest region of France with its landscape ranging from white blanketed mountains to the picturesque coast of the Mediterranean. Historians, artists, as well as wine enthusiasts flock to this region for the ancient culture, breathtaking scenery and beautiful villages. Provence is divided into six departments all having several sites worthy of a visit, however cyclists particularly rave about the Vaucluse and Bouches-du-Rhone regions. Provence has something to offer any level cyclists, from the experienced die-hard to the weekend peddler, and here are a few examples:
The beautifully preserved medieval town on the Rhone River has many wonders waiting behind the fortification walls surrounding the city. One of the most impressive buildings in Europe, the Palace of the Popes, played an influential role in Catholic history housing a number of popes. With its Gothic style architecture and grand size this is one castle not soon forgotten. Just a quick cycle down the road is another monumental Avignon sight, the Pont d’Avignon. Only four arches of the original twenty-two remain of this spectacular bridge. Be sure to walk across it and visit the chapel on the top or examine the remains of the bridge in full from across the Rhone.
Another sight to behold in Vaucluse is the town of Gordes. With ancient houses perfectly restored and lavish shops and restaurants throughout the village there is no question why it is the most photogenic village in Provence. Gordes has narrow cobbled stone streets that lead to the church and castle at the town’s hilltop. Gordes offers many historical and unique attractions from the Village des Bories at the top of the Vaucluse Mountains to Senanque’s Abbey which houses Cistercian Monks.
Widely known for its appearance in Le Tour de France cycling race, Mt. Ventoux offers a vision from its base as well as at its peak. Admire the snow-capped summit from the Provencal countryside through April. Advanced riders can test their endurance cycling this epic route that is very steep and be rewarded with the view from the summit of the “Giant of Provence” over cherry orchards below or the Alps to the northeast. The mountain trails are just as challenging as the roads to the top of Ventoux, and boasted just as much by hikers and mountain bikers.
Arles has been called “the soul of Provence,” to which art lovers, archaeologists, and historians are especially attracted. The town’s centre is filled with bustling cafes connected to narrow streets lined with attractively aged houses and shops. However, many visitors are drawn to the Roman ruins of Arles, a UNESCO world heritage site, including the Roman amphitheatre, the theatre, the necropolis and the Thermes (baths) of Constantine. The arena is still used today for various grand spectacles.
Baux de Provence
The real highlight of Baux is its unmatchable location nestled in the Alpilles Mountains providing the perfect view of neighboring towns Arles and Camargue. One of the great monuments of Provence, Chateau of Beux de Provence, is a ruined castle perched at the top of the town filled with history dating back to the middle ages. . Few people live in Baux but many tourists stop here to enjoy the magnificent views, shops and houses along the cobbled stone roads.
The bright sunshine is not the only thing that Provence experiences during the summer months, abundant fields of lavender begin blooming in June. Provencal residents have been picking lavender since as early as the 16th century; some of those narrow fields are still picked by hand, although most use machines now. Lavender flowers and leaf-stalks are primarily used for perfume and soap, and it does wonders with keeping moths away. The best time to cycle along the lavender fields of Provence and experience a truly extraordinary sight is the last week of June through July.
With over 2,500 years of experience, Provence knows a thing or two about wine which is why a tasting is necessary while cycling in this region. The appellations in Provence, more specifically the regions of Cotes de Provence and Bandol, are widely branded for their rose wines. Accounting for half the regions wine production, this rarely sweet and almost always dry wine is sure to be a treat. Wine critics rant about Provence’s spicy, full-flavored red wines as well. Rest on a patch of grass and enjoy a superior glass of wine as well as the beautiful scenery.
Artists, especially those concentrating on impressionist art, are filled with bliss when surrounded by the beauty of Provence. From the picture perfect coast of the Mediterranean to the inland town’s landscape and architecture it is no surprise why the most famous artists found inspiration in Provence. Vincent Van Gogh owes many of his renowned paintings to the town of Arles and St. Remy. This region played muse to the grand master himself, Picasso, at times as well. Cezanne was born in Aix en Provence, also in Bouches du Rhone.
Provence is one of the most visited regions in France and it is no secret why. Everyone, especially cyclists, enjoy this region because of the quaint atmosphere, warm and inviting climate, and rich history. With something new to see down every road, Provence offers an unforgettable experience second to none.
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