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With rolling fields of lavender, unspoilt villages and Ventoux, one of the most infamous mountains in the world of cycling, a cycling holiday in Provence has it all. Whilst typically synonymous with touring cyclists, this ‘hidden gem’ boasts some of the best cycling roads in all of France; peppered with smaller cols and rolling hills set in unique scenery and with a perfect cycling climate in the Spring and Autumn.
We offer this trip in end April/early May and in October, when the temperatures are ideal for cycling and the hoards of tourists that visit Provence won’t be competing with you for space on the tarmac. This holiday offers the same flexibility as our Classic Cols range, with 2 route choices each day, but the terrain is often more undulating than mountainous (the Ventoux ascent being an obvious exception). The scenery is stunning at worst and jaw dropping at best. Check out the daily stats to see that there are some good challenge options if you are looking for them but that the classic route is suitable for post winter legs!
For the first half of the week you focus on the areas surrounding the river Verdon that runs East-West between the departments of the Var and the Alpes de Haute Provence. It’s sun-baked limestone hills have been cut through by rivers running down from the Alps, creating over time, magnificent deep canyons, most notably the Verdon Gorge. It is the deepest gorge in Europe at over 20 kms long and 300 metres deep, and provides as dramatic a backdrop as you could wish for. Ticking off cols as you go, you head towards the Giant of Provence; Ventoux, which you will explore and conquer! After a day in the saddle, the beautiful Hotel Domaine de Tilleuls awaits you in Malaucene. You are based here for the remainder of your holiday, enjoying dinner in the centre of the town, before retreating back to the calm ambiance of the hotel’s private grounds.
Departure Dates & Prices
Day 0: Travel Out
We offer included transfers from Marseille Airport to our hotel in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, approximately 1hr drive away.
Our pick up times are when we will be leaving the airport, all being well. Please don’t book flights arriving later than suggested below (in brackets).
Pick up: Marseille Airport (MRS) @ TBC
Full travel advice (essential reading before booking your flights) can be found in our trip notes.
Meet your guides, transfer to our beautiful converted convent hotel, assemble your bikes and perhaps go for a pre-dinner spin to loosen your legs ahead of the next day’s ride.
Day 1: Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume to the Lac de Sainte-Croix
Provence is amazing for cycling, with an extensive network of quiet roads, pretty villages, diverse forests, gorges and turquoise reservoirs. Today’s ride offers you a little taste of everything the area has to offer. You’ll spend the majority of your day on quiet and rolling roads, winding your way through forest and scrub land in a North East direction towards Verdon, your destination for the day.
Passing through these sleepy Provencal villages, we recommend pausing to sample traditional patisseries before cycling any excess calories off en route to your hotel on the edge of the Lac de Sainte-Croix, in the heart of the Verdon national park. The scenery is asking to be admired, cool beer in hand, but for those choosing to do the Challenge option today, there is a ‘cheeky’ climb known locally as Montée D9 to do, Maybe not such a catchy name but a suitable feather to add to your casquette none the less!
Classic Route: St Maximin to Lac de St Croix (85km with 1250m of ascent)
Challenge Route: St Maximin to Lac de St Croix + Montée D9 (95km with 1400m of ascent)
Day 2: Day ride into the Verdon Gorge
Considered by many as the most beautiful canyon in Europe, the Verdon Gorge is a real gem. The road that hugs the cliffs of the gorge is an amazing feat of engineering and today you get to appreciate every km of it! With shear drops to the side of over 500m, big views and some sneaky climbs, today is set to be one of the most memorable rides of your life. Warming up on the gentle slopes of the Source de Vaumale (1202m), you enter the gorge proper for some stunning pedalling. Cycling doesn’t really get any better than this! You leave the gorge for a short while, but only to take in some of the surrounding highlights such as the forgiving slopes of Col d’Ayen (1031m), before returning again to drink your fill of magnificent gorge scenery and a fabulous descent.
Those choosing the Challenge option today head on to the incredible Route des Crêtes du Verdon (1320m), for even more of the spectacular views to be had.
Classic Route: Verdon Gorge loop, Col d’Ayen (88km with 1700m of ascent)
Challenge Route: Verdon Gorge loop + Cretes du Verdon (108km with 2300m of ascent)
Day 3: Moustiers-Sainte-Marie to Sisteron
You start today with a couple of minor undulations and a swift descent before the landscape eventually opens out to reveal wide open plains of never-ending fields of lavender and sunflowers. Dominating the horizon is, of course, the giant of Provence, Mt Ventoux, your ultimate destination. For those chasing the Challenge options, a visit to the region would not be complete without conquering Mt Ventoux’s ‘little sister’ – the Montagne de Lure, up at 1745m, with it’s views to the North into the Hautes-Alpes region.
Tonight we stay in the majestic pre-Roman town of Sisteron with it’s narrow cobbled streets and magnificent Vauban fortifications, sat in the shadows of the impressively ravined Rocher de la Baume mountain. With a somewhat ‘flatter’ (yes, it is all relative!) day of cycling behind you, we foresee arriving with plenty of time to spare, affording you the opportunity to stretch your legs and experience some local history.
Classic Route: Moustiers St Marie to Sisteron (102km with 1100m of ascent)
Challenge Route: Moustiers St Marie to Sisteron + Montagne de Lure (126km with 2300m of ascent)
Day 4: Sisteron to Malaucene and the vineyards of Gigondas
Todays route takes you to the pretty village of Sault via Col de la Pigière (968m) and Col de Macuègne (1068m) – drawing cyclists from far and wide for the alluring views of Ventoux that it’s slopes reward.
Suitably caffeinated, you leave Sault to join a winding narrow road that hugs the cliffs of the Gorges de la Nesque, descending gently through a series of short tunnels hewn out of the rock. This road is one of highlights of the region and draws cyclists and photographers from miles around for it’s magnificent riding and views of the valley below. Once through the gorge, a few undulations take you via Bédoin to your hotel in Malaucene. I know you are on holiday, but there is no escaping the tough decisions: to relax by the pool, meander into the centre of town, or tag on an additional 52kms in the hills to the West on the ‘Gigondas’ loop – taking in some beautiful vineyards and rural villages, and adding 700m of ascent.
The hotel Domaine de Tilleuls is one of our firm favourites so you are here for the next 3 nights.
Classic Route: Col de la Pigière, Col de Macuègne and the Gorges de la Nesque (116km with 1600m of ascent)
Challenge Route: Col de la Pigière, Col de Macuègne, Gorges de la Nesque + ‘Gigondas’ loop (163km with 2300m of ascent)
Day 5: Day ride from Malaucene - ‘Parc regional des Baronnies Provencales'
The routes outlined for day 5 & 6 are interchangeable, depending on the weather forecast. But one thing is guaranteed – you are going to have a great final two days out on your bike! The mountains to the north of Ventoux are often overlooked, but as you will discover, they are stunningly beautiful.
Our excursion into the Parc regional des Baronnies Provencales takes you over the Côte de Bluye (578m), whilst the Challenge option detours early into the ride to take on the Col du Perty (1302m) and the Col St-Jean (1158m).
Classic Route: Cote de Bluye (94km with 1100m of ascent)
Challenge Route: Col du Perty, Col St Jean + Cote de Bluye (143km with 2200m of ascent)
Day 6: Mont Ventoux day ride
Mont Ventoux has featured heavily in the Tour de France world since it was first included over 60 years ago. It became infamous when it claimed the life of the British rider Tom Simpson in 1967 and has since become a Mecca for cyclists (and now runners, see Chris Froome 2016!) from all over the world wanting to battle body and mind up this iconic, arid, rocky moonscape of a mountain.
The Classic route takes on the ascent from Bedoin via the petit (Col de Madeleine 451m) whilst the Challenge route climbs the Bedoin side via Col de Madaleine, before heading back down from the summit for one last climb up from Sault.
Classic Route: Petit Col de Madeleine + Mont Ventoux (55km with 1700m of ascent)
Challenge Route: Petit Col de Madeleine + Mont Ventoux (twice!) 143km with 2200m ascent)