With over 6 million worldwide sales, Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” still captures the imaginations of people across the globe. Provence’s charming cobbled streets, fragrant lavender fields, rolling hills, and sleepy villages also offer much for the keen cyclist.
With all of this in mind, here are the best places to see as part of a Peter Mayle-inspired French summer cycling holiday in 2017.
Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards and towns
The South of France is famous for its wine, and Chateauneuf du Pape is among its finest. After you’ve taken all the necessary steps to prepare for your French cycling tour, take the 17.7-mile route through the Ile de l’Oiselay, the city Sorgues, and the town of Berarrides. This journey is a wonderful way to appreciate the plains, vineyards, and hillsides of the area.
The route traditionally starts at a car park in Ile de l’Oiselay. However, it is possible to join the circular route from any point. There are plenty of signposts throughout the route. Plus, if you do get lost at any stage, the tourist information offices at Courthezon and Chateauneuf du Pape provide detailed maps to help you along.
As you pass through Sorgues (not to be confused with L’Isle sur la Sorgue), you will see the grand and very well-preserved home of Louis XVI. Take in the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque, near the enchanting hill town of Gordes. You may recognise the Abbey as the subject of many alluring brochure covers.
No tour through Chateauneuf du Pape would be complete without sampling some its wine, and there are vineyard tours on offer here. A word of caution: As Mayle points out in his “Toujours Provence”, tasting the wine also means swallowing it. For this reason, it may be wise to sober up before getting back on your bike.
L’Isle sur la Sorgue
A beautiful former fishing town, there is much to see and do on your ride through L’Isle sur la Sorgue. Take a relaxing ride over the winding plain and through the beautiful orchards. Stop off to admire the underwater caves, and the river Sorgue.
Fishing is no longer the main industry in L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It is now better known for its galleries and antique shops. A large market occurs every Sunday in the town. There you will find a huge array of food, second-hand goods and antiques. This is the market that caused Mayle to quip that the “the only thing you can’t get in l’isle sur-la-Sorgue is a bargain”. Yet what the market lacks in discounts, it certainly makes up for in charm and in the sheer quality of the goods on offer.
The history and landscape makes Isle-sur-la-Sorgue a wonderful place to embark on a cycling tour. It’s easy to find your way around, and offers plenty of routes in and out. This is great if you’re staying in L’Isle sur la Sorgue but wish to explore the rest of Provence and its magnificent landscape.
Are you looking for a challenge? If so, you should know that Mont Ventoux is within reach from here…
Standing at 6273 ft. above the fragrant lavender fields of Provence, Mont Ventoux is not for the faint of heart. Many serious cyclists consider Mont Ventoux a rite of passage that only those with great stamina and strength can conquer.
Provence is rich in cycling routes, which means it is possible to spend weeks here without attempting to climb this mountain. Yet some cyclists come to Provence specifically to ‘do the Ventoux’. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that it plays a role in the Tour de France. Yet it is telling that the Tour’s organisers always use Mont Ventoux sparingly, and always as the main climb of the day.
The winds around the slope are always fierce. In fact a forecast of high winds in 2016 led the organisers to shorten stage 12 of the Tour. Do you feel brave enough to tackle all three of the designated routes on Ventoux? Do so within a 24-hour period and you’ll be invited to become a member of the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux, an elite cycling group.
The view from the valley around the mountain is also a sight to behold. In “A year in Provence”, Mayle describes how he used to stop “to look from the top of the valley at the long zigzag of smoke ribbons drifting up from the farms”. He goes on to say how the made him think of “warm kitchens and well-seasoned stews”. These lovely images give you enough of a reason to cycle around the area, even if you have no desire to ‘conquer’ the mountain itself.
According to the Telegraph, Mayle’s books on Provence have transformed Luberon in many ways. Property prices have increased by four times what they were, while the area is also now a hotbed of tourism.
Yet Provence is still full of the pretty villages which Mayle describes in charming detail throughout his work. Come here to visit Mayle’s former home in Menerbes to see just how accurate his descriptions of the place are. With its ochre facades and sun-warmed stones, the village, just like many others around it, is a delight.
There is also a cycling path between Apt, Cavaillon, and Forcalquier. This takes you across Parc Naturel Regional du Luberon. This route follows valleys along the mountains, yet the lack of steep climbs makes it a relaxing route. It is designed to not be too strenuous, and to allow cyclists the chance to take in the beauty of the countryside.