western Provence in France
Sharon and I had a great time doing rides around Aix and Marseille in
southern France. Late November is not the perfect time to ride there, but
the American Thanksgiving holiday allowed us to get a full week for the cost
of 3 vacation days. Selected photos at
Felt like the most fun region for riding which Sharon + I have found so far.
We're already making specific plans for going back: where to make our base,
what new routes to try, what routes to do again perhaps with new variations.
What's so great:
* Variety of riding: from flat in the Camargue to gentle further north in
the Rhone valley, to villages on moderate-size hilltops, to the giant climb
of Mont Ventoux.
* Variety from big seaside views, to inland vineyards and stone houses, to
remote forests, and to farm animals beside the road, pleasant valley cities
with large car-free zones.
* Lots of big views on roads that traverse hillsides at a moderate grade.
* Hilltop towns are not so high and steep as some other regions (e.g. the
"T" place). Climbs to cross passes are shorter than in some other regions.
* For visiting in late autumn, tends to have more sunshine and less rain
than places further north. (but it can get windy)
* Easy transportation access to other great riding regions: A7 north to
Auvergne, A8 east to Cote d'Azur and Alpes Maritimes, ferry from Marseille
or Toulon to the island of Corsica / Corse.
* some great hiking in the Calanques, Grand Canyon du Verdon, etc.
* pleasant walking + shopping in the cities.
* great wine (Cotes du Rhone, etc.) and great food.
Highlights for us on this trip
* Cassis tri-adventure -- hike, swim, bike along the Mediterranean coast,
including big sea views riding the Route des Cretes
road to la Ciotat.
* Grand Canyon du Verdon: largest canyon in Europe, two corniche roads
hanging the edges, big hiking adventure down inside.
* hilltop villages in the Vaucluse between Avignon + Apt.
* loop thru toothy Alpilles ridge and les Baux, east of Arles.
* Camargues special atmosphere out on the unpaved flat dikes thru big lakes
and marshes, with sightings of birds and horses and bulls along the paved
* Mont Ventoux for its special atmosphere of steep roads with giant
* Aix-en-Provence city on street market day.
We also rode around Mt Ste Victoire (famously painted by Cezanne), over the
Pont du Gard bridge from Roman times, and along the Gorges de l'Ardeche
(nowhere in the same league as G.C.Verdon, we called it "faux corniche").
We did this trip in "normal Euro" style, putting our bike on a car each day
and driving to the start of our chosen ride. Of course there's been lots of
enthusiastic reports on Provence from "bicycle only" style tours, and also
from expensively guided van-supported tours -- easy to find with web
searches. The very helpful Cycling France guidebook published by Lonely
Planet has detailed routes and descriptions for three or four multi-day
cycle tours in this region.
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