04 July 2013

Travel to Provence, France

So you are thinking of taking a trip to France?

What are the best villages & cities to visit in Provence

Provence, and the wider region Languedoc are a sort of mid-way point for cyclists riding in the Alps and Pyrenees. A cyclist can base themselves in several key cities in the Alps or Pyrenees and take in  many climbs from a central home base. But when it comes to Provence - you will want to travel around by car to best see the area.

Provence is where beauty and tourism, locals and visitors, cyclists and cars, sky and rolling terrain mix in one joint effort to assist the cycling tourist to enjoy oneself, and to rest and recover. Days of morning markets, picnics, wine, incredible vistas, smalls roads, fresh air, warm temperatures blend on a backdrop of Roman ruins.

There is a reason the Romans came to Provence and Languedoc - it is really nice here.


I would recommend a nice break in between all that riding you will (or have done) in the Alps and Pyrenees and take a couple days to relax, refuel and enjoy this area of France. But where to visit? Leading travel guidebooks will take you to the most visited places and sites for tourists, but here I recommend our favorite villages. 

Mike (his nickname is "Straw") and his wife Suz visit Provence every year. I refer to them a lot because they really know a lot about being an American tourist in France. Also their travel style is just right, they are at that tipping point where good accommodation and location make a difference, but a smart traveler never wants to sacrifice local hospitality or culture, or waste money. Also Mike is a bike rider, Suz is an artful cook. They tend to spend 3-weeks in an area, stay at gites, B&Bs and hotels, they picnic, cook and eat in cafes and get out and explore every day.

Straw and Suz's favorite villages & cities - include these places on your itinerary:
  • Cassis
  • Bonnieux
  • Montpellier
  • Uzes
  • St Remy
  • Lourmarin
  • Maulacene
  • Crestet
  • Saignon
Alright, how many of these villages had you heard of previously? The bigger cities of Avignon and Orange have their tourist sites (refer to aforementioned guide books for a quick visit), but visiting the villages and cities listed above will make your trip to France special. Staying overnight is an even better idea.

Mike mentioned to avoid Carpentras (couldn't agree more, I have never driven through this city without getting lost), Cavaillon, and Tarascon. 

Where are these villages and cities located?  click image to enlarge map

* LINK to Map of Best Cities in Provence *
What to do in Provence
  • Enjoy a 4-course meal outside on a patio.
  • Try the local wine, sip an afternoon Pastis.
  • See the lavender, poppy and hay fields. Taste the fresh cherries.
  • Visit a morning market to buy picnic supplies, and gifts.
  • Have a picnic.
  • Take lots of photographs of the hillside villages.
  • Visit the Pont du Gard
  • Ride Mont Ventoux
  • Ride the local Luberon bike paths on anything with 2-wheels
Photo ©by Mike and Suz for Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
Photo ©by Karen at Pedal Dancer
I am not big on recommending specific restaurants or sites, believing it is much better to discover on your own, plus you never know what you will find of interest or when your bike ride will begin or end. Spontaneity is a luxury as a tourist and encouraged while in Provence - a time when STRAVA should be turned off, but GARMIN should definitely be kept on. Although you will notice the roads are so small even your Garmin GPS unit will get completely confused.

You can read more about the leading tourist sites in your favorite guide books, including these attractions: Palais des Papes in Avignon, the Theater Antique and Roman Wall in Orange, hillside village of Les Beaux, Van Gogh's room in St-Remy, lots of Roman ruins and bridges scattered across the area, many other options and the Gorges du Verdon.

Also the Rhone River flows into this area and the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and many other well known varietals are nearby. I like a nice chilled rose in the heat of summer. Wine and olives are an integral part of this region of France. So too is the cicada, a symbol of Provence.

Cicadas on tableclothes in a morning market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
wine regions of Provence
The mistrals

mis-tral : A dry cold northerly wind that blows in squalls toward the Mediterranean coast of southern France.

In evidence today during Stage 6 of the 2013 Tour de France on the stage from Cagnes-sur-Mer to Montpellier, these winds can blow fast and hard. Did you know the wind can rage as fast as 320 km/h (200 mph) on the summit of nearby Mont Venttoux?

It can blow for days,
will chill your bones
and can turn people insane.
I am talking about the Mistral,
a fierce wind ruling over Provence.

Read: more information about the Mistrals.

Mont Ventoux

If you plan to ride Mont Ventoux or travel to Provence, please read these other related posts by Pedal Dancer with more details and photos from the area
For recommendations on accommodations, please see the list on the Pedal Dancer Guide Page:  Recommendations and Resources
For more stories by Pedal Dancer please see: