Picture the scene: you’re pedalling through a vineyard, along paths lined with vines that are heavy with plump grapes. The scents of Provence waft through the breeze: lavender, fresh herbs, pine trees. You reach a historic wine cellar, where you’re greeted by enthusiastic winemakers eager to offer you a sip of their finest vintages.
It’s an idyllic fantasy that could have been plucked directly from a film, and far removed from a usual working week in the UK. But, it’s also an achievable dream and a relaxed way to travel with your nearest and dearest.
With a stunning network of cycling trails that meander their way deep into French wine country, the region of Vaucluse is the perfect destination for a cycling tour of southern France.
Rathay T – VPA
This region in the heart of Provence has gained a prestigious reputation for its wines – does Châteauneuf-du-Pape ring any bells? It’s home to a number of AOCs, meaning Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, a European certification guaranteeing the quality and origin of a product.
With a selection of more than 20 different cycle routes in the area, there’s something for everyone, whether that’s a mixture of long-distance trails that travel from the Rhône river across to the Vaucluse mountains, or less strenuous routes that combine discovery of the wineries with historic ruins.
There’s something to suit all cycling abilities, and we’ve teamed up with the folks at Vaucluse Provence Tourism to pick out three of the best AOCs you can visit during a cycling tour of Southern France.
Hor S – Oiseau Rose
1. Côtes du Rhône
With fields of vineyards stretching as far as the eye can see, from the fertile banks of the Rhône all the way up to the Durance river, the region is framed by majestic mountain ranges and quaint villages with a rich wine history. You have Gigondas with its robust reds, Rasteau with its natural sweet wines, and of course the one and only Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The tour of the Côtes du Rhône by bike is a signposted 130-mile route along quiet country roads through the vineyards. Whilst more experienced cyclists could tackle the route in just two days, you may decide to spread it out over several, taking frequent stops to sample the local delights.
Along the way, stop in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and combine wine tastings with a discovery of the rich history of the region at the ruined castle, which once served as the Avignon popes’ summer residence. You should also visit Maison Brotte, a wine museum that offers a fascinating in-depth insight to the art of winemaking in France’s very first AOC.
No tour of the Côtes du Rhône would be complete without visiting its capital, Avignon. This medieval walled city took the place of the Vatican as the seat of the papacy in the 14th century, a decisive moment which saw wine production in the area flourish.
A good time to visit would be late August, when you’ll catch the ‘Ban des Vendanges’, a lively festival which marks the official beginning of the Côtes du Rhône grape harvest. Expect colourful parades, traditional festivities, a gourmet market, wine tastings, and the opportunity to meet fellow wine enthusiasts in a merry atmosphere.
Kesller G – VPA
2. The Luberon
The Luberon AOC lies in the heart of the Luberon Regional Nature Park, an area of lush vegetation and exceptional wildlife.
The hillsides of this mountainous region are dotted with vineyards and cherry orchards. In addition to its natural beauty, the Luberon is known for its charming hilltop villages, which are not to be missed. Unlike the Côtes du Rhône with its famous, bold reds, the specialities of the Luberon AOC lie elsewhere; white wine makes up 21% of its production, and rosé 47%!
For those who are feeling ambitious, the 146 mile-long route that circles the whole of the Luberon is the perfect way to explore vineyards, olive groves and fruit orchards, stopping off at picturesque villages such as Ménerbes and Bonnieux along the way.
Due to the changing topography of the region anticipate some steep climbs, with the stunning views at the top a fitting reward for your effort.
Following the descent you can always treat yourself further with a glass of delicate rosé in the shady courtyard of a typical Provence village. Alternatively, you can enjoy an easier ride by hiring an e-Bike to do all the hard work for you, and focus your efforts on the wine-tasting available
O’Brien T – VPA
3. The Ventoux
The white-capped Mont Ventoux looms over Vaucluse at an impressive height of 1,909m. Clustered around the foot of the mountain and stretching over the Monts de Vaucluse towards Gordes and Roussillon are the 51 towns and villages which make up the Ventoux AOC.
Any cycling enthusiast who finds themselves in the vicinity of the Mont Ventoux will be well aware of this iconic peak. The ‘Giant of Provence’ has featured many times in the Tour de France, so conquering the summit will give any cyclist some serious bragging rights, and an undeniable cause for celebration in the evening. Find out more about cycling the Mont Ventoux here.
Once you’ve made your way down from the lunar landscapes of the peak to the leafy vineyards below, make sure to reward yourself with a glass of Ventoux rosé, inhaling the fruity aromas of raspberry and cherry.
Pellet E – VPA
Cyclist-friendly facilities in Vaucluse
Wherever you are in Vaucluse you can take advantage of the ‘Provence à vélo’ network. This network guarantees cyclists ideal accommodation and restaurants to stop at en-route, whether you’re coasting through the vineyards stopping at all the wineries you can find, or embarking on a week-long cycle tour and fast becoming an expert on the region’s vineyards.
The network also boasts a number of other great facilities such as bike and luggage transfer, guides, and bike repair services, while electric bike users can also take comfort in the fact that there are 13 Bosch charging stations and 150 fast chargers dotted across Vaucluse.
Whether you’re looking to tackle some of Vaucluse’s long-distance wine discovery routes and fine-tune your palate or get tipsy at an afternoon tasting and take a topsy-turvy ride home, Vaucluse is the perfect destination for cyclists and wine aficionados alike.
For more information about visiting this incredible region, visit the Vaucluse Provence Tourism website.