It’s been a long time since I last posted about a cycle ride in the area, that’s not because we haven’t been cycling, in fact the opposite is true.
This area is so good for cycling and even though we thought we had been along most of the main routes, we continue to find new places to explore and I’ll post more of those in the future.
Yesterday though we headed off across the Luberon to do a loop that takes in some of the prettiest villages in the area. It’s one of our longer rides at just under 90km and it certainly includes some climbing (over 1300m), but is worth the effort for the quiet roads, gentle rolling countryside, beautiful colours and of course, incredible views.
Whilst we head off under our own power, we’re seeing many more people out and about exploring on electric bikes, which makes these rides so much more accessible, especially as there are now so many places you can rent them from locally,
It goes without saying that Provence is just better by bike – you get to really experience the area, enveloped by the scents and sounds that you don’t experience in the car, seeing the wildlife and catching sight of small details that flash past when you’re driving.
Yesterday we started, as ever, on the Veloroute du Calavon, the superb off-road track along the bed of the old railway line that runs the length of the valley, heading into Apt, before turning at the main traffic lights to take the old road from the town towards Bonnieux.
This is always a great way to start any ride, as the quiet road hugs the edge of the valley, climbing gently through vineyards and cherry orchards towards the beautiful village of Bonnieux. If you have ever watched the film ‘A Good Year’ this is the road along which Max drives Fanny off the road, just above the vineyards of the Chateau De L’Isolette, about 4km outside Apt.
All the way along this road the views across the valley towards Mont Ventoux are quite beautiful and it was from here, earlier this week that we noticed the bright flash of poppy fields in the distance on the opposite side of the valley and altered our route to try to find them and we weren’t disappointed…
Arriving in Bonnieux we continue to climb up to the old village….
Then continue out, taking the route that passes the junction for the Forêt Des Cèdres , before dropping down through hairpin bends and onto the Combe de Lourmarin…
… which is a wonderful sweeping road, down through a gorge, that takes you directly into the village of Lourmarin with its lovely Chateau, pretty old streets and vibrant Friday market.
From here we continued out, taking the road towards Vaugines, a quiet little place at the foot of the Luberon and home to Peter Mayle who wrote A year in Provence, until his death last year. It’s easy to see what attracted him to the village with its honey stone houses and peaceful charm. Then it’s only a short hop across to Cucuron and Tuesday just happens to be market day, which takes place on the street around the unusual ‘Etang’ in the heart of the village.
Again if you have seen ‘A Good Year’ this is the setting for the musical dinner date, that is rudely interrupted by a violent thunderstorm. It is incredibly beautiful with tall Plane trees edging the pool, with brightly-coloured cafes down one side, tables packed with people drinking coffee and chatting in the morning sun.
Slightly peckish by this point it felt like the perfect place to stop for breakfast & we leapt off into the boulangerie (opposite the Spar) and sat outside with a couple of coffees and excellent pastries – another one to add to our list of places for good cycling breakfasts Cycling, Coffee & Croissants! .
In the sun, with the light dappling through the trees, we passed a very delightful hour, just watching the bustle of people passing on their way to and from the market …. there is something very gentle about just sitting and watching life and it’s sometimes hard for us to tear ourselves away and get back on the bikes…
From Cucuron you continue along quiet roads to Cabrières D’Aigues, where the views open up across the plain towards Aix and the Mont Sainte Victoire, with its instantly recognisable profile in the distance
From here you follow the road through to La Motte D’Aigues, where at the crossroads in the centre of the village, there is an old Fontaine that is surrounded by one of the most incredible Wisterias I have ever seen. It was at its height a couple of weeks ago now, so we missed it today, but when it is in full-flower its a beautiful sight.
From La Motte the road continues on through small villages and you follow the signs for Vitrolles, as the road starts to climb up the Southern flank of the Luberon. Here again you cycle through vineyards, Olive groves and fields, filled at this time of year with the pinks and purples of Luzerne, all adding colour to an already bright landscape.
The road into Vitrolles winds slowly up the side of the hill, before climbing through the brightly-painted houses in the centre of the village, where the pink of the Horse Chestnut flowers matched perfectly the colour of the house directly behind, almost as if it had been planned that way!
Passing through the village you then continue to climb on the peaceful road taking you up to The Col de L’Aire Deï Masco, on top of the Luberon. Its a well-kept road with sweeping corners and even more sweeping views back across towards Aix and beyond…
… giving me the perfect opportunity for a stop or two to take photos…. nothing to do with my legs needing a moment’s rest at all
Eventually you reach the summit and the Col sign at 696m…
… Before starting the winding descent towards Cereste. The road on the way down to the village is slightly more ‘chausée deformée’ than the way up and makes for a more bouncy ride, although once again the views are stunning, across to Viens
And on towards the distant low Alps, clear of snow for the first time we have seen them this year. The road winds its way off the Luberon, arriving in Cereste, the small town in Alpes De Haute Provence, which was home to the poet and local Resistance Leader René Char who was involved in the tragic events on the nigh a WW2 Bomber crashed nearby. On the trail of a WW2 Wellington Bomber …….
It’s also now home to a superb Ice Cream Shop and cafe, Scaramouche selling wonderful sorbets and ice creams made with local and seasonal ingredients, a good place for a stop on the way back if needed!
From Cereste you pick up the ‘Round Luberon’ Cycle route again and head back, via quiet lanes that run along the base of the hills, through Lavender fields, finally dropping back onto the Veloroute du Calavon and the off-road ride back towards Apt.
Circular routes like this are just a delight and we get to see so much just pottering along on the bikes.
For us it’s all about the ride… we potter, we chat, we stop to look at the view, we stop to take photographs, we stop to see if we can find out what a particularly pretty flower may be, we stop for coffee, we stop for breakfast and we simply enjoy the moment, being out, immersed in Provence and learning more about it wherever we go.
If you fancy following the route then its on Strava, called ‘Over the Top to Cucuron and Back Again’ with all the other rides we do whilst we’re in Provence and can be found here Strava – Julie Whitmarsh
Also lots more can be found about cycling in Provence including routes, bike hire and hotels on Véloloisir Provence a great website for anyone looking to cycle whilst in Provence.
Needless to say we’ll be back on the bike and heading off again soon…