Southern France: Biking the Provence Countryside
One of the most fun and relaxing ways to see the countryside of Provence is by biking – with un vélo électrique! Why an electric bicycle? The Provence landscape is not completely flat as you may think, there are plenty of rolling hills and steep roads – quite a challenge even for an experienced biker! Also, some of the most famous Provençal villages are situated on mountain cliffs overlooking the valleys and farmlands below. With an electric bicycle you can easily bike up the steep, bumpy cobblestone roads that lead to these villages and enjoy the breathtaking views from the top.
Enjoy the Countryside of Provence
Compared to driving a rental car or sitting on a tour bus, exploring the countryside of Provence on bike is a much more pleasant experience. It gives you a unique opportunity to enjoy the scenery up close and personal. As you leisurely bike along the road, you can feel the warm summer breezes, smell the lavender flowers, hear the birds in the orchards, and be visually enchanted by beautiful sights such as a field of golden sunflowers or an old church perching on the hillside. It’s like being inside a Monet’s or van Gogh's painting!
(To illustrate this, some of the photos that appear in this article have been artistically transformed with Photoshop to resemble French impressionist paintings.)
How does an electric bike work
An electric bike (or e-bike) looks and feels very similar to a mountain bike. It has a light-weight battery (usually attached to the back seat) that generates an electric current to power a small built-in motor (usually in the rear hub) to “push” the bike forward with less pedaling effort. Similar to the way you switch gears on a regular bike, a simple flip of your finger will engage the motor whenever you need it, i.e. biking upslope or against headwind. The battery re-charges itself (somewhat) when you pedal with your own leg power on flat roads.
Where to rent e-bikes in Provence
Sun-e-Bike operates electric bike rental shops in the Luberon, Alpilles, and Aix-en-Provence regions in southern France. This company offers electric bike rentals for one-day trips or for the entire length of your vacation. They also provide excellent road maps and suggested itineraries that enable you to explore and see the best of Provence – on bike.
This article features Sun-e-Bike’s one-day trip itinerary called La route des châteaux perches (The route of the perching castles). The trip starts from Bonnieux (where Sun-e-Bike has a rental shop) and takes you to neighboring villages Lacoste, Ménerbes, Oppède-le-Vieux and back. These old villages are registered by the French government as “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (The Most Beautiful Villages of France). You will be biking on small country roads (with hardly any car traffic!) lined with picturesque vineyards and orchards. The round-trip biking distance is approximately 38 km (about 24 miles). It takes 3-5 hours to complete, depending on how many sightseeing stops you make along the way.
Top attractions along this route
Lacoste Castle – built in 11th century, also known as Marquis de Sade Castle as he lived here 1769-1772. Currently owned by French designer Pierre Cardin and for an admission fee you can walk through the house and gardens.
Domaine de Marie vineyard – one of the largest wineries in Provence. Offers tours and wine tasting.
Ménerbes – this quaint village was made famous by the 1989 best-selling memoir “A Year in Provence” by British author Peter Mayle who still lives in the area.
Maison de la truffe et du vin – art gallery & fine restaurant located in Ménerbes, offers delectable truffle main courses and impressive regional wines.
Oppède-le-Vieux Castle – magnificent ruins of a 12th century castle. Many contemporary French artists and writers made their homes here in the surrounding village.
Tips on biking
- Follow the itinerary & map provided by Sun-e-Bike. Ask questions and get suggestions from their friendly, helpful staff (most speak English) at the rental shop.
- Observe local traffic rules. Look for the little blue Sun-e-Bike logos posted on street signs along the route, it means you’re on the right track!
- Bike in single file if you’re with a group. Helmet is not required but highly recommended.
- Bring water bottles, snacks, sunscreen, and don’t forget your camera!
- Bring a small blanket in case you want to stop for a picnic or take a nap under an apple tree in the orchard.
- Use the lock provided by Sun-e-Bike to secure your bike whenever you leave it unattended, i.e. outside a museum, a restaurant or café.
- Yield to others if necessary, especially those serious bikers who look as if they are training for the next Tour de France!
- Save battery power by using the motor only when you bike uphill. Remember the battery slightly re-charges itself whenever you pedal with your own leg muscles!
- If for some reason your battery is completely drained, Sun-e-Bike has set up a partnership with some shops in the nearest village where you may exchange the empty battery for a fully charged one.
About This Article
Biking the Provence countryside was an unforgettable experience for the author. He and his partner spent 2 weeks in the charming little village of Bonnieux.
All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.
© 2016 Viet Doan