Southern France: Biking the Provence Countryside

Updated on May 15, 2017
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Part-time farmer, part-time traveler, Viet Doan lives in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii with his partner and a lazy old cat.

Clockwise from top left: stone farmhouse; vineyard rest stop; bright sunflowers; room with a view; black grapes at Domaine de Marie winery.
Clockwise from top left: stone farmhouse; vineyard rest stop; bright sunflowers; room with a view; black grapes at Domaine de Marie winery. | Source
Fragrant lavender field along biking route.
Fragrant lavender field along biking route. | Source

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.)

Deserted, narrow, winding country road: perfect for biking!
Deserted, narrow, winding country road: perfect for biking! | Source
Choose a scenic spot for water & refreshment break.
Choose a scenic spot for water & refreshment break. | Source
Follow this sign to the next village.
Follow this sign to the next village. | Source

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.

Hillside village of Lacoste with a castle perching on top.
Hillside village of Lacoste with a castle perching on top. | Source
Panoramic view of the Luberon valley with its lavender farms.
Panoramic view of the Luberon valley with its lavender farms. | Source
Old church with Provence landscape - homage to Paul Cezanne.
Old church with Provence landscape - homage to Paul Cezanne. | Source

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.

Biking route for "The route of the perching castles".
Biking route for "The route of the perching castles". | Source
Centuries-old church in village of Bonnieux
Centuries-old church in village of Bonnieux | Source

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.

Summertime in Provence - homage to Vincent van Gogh.
Summertime in Provence - homage to Vincent van Gogh. | Source
Another mode of transportation of another time: antique carriage at Marquis de Sade Castle.
Another mode of transportation of another time: antique carriage at Marquis de Sade Castle. | Source
A school in the village.
A school in the village. | Source
Old village street in Oppede-le-Vieux.
Old village street in Oppede-le-Vieux. | Source
Clockwise from left: House of truffle and wine; a bakery; lavenders in bloom; Life is Beautiful.
Clockwise from left: House of truffle and wine; a bakery; lavenders in bloom; Life is Beautiful. | Source
The road less traveled (by car).
The road less traveled (by car). | Source

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.

Provence countryside and biker - homage to Claude Monet.
Provence countryside and biker - homage to Claude Monet. | Source

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.

All Rights Reserved

Copyright © 2016 Viet Doan (punacoast)

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