Southern France: Biking the Provence Countryside - WanderWisdom - Travel
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Southern France: Biking the Provence Countryside

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Viet and his partner spent a month in southern France. Biking through the Provence countryside was an unforgettable experience!

Sun-e-bike in Provence.

Sun-e-bike in Provence.

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.

Quiet scenic Provence road is ideal for biking.

Quiet scenic Provence road is ideal for biking.

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!

Clockwise from top left: stone farmhouse; lavender field; bright sunflowers; room with a view; black grapes at Domaine de Marie winery.

Clockwise from top left: stone farmhouse; lavender field; bright sunflowers; room with a view; black grapes at Domaine de Marie winery.

Sweeping views of Provence countryside from Lacoste village on biking route.

Sweeping views of Provence countryside from Lacoste village on biking route.

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.

Hilltop village of Bonnieux on biking route.

Hilltop village of Bonnieux on biking route.

Biking route for "The route of the perching castles".

Biking route for "The route of the perching castles".

Taking a water break by the vineyard.

Taking a water break by the vineyard.

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.

House of Truffle and Wine in Menerbes.

House of Truffle and Wine in Menerbes.

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.

Old village street in Oppede-le-Vieux.

Old village street in Oppede-le-Vieux.

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.
The road less traveled.

The road less traveled.

All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone6.

© 2016 Viet Doan