Diverse Directions: Self-Guided Cycling Tours in France

Provence Cycling Tour Itineraries

Vineyards & Van Gogh Hub & Spoke Tour


General Information

Tour Highlights

Tour Dates

Anytime between April 1 and October 31. Please note, however, that bike pick-up and return cannot occur on a Sunday. See Scheduling Your Bike Tour for blackout dates and tour scheduling considerations.

Location

Located in the far southeast of France, Provence is known for its lovely Mediterranean climate, fields of sunflowers, vineyards, the Impressionists, its Papal palace and Roman ruins. In the deep south of France, the tour begins and ends in Avignon, 3 - 4 hours from Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport by express train. The vegetation, light, and ambiance is Mediterranean.

Format & Length

Hub & Spoke tour of 3 days / 4 nights to 7 days / 8 nights. You may choose any combination of nights in Avignon and Arles.

Terrain

Easy to challenging. The terrain, like everything about this region, is diverse. While there are lots of ups and downs on this tour (some challenging), you will also enjoy long, relatively flat stretches of effortless cycling.

Distance

Choose from 7 day trips ranging from 41 - 61 km / 25 - 38 miles in length.

  • Overnight destinations: Avignon and Arles.
  • Roman ruins as impressive as those of Italy; particularly the grand aqueduct of the region, the Pont du Gard, the magnificently preserved theater at Arles, and the Triumphal Arch and amphitheatre at Orange.
  • The dramatic rise of the Alpilles Mountains and the perched village of Baux-de-Provence.
  • The unique Mediterranean wetlands habitat of the Camargue.
  • The sheer beauty of the Mediterranean landscapes and the play of light that so captivated Impressionists like Van Gogh.
  • An incredibly varied geography including mountain ranges, semi-arid garrigue, rolling vineyards, and cliff-studded river valleys.
  • Enjoy free wine tasting opportunities nearly everywhere along your route.
  • Perched medieval villages bathed in the warm Provencal sun.
  • The colorful city of Avignon with its medieval wall surrounding the city and its former Papal palace.

Tour Package Price

  • 7 Days - $575.00 per adult & $275.00 per child*
  • 6 Days - $550.00 per adult & $250.00 per child*
  • 5 Days - $525.00 per adult & $225.00 per child*
  • 4 Days - $500.00 per adult & $200.00 per child*
  • 3 Days - $475.00 per adult & $175.00 per child*
  • Tour Deposit: $200.00 per adult and $100.00 per child. Deposits are charged when tour materials are sent and hotel availability has been confirmed.
  • Discounts are available for parties of 5 or more adults.
  • See Terms & Conditions for Diverse Directions' payment terms, cancellation policy, and all terms & conditions.

*Children age 16 or younger traveling with 2 adults.


Tour Package Price Includes...

Tour Package Price Does Not Include...

  • Tour documentation: Route instructions, maps, Pre-trip Preparation Guide, On-Road Quick Reference Guide, and Sights Guide.
  • Bike Rental for 3 - 7 Days: Excellent quality hybrid bike with handlebar bag, map carrier, cyclometer, water bottle cage, rear rack, lock, repair kit, and helmet. Optional pedal cages. Road / racing bikes and mountain bikes are available for a supplemental charge. Tandem bikes are also available and may be substituted for 2 standard hybrids at no additional charge.
  • GPS navigation files
  • Baggage transfers
  • Retrieval of your rental bikes in Arles
  • Reservation of your accommodations
  • English-speaking support staff
  • Postage charges for US customers
  • Basic SAG Support: If you choose not to cycle on the day that you change hubs, due to weather, illness, etc., AND you notify your Diverse Directions support representative in advance so that you and your bikes can be transported along with your luggage, no additional charges will apply.
  • Accommodations: You're free to determine your own budget for accommodations. A complete list of accommodations options (with website links) is available upon request.
  • Meals: You're free to determine your own budget for meals.
  • Transportation from your home to Avignon and from Avignon to your home
  • Insurance & personal expenses
  • Postage to destinations outside the US (generally $20.00 - $45.00)
  • Expedited shipping of tour materials, if required.
The Tour's Bases and Day Ride Descriptions
Hub: Avignon

photoAvignon is a vibrant, sunny, southern city, full of historical sights. Must-sees include the Palais des Papes, the palatial residence of the Popes who moved here from Rome in the 14th century when Rome was politically unstable, and the city's collection of art museums and Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance churches. You'll be fascinated by Avignon's centuries old ramparts which completely surround the city's medieval center, as well as the 12th century bridge which partially spans the mighty Rhone River. You'll be staying within the city's walled center, just a few short steps from a multitude of fabulous restaurants and shops. For more information, click to visit Avignon on the web.

Spoke 1: Vintage Vaucluse: Isle-sur-la-Sorgue & Fontaine de Vaucluse - 61 km / 38 miles.

Isle sur la SorgueYou'll depart bustling Avignon on a series of new bike paths and bike routes -- nicely protected from city traffic -- and will soon find yourself on quiet country roads winding through the famous vineyards of the Rhone river valley. Most of today's route is almost completely flat with the exception of a climb to the sleepy village of Jonquerettes. You'll continue easy cycling through the lively market town of le Thor and on to Isle-sur-le-Sorgue, often referred to as the Provencal Venice owing to its being traversed by five branches of the River Sorgue.

More town than village, with tall plane trees and green streams, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is "the island on the Sorgue" a few kilometers from the river's source at Fontaine de Vaucluse. Over the last 40 years Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has become famous as the antiques capital of Provence, indeed of France, if you don't count Paris. There are many permanent antique shops, art galleries and interior décor shops here, grouped in several "villages." Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is a pleasant walking town. The bars and cafes retain their authenticity, little footbridges take you over the water, and narrow, winding streets tunnel into the old centre of town, and the courtyards lined with antiquaries.

Fontaine de VaucluseBefore you end your cycling day, however, you'll continue a bit farther to the charming village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. Squeezed into the sharp end of a narrow valley, the village takes its name from the beautiful and mysterious spring feeding the river Sorgue. This spring comes from deep underground - nobody knows how deep. In the 1950s, Jacques Yves Cousteau came with a submersible to explore the depths but did not find the bottom. Gushing out of a 230 meter high cliff, the underground spring is the world's fifth most powerful resurgent river. This extraordinary phenomenon forms the crystal-clear Sorgue river, which soon turns a startling emerald; and it's this vivid hue that dominates the village of Fontaine de Vaucluse. To get an idea of its splendor, take a look at this YouTube clip of the village and river.

You'll return to Avignon by way of a slightly different route, enjoying more quiet roads and gorgeous scenery.

Spoke 2: Papal Grapes & Orange: Chateauneuf-du-Pape & Orange - 41 km / 25 miles.

photoThis day trip takes you through the vineyards that belonged to the papacy when, during the 14th century, the popes resided in Avignon and maintained a summer residence near Châteauneuf-du-Pape. You'll leave Avignon by way of the Isle de la Barthelasse, an island in the middle of the Rhone River with splendid views of Avignon. The route takes you down tiny roads through beautiful orchards, along the cliff-studded Rhone River to the village of Roquemaure, and then to the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Châteauneuf is a world renowned center of wine making, as the Châteauneuf vintage is one of the world's most exclusive appellations.

OrangeFrom Châteauneuf you'll cycle through beautiful vineyards to the historic city of Orange. Orange has a long history that goes back to the days of the Romans. In fact, the Roman Theater (Théâtre Antique) is the best preserved in the whole of the Roman empire, and is justifiably the pride of the city. In the second half of the 12th century Orange became the seat of a small principality called Comtat Vanaissin, which became a part of the Netherlands in the 16th century. It was not until 1713 that Orange became part of France. All of Orange's principle sights are located in the lovely old town center. Orange is a lively, colorful city that will seduce you with its charms.

The route is mostly flat except for the areas around Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

You'll return to Avignon by train with your bike. All trains permit bikes, the trains are frequent, the ride takes approximately 20 minutes, and bikes travel free of charge.

Spoke 3: Vintage Heights: Tavel Wine Region & Villeneuve-les-Avignon - 46 km / 29 miles.

photoThis day trip takes you to the lovely wine villages of the Cotes du Rhone appellation in the uplands of the Gard Department. The route begins with a long, tough climb to the village of Sauveterre, a small village with a maze of narrow streets built along the foot of a steep escarpment. With your elevation gain behind you, you're on to Pujaut, another charming village and your entry into the highland vineyards of the Gard. From Pujaut you'll continue west to the village of Tavel, celebrated for its world-renowned rosé wines. From Tavel you'll make a loop through the surrounding vineyards, feeling very much as if you're atop the world.

Turning back towards Avignon, Villeneuveyour route takes you over tiny roads, through more vineyards, and then onto the Route des Falaises (the Cliffs Route) for several kilometers of dramatic mountain beauty -- with no climb required. Then you cycle onward to Villeneuve-lez-Avignon by way of another series of gorgeous, winding, tiny lanes that feel more like bike paths than roads. Avignon's sister city, Villeneuve-lez-Avignon is an historic city that was established by the cardinals in the 14th century when the papal city of Avignon had no remaining living space. In addition to its many splendid sights such as the massive citadel known as Fort St André, the Papal Monastery of Val de Benediction, and the Tour Philippe le Bel, Villeneuve commands incredible views of Avignon and Mount Ventoux.

Spoke 4: The Pont du Gard (Roman Aqueduct) - 60 km / 37 miles.

Pont du GardThe route to the Pont du Gard is a wonder of tiny, beautiful roads almost completely free of vehicle traffic. The journey is a joy in and of itself, passing through a number of charming medieval villages like 16th century Aramon, Théziers, and Remoulins. If you're visiting in September, you may even experience Aramon's running of the bulls!

Of course, the day's primary destination is the Roman aqueduct called the Pont du Gard. Constructed by the Romans in the 1st century to transport clean drinking water to the Roman city of Nîmes, this remarkable aqueduct bridges the Gard today as it has for 2000 years. The Pont was in use for 1000 years, of which 500 were without maintenance; it survives today in nearly intact condition. The area surrounding the Pont du Gard is a park, complete with riverside beaches and a lovely picnic area.

You can cycle across the aqueduct, and you will definitely do so if you're making the optional side trip to the magnificently perched village of Castillon-du-Gard. This detour adds 11 km / 7 miles to your cycling day, and a very long climb. Your efforts are rewarded by one of France's most beautiful villages and extraordinary views.

The Route to Arles: 47 km / 29 miles.

BoulbonOn the way to this ride's primary destination of Arles you'll cycle through a lovely region known as La Montagnette, after the range of hills that parallels the Rhone as it flows southwest from Avignon. The setting is beautiful -- a typical Provencal landscape of rock escarpments; hillsides fragrant with wild flowers and aromatic herbs; and quiet hollows sheltering olive, almond, and apricot trees, pines, and poplars. Your route takes you through the Montagnette village of Boulbon, a lovely historic village dominated by its ancient defensive castle which for centuries stood as a sentinel for the Counts of Provence against the Kingdom of France.

From Boulbon a series of quiet, scenic roads -- one of which follows an ancient protective levy -- takes you on to Tarascon, a center of commerce since antiquity. 

TarasconTarascon boasts a fairytale 15th century chateau, considered to be one of the finest fortified medieval castles in the whole of France. Tarascon is a lively, authentic town with no pretention and is a wonderful town for strolling or enjoying a sidewalk cafe. The streets of Tarascon -- lined with rose, lemon, and ochre houses with pots of geraniums in the windows and laundry flapping in the breeze -- make for a delightful place to wander around. In addition, Tarascon boasts a castle that doesn't even require a climb! Rooted in a limestone rock over the Rhone, Tarascon's castle gleams like white satin between the sun and water, a storybook feudal castle with crenellations and moat. Its location on the banks of the Rhone, its massive appearance which contracts with its inside architecture, and its exceptional state of preservation make the building one of the finest medieval castles in France. In the 13th century the castle, opposite the royal city of Beaucaire, defended Provence's western boundary.

From Tarascon you'll cycle tiny lanes through the farmland and woods just a stone's throw from the Rhone River. Then suddenly you emerge into the dense maze of narrow streets that comprise Arles medieval center.

With the exception of a couple of moderate climbs, the route is almost completely flat along very quiet roads.

Hub: Arles

ArlesOnce the Roman capital of Provence, then an important religious center in the Middle Ages, Arles later became a focal point for the Provencal renaissance of the 19th century. For five centuries Arles thrived at the crossroads of trade routes between Italy and Spain (the Domitian Way) and between the Mediterranean and Northern Gaul; was a significant center for the early Christian church; and hosted several major synods. Arles went into decline from the 13th century onward when it was overtaken in political and economic importance by Aix and Marseille.

Most of the sights in Arles are concentrated in a compact area downtown. Arles' star attraction is undoubtedly the amphitheater known as the Arènes, which was probably built around the end of the 1st century AD. It is just a bit larger than the amphitheater at Nîmes, although slightly less well preserved. The Théâtre Antique just to the south, was built during the reign of Augustus, but was pillaged for stone in the 5th century by Christians eager to build churches.

Alongside Cézanne, Van Gogh's towering genius will forever be linked with the light-filled landscapes of Provence and the brilliance of the southern skies. Van Gogh took up painting at the age of 27, having previously been an art dealer, a teacher, and an evangelical preacher. After falling under the spell of the Impressionists he moved to Arles in 1888 and, although he wrote that the town had "a worn and sickly look" about it, (no longer true!) he nonetheless stayed, captivated by the vivid colors around him.

Spoke 1: Saint-Rémy-de-Provence: Van Gogh & Roman Ruins - 54 km / 33 miles

Saint RemySaint-Rémy is undoubtedly one of the most delightful towns in all Provence. Encircled by a boulevard of plane trees, the center of the town is a warren of fine old buildings, pretty squares, plant-filled alleyways, and cooling fountains. Its charms inspired Provencal poets as well as novelist Gertrude Stein. The Hôtel Estrine, a fine old mansion, contains the Centre d'Art Presence Van Gogh (closed Mondays) with audiovisual displays and documentation on Van Gogh, and exhibitions of contemporary works.

GlanumA half-mile outside St-Rémy are the ruins of Glanum, a major Roman town, and the remarkable Roman monuments know as Les Antiques, consisting of a well-preserved mausoleum and a triumphal arch by the side of the road. The 60 foot-high mausoleum, with elaborate bas-reliefs on the podium, was erected around AD 30. The triumphal arch, dating from around the same time, was one of the first of its kind in Provence.

Just below the site is the former monastery of St-Paul-de-Mausole, where Van Gogh was hospitalized. It is still a private sanatorium, but you can walk down the main driveway and visit the church and the 12th century cloisters.

The Saint-Rémy Office of Tourism provides a nice list of the town's major attractions.

The cycling route is flat or gently rolling the entire way to Saint-Rémy.

Spoke 2: Les Baux-de-Provence with Saint-Rémy Option - 51 km / 32 miles.

Les BauxThe ride to the perched medieval village of Baux-de-Provence is through the pretty countryside made famous by Van Gogh and other Impressionists. Your route passes between the remnants of an ancient Roman aqueduct and takes a more urban tone as you reach the charming sister villages of Paradou and Maussane. From Maussane your long climb begins to the top of the Alpilles, a jagged range of mountains that pops up out of nowhere. The scenery is spectacular and unobstructed views abound.

Les Baux is one of the classic sights of Provence, a powerful evocation of the feudal dynasties which once ruled the country. Perched on a barren rock plateau jutting out southward from the Alpilles chain, les Baux had been a stronghold since Ligurian times, but it first achieved notoriety in the 10th century when it became the power base for the ambitious seigneurs of Baux, who claimed to be descended from Balthazar of Bethlehem, one of the three kings who attended Christ's Nativity. They adopted the Star of Bethlehem for their coat of arms and waged war incessantly. They gained control of over 80 surrounding towns and villages, secure in the knowledge that their eagle's aerie at les Baux was impregnable. Today Les Baux is officially classified as one of "The Most Beautiful Villages in France."

The cycling route is flat or gently rolling until you reach the Alpilles, after which you have a 3.5 km or 2 mile climb to Les Baux.

On your return ride from Les Baux, you have the option of making a short 9 km / 5.5 mile side trip to St. Rémy, in the event that you wish to combine these two destinations.

Spoke 3: The Camargue: Wetlands of the Rhone Delta - 57 km / 35 miles.

photoThis day trip takes you into the Camargue, the vast wetland of the Rhone delta  formed by the two branches of the Rhone where they meet the sea. The Camargue is a rich tapestry of many different ecosystems, a haven for wildlife and a joy for anyone seeking tranquility amid its watery landscapes. In the Middle Ages communities of monks settled on the edge of this swamp to collect valuable salt, but by the 17th century they had been replaced by ranchers whose primary purpose was the raising of the famous white horses and the black, longhorn bulls which thrive on the saline pastures.

The whole of the delta is part of the Parc Naturel Régional la Camargue, created in 1970, which covers 210,000 acres and aims to achieve a balance between traditional activities, the interests of local inhabitants, and nature conservation.

This ride's terrain is completely flat.