E-biking vacations in Provence

For a long time, Mount Ventoux and its surroundings associated Provence with the hardiest of cyclists. But anyone can enjoy cycling here with a bit of battery power. An electric bike gives you the confidence to cycle further, and for longer, so you can enjoy even more of this special area of France. The roads are flanked by magnificent plane trees once thought to have been planted to keep Napoleon’s marching armies out of the sun. Now, they’ll help keep you cool as you cycle.
Soon you’ll be freewheeling so fast through the fields that the lavender becomes little more than a purple blur.
Provence is a great place to explore on two wheels; you don’t need to be a speed demon in Lycra to get the most out of the routes, nor do you need a car to get to the top of the next hill. There’s no need to rush the roads when there are so many good reasons to chain up and chill out. Head to a hilltop town where the views are far-reaching, the architecture charming and the evening balmy. Car free? More like carefree.

Where to go e-biking in Provence

Provence is beautiful through and through, and the department north east of Avignon, known as Vaucluse, is a great place to tour by electric bike. The River Rhône sits to its west, whilst the eastern side is mountainous, with massive Mount Ventoux in the center. The region wells with natural springs, which are great for refreshing stopping cyclists, and going by bike, rather than car, guarantees you parking in the most popular towns. The sights range from Roman to just plain romantic: the interesting towns of Avignon and Orange are on the route, but so too are little villages lapped in lavender.

Avignon

The city of Avignon sits among the vineyards of the Rhone Valley in the very heart of Provence. Its famous bridge (Pont Saint-Bénézet) has long been more of a jetty than a bridge – floods broke it multiple times in the 17th century and only four arches remain. Six popes displaced from the Vatican called Avignon home in the 1300s, evidenced now by the imposing medieval cathedral and a papal palace.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Named by a pope who chose to build his new castle here in the 14th century, the little village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, just a short hop from Avignon, must be blessed: it’s famous for producing the finest red wines in the region. The old castle lies in ruins above a town where there’s a degustation on every doorstep. The wines are great: delicious when young; even silkier as they age.

Gigondas

The little village of Gigondas sells a powerful dark red wine from its surrounding region. The warm weather makes this bold red taste almost like fortified wine. Like a few Provencal towns, Gigondas’s name is Roman – from a word meaning great pleasure and enjoyment. Well, what more is there to say?

Mazan

The Marquis de Sade gave this town a kinky reputation that it can’t quite shake. His castle is right in the center of town, and it’s now a fancy hotel frequented by A-listers. Mont Ventoux is in the distance (a famous challenge for professional cyclists). But it’s no pain to get around Mazan on an electric bike. The town is a hub for cyclists, and many popular routes pass through.

Orange

Orange seems to be anything but French. Its funny name comes from a period of Dutch rule. Its ruins, however, are Roman: there’s an amphitheatre and a triumphal arch, the only remains of a sacked Roman city. But what great remains they are – good enough for UNESCO’s list.

Pernes les Fontaines

Cyclists will be grateful for a stop at Pernes les Fontaines, which is built over the St Roch spring. Clue’s in the name, this village’s cup runneth over with fountains: there are forty around the town and you can take a walking tour to see them. Provence’s abundance of natural springs (Vaucluse is named after one) has been enjoyed since the Roman times.

What does e-biking in Provence entail?

On an eight-day tailor made tour of Provence you can drop in on famous towns like Avignon and Orange, but also spend plenty of time out in the famed countryside. You’ll be provided with detailed routes and IGN maps – the French equivalent of OS maps. With an electric bike, the distances, between 23km and 49km every day, only amount to two or three hours of cycling.

The going is generally flat but most days tend to end with a hill climb to get to the next overnight stop. Luckily, your electric motor will help make the climb easy, rather than frustratingly exhausting. You’ll stop at a different hotel every night, but sleeping isn’t the only reason to dismount. A real highlight of cycling in Provence is being able to drop in on different vineyards, and different towns.

Why take an e-bike?

An electric bike is very similar to a regular bike. They look close to identical, but an e-bike is slightly heavier, because it comes with a battery and motor. The battery-operated motor gives you a boost of power whenever you pedal (unless you switch it off). With this pedal-assisted system you can reach speeds of 25km an hour with ease, and the battery will last for a full day of cycling.

Individual e-bikes can be rented on many regular cycling vacations and are a great option if one person is less confident than the rest of the group. There are also e-bike only vacations, which are longer and more ‘undulating’, and especially designed to be enjoyed with electrical assistance.

Making the most of your pit stops

Book a tour with a responsible operator and not only will you get a great vacation, you’ll also get great advice and support, too. They’ll be passionate about the area, and be able to give you loads of local tips.
When you stop for a rest, you’ll find there’s much to admire about Provencal life: the cuisine brims with sun-ripened recipes for pissaladière (onion tart), ratatouille and aioli (garlic mayonnaise). Look out for signs advertising ‘formule-midis’ (midday menus), and you’ll get inexpensive two or three course lunch at a simple restaurant. Eating local is a great way to cut your carbon footprint in the destination – and it tastes great, too.
Then there’s the world-famous wine: take a leisurely approach to lunch with a glass, or stop for a tasting at a cave. Sightseeing aside, take your time to appreciate Provence’s smaller wonders; watch a game of pétanque played out on a shaded court, or just enjoy a coffee on a slow afternoon at a Tabac.

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When is best time to go?

You can cycle in Provence from the beginning of April to the middle of October on a tailor made cycling trip, and spring and autumn are lovely, quiet times to visit. You may want to avoid peak dates: Easter, and late July through August, when it’s hot and there are lots of people. What’s more, in France many people take their vacations in August, so some restaurants and businesses will be closed. In the winter months, Provence gets hit by frequent mistrals – high, chill winds off the Mediterranean – less than ideal for a relaxing pedal.

Practicalities

Harvey Downard, from our e-biking specialists Cycling for Softies:
“In Provence we own a fleet of Trek TM1+ e-bikes. These have Bosch motors, which are the best on the market and a big 500wH battery, giving it a maximum range of over 100km (in the right conditions). These don’t have built in GPS, but are very simple to use for guests who may be trying an e-bike for the first time”

Most cycling vacations recommend that you bring your own helmet on the trip – but bike hire is provided.

E-bikes are slightly heavier than regular bikes, and therefore a little harder to control (though not by much). You should only rent one if you know how to cycle. Because of their motor assistance they should only be rented by adults. In the UK it’s against the law for under-14s to use them. Most cycling operators will only have adult-sized bikes, and they are subject to availability.

Don’t forget to charge your battery every night, ready for the next day’s cycling.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rupert Shanks – Cycling for Softies] [Anignon: Ylliab Photo] [Pernes les Fontaines: Francois de Dijon] [making the most of pit stops: Rupert Shanks – Cycling for Softies]
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