Saturday, April 3, 2010

Road Scholar

Ron van Dijk has led bike trips in France for more than 30 years, first with Euro-Bike Tours and now with Austin Adventures - Adventure Travel (which purchased Euro-Bike Tours in 2008). The Billings, Montana-based company was named the No. 1 tour operator in the world by the readers of Travel+Leisure in 2009; they're known for very personal service and first-rate guides. (Among their 47 adventures for the year ahead are eight Provence trips: four biking and four hiking.) Because Ron knows practically every bike route in Provence, I asked him to share one of his all-time favorite one-day rides with us...and here's what he graciously sent. It's a 43 KM (26 mile) loop, starting and ending in Vaison-la-Romaine. Ron says this ride offers rolling terrain, stunning views of nearby Mont Ventoux, small roads and few cars...and that it's at its best from April to June or in September and October. If you have questions or would like details and a map, Ron's email appears at the end of this post. Off you go!

Vaison has only 6000 inhabitants, but it’s a vibrant little town with two sections: the commercial part with typical French delicatessen stores, many restaurants to choose from and a bustling market on Tuesday morning. Oh…and don’t forget to visit the remains of the Roman town. Across the river, Ouvèze is the medieval upper town, built against a hill. It's from here that the bike route begins, by crossing the one-arched 2000-year old Roman bridge.  

We turn right after crossing this bridge and now follow signs to St. Marcellin. In this peaceful village we turn left, after which quiet country roads lead us via St. Romain-en-Viennois to the top of the hill in Faucon. Definitely visit Faucon’s quaint center and discover the old stone washing place (still used by some!), the little square and the narrow streets. The village is surrounded by vineyards which are especially pretty in the fall. Don’t hesitate to pick a few grapes. Délicieux! 

So far, we’ve mostly gone gently uphill. Now comes the reward: after we turn right in Faucon, we are treated to a superb downhill. After crossing an old stone bridge over the river Ouvèze we turn left towards Mollans for 5 KM, a perfect village for a morning coffee at the café by the side of the river. Park your bike and go for a stroll. 

Back on our bikes again, we return the same way along the river for 5 KM and turn left towards the village of Entrechaux. When you reach the monument in Entrechaux, it’s time for your next stop. On foot, you could climb the “Montée du Château” to reach the castle ruins with nice views. Also at this monument is the Restaurant l’Ancienne Poste, a very pleasant spot with home cooking and an outside terrace. The local ‘vin de la maison’ may slow you down, but it’s earthy and goes well with the daube (beef stew in a rich wine-laden broth) cooked with olives. After lunch, do it the French way: 'un petit café’ should get you going again! The caffeine comes in handy on the hills between here and Malaucène. 

Along the way, maybe you'll want to visit the winery Domaine Champ Long, whose prized wines are made mostly from Grenache and Syrah grapes. Béatrice, Christian or Jean-Christophe Gély will be glad to introduce you to their art of wine making. Maybe buy a bottle for after the ride? 

Now we proceed to Malaucène, a lively town and hub for the ‘real’ cyclists, namely those brave ones who climb Mont-Ventoux from here. This is Provence’s sacred mountain, often a stage of the Tour de France. Have an Orangina on one of the terraces, give your legs a rest on a chair, and everyone will admire you, thinking you did the 14-mile climb to the summit! By the way, the bike shop in the upper part of town sells Mont Ventoux bike jerseys. 

As you get closer to Vaison-la-Romaine, turn left and climb the challenging 2 KM uphill to Crestet perched above you. Another gem of a village, and fantastic views of the surrounding hills and the Ouvèze valley. 

Íf you stay on this side of the river, pretty soon you’ll reach the old Roman bridge again. Voilà. Fini!  

Looking for a place to stay? Hotel le Beffroi is situated in the medieval upper town. It consists of two charming houses dating back to the 16th and 17th century, with a beautiful terraced garden. Each room is different and has kept its old character. Ask for a room with a view of the valley. 

Or, if you’ve got something special to celebrate (how about ‘la vie’?!), make a reservation at the Restaurant le Moulin à l’Huile in Vaison, where chef Robert Bardot serves a Michelin-starred dinner in a former oil mill on the banks of the Ouvèze, only 100 yards from the Roman bridge. Let’s make that a Chateuneuf-du-Pape and splurge! 

My favorite month for this ride is October, when the vines start to turn color and the light has a silver touch. July and August can be a bit hot, so don't forget lots of water. Bonne route!  

*Note: For Provence or France biking questions, a more detailed description of this route or a route map: ron@austinlehman.comTo see all of Austin-Lehman's trips, including Provence:   

For independent travelers, the following spots, all in Vaison-la-Romaine, rent bicycles: Mag 2 Roues, Cours Taulignan, Tel 04 90 28 80 46 (Tues-Sat) Cycles Chave, 10 rue des Ormeaux, Tel 04 07 89 45 51 (Mon-Sat) Intersport, Route de Nyon, Tel. 04 90 36 24 01 (Mon-Sat).


  1. Hi! I am having a French link Party.You could link your wonderful posts :)

    I have a give away and i ship internationally :)
    Gros bisous

  2. Julie: I've been meaning to write after seeing this post. Vaison is probably our most favorite town in all of Provence! it is nearly so many ways.
    And, if staying at Le Beffroi, I would definitely recommend the building down a ways, with the pool: it's quieter and quite lovely..



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