Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Easy Rider: Electric Bikes in Provence

Here in Provence, winemakers are deep into the vendange (grape harvest) but great stretches of countryside are still blanketed with row after row of beautiful green-golden vines, dripping with fat clusters of grenache, syrah, cinsault, mourvedre and viognier grapes. It’s one of the most beautiful times of the year. So last weekend my friend and I went up to Villes-sur-Auzon and took a spin through the vineyards on electric bikes (vélos électriques). After a little time to acclimate—neither of us had been on a bike for years--we were off and running, at a pace that topped out around 40 kilometers per hour.  It’s really a wonderful sensation: you pedal as usual and then the motor kicks in and gives you a little extra push. Then a little more pedaling…and another push. The bikes are like a cross between a traditional bike and a moped or scooter…and they’re a perfect way to ramble up and down winding roads and gentle hills without any major effort. It’s like cheating and getting away with it—a kinder, gentler Tour de France. The only time I felt a wee bit foolish was when “real” bikers blew past us, all sweaty and Spandexy and serious looking. But I got over it quickly.

You can rent the bikes year round but this is a perfect time, as the weather has cooled, the leaves are turning and there’s far less traffic on the roads.

At Vélo Relax du Ventoux, your electric bike comes equipped with a saddle bag, mileage counter and helmet; for longer rentals you’ll want an extra battery as well. The shop has traditional bikes as well--plus all the accoutrements such as bike trailers for kids, bike racks for the car and more. 

The electric bikes are surprisingly cheap: 22€ for a half day or 35€ for a full day. (If all you want is an hour or two, that’s fine too.) Owners Michel and Francoise Guieysse will help you out with maps and suggested routes--Michel particularly recommends the Gorges de la Nesque—and a guided tour can be arranged.

The shop is located between Carpentras and Sault, in the foothills of Mont Ventoux, in the A.O.C Ventoux winegrowing region. Complete contact info is below.

Just down the road from Vélo Relax is a wine co-operative called TerraVentoux. They offer a wide range of “Wine and Vineyard Discoveries,” including a guided vineyard tour on electric bikes, usually led by a local winegrower. You’ll enjoy tasting along the way and more tasting—with snacks--at the journey’s end.  Unfortunately, Terra Ventoux only offers the tours from late April through late September but Gabriel Valverde, who oversees wine tourism there, says he’ll be happy to arrange a bike tour for your group, weather permitting, until the end of October. (During their regular season, TerraVentoux also offers twilight walks, truffle tastings, moped tours, harvest workshops, winegrower walks and vineyard visits in a horse-drawn carriage.) See the TerraVentoux website here and the wine tourism section hereYou can also upload the complete wine tourism program here
Route de Carpentras
84570 Villes sur Auzon
To contact Gabriel directly: oenotourisme@cave-terraventoux.com 

*Update: Since this story was written, I've been looking around for other places to rent electric bikes in Provence.  Lo and behold, they rent them at the Marseille St-Charles Rail station, along with scooters and other fun things. All the info is here. There are also two places to rent them in Aix en Provence: Cycloplanet and Electric Cycles. And Luberon Biking biking has them for rent as well, with pick up and drop off in a number of villages.  But wait, there's more! My friends at Vaucluse Tourism have just emailed with some exciting news: A new service called Sun-E-Bike has just been set up in the Luberon. They have more than 200 electric bikes for rent, with battery points for recharging all over the Luberon. Pick up and drop off is at three locations...and delivery is available as well. Get all the info by calling 04 90 74 09 96 or clicking here. Bike Tours Direct currently offers eight bike tours in France with e-bikes as an alternative to traditional bikes, including 5 in Provence. See all their e-bike tours here

*Update: Sun-E-Bikes has opened another base, this one in St. Remy de Provence, on January 7, 2013. Ask for Maxime and tell him I sent you! Tel: (+33), Cell: (+33), www.sun-e-bike.com, bonnieux@sun-e-bike.com

*Update April 15, 2013: Up in Vaison la Romaine, my friend Sharon DeRham (tour guide extraordinaire!) writes: "This morning I spoke with Cycles Chave in Vaison to confirm that they have electric bikes. They also have folding electric bikes as well (velos pliants.) They also seem to be the nicest of the bike rental companies here. You should definitely reserve, as Vaison attracts many cyclists and this year will be bigger than ever, since the Tour de France starts in Vaison on Tuesday, July 16, 2013, for the Mont Ventoux climb.  Cycles Chave is located at the entrance to Vaison on the road coming from Avignon, just before the Pont Neuf; here's a map. Their email is: cycleschave@gmail.com and their website is here."

Sharon also tells us that you can get a guided tour on an electric bike through the local tourist office (located across from the post office " La Poste.") For info, click here. The company that provides these tours is a bit cheaper than Chave, with e bike rentals around 25€ per day. For info on them, click here

*Update May 2013: I just learned (from Sheila at marvellous-provence.info) thatyou can take e-bike tours in Marseille through, yep, E-bike Tours Marseille, which runs small-group or private guided tours on electric bikes. Several routes are available, and the guides will take you down backstreets away from the traffic and talk about Marseille's colourful history when you stop for breaks. The tours last between 2.5 and 4 hours and are offered in English as well as French. The price (from 35 €uros a head) includes the bike hire and use of a helmet and fluorescent jacket. Baby seats and fun child trailers are available too at a small extra charge. Sheila also tells me that electric bikes and scooters can also be hired (without a guide) from the Wattmobile kiosk on the lower level of Saint Charles station, by the entrance to the metro: take the down escalator opposite Platform F. Click here for the Wattmobile website (in French only) where vehicles can be reserved online.


  1. How cool! My kind of exercise exactly!

  2. Hey Julie, what a fabulous concept! sign me up! and yes, see you next spring... in Provence!



  3. I challenge you to a biking duel, Julie. And frankly, I don't see anything wrong with behind BEHIND a bunch of sweaty guys in spandex shorts. The view is better there.

  4. This really makes me jealous that you live in Provence and I dont (guess Paris isn't that bad though...)

  5. Damn and I just bought a kindle in the UK! Why is it that as soon as you buy something, a newer version comes out?

  6. Looks like a great way of discovering Provence !

  7. Can I say brilliant?? I'm there!

    xoxo Kit

  8. Wonderful post, strolling in the vineyards of Provence, what a pleasant and leisurely thing,Thank you for providing such detailed information.