Cycling in Provence: The perfect holiday for scenic explorers
Provence. Pastis and Peter Mayle, right? Truffle-hunting pigs, and pig-hunting rustlers.
Beyond that painful stereotype, though, there’s a rich landscape to explore by bike and Provence is one of the top destinations for a cycling holiday in Europe.
It’s not just villages like Menerbes, where Mayle set up home as the advance party of an English invasion, it is a rich and diverse landscape made up of five departments with very individual identities.
One of those is Vaucluse, which has one foot in the historic region of Provence, but has a distinct character of its own, ranging from the imposing, regal city of Orange in the north, to the ordered agricultural charm of the vineyards that cling to the Rhone, through to the rugged beauty of Luberon’s wild hills in the south.
Pulling these disparate lands together, like a deity looking down from above the clouds, is Le Geant de Provence, the mythical, angry god that is Mont Ventoux.
With the Tour de France reaching its climax on the Champs Elysees in Paris, where better, to get a flavour of the region, than a true cycling landmark?
Mont Ventoux is a savage 6,273ft (1,912m) beauty that seems to glower down on everyone, given its position not within a range, but standing as a single peak, which adds an illusion of height and menace.
That illusion is only enhanced on top (and yes, I did ride up there, though not quite as fast as the peloton did on Stage 15 in 2013!) where the mistral reaches a ferocious, icy blast even in early summer.
Which is why Chateau Unang, which nestles at the foot of the giant, is such a welcome relief after a climb to the top.
Run by British expats James and Joanna, the chateau produces fine wines that reflect the freshness of the winds, and the warmth of France’s sunniest region.
Sipping their red La Croix 2009, it is easy to feel this place is heaven for a cyclist with a passion for wine.
Or, as one companion said, a drinker with a cycling problem!
Vaucluse is promoting cyclo-tourism with an impressive range of mapped routes across the region, and what better way to enjoy it than by riding through the vineyards to a tasting?