Tour length: 5 nights/6 days
Embrace the wonderful colors and perfume-like aroma of cycling the lavender fields of Provence on this seasonal tour. Our itinerary is a celebration of lavender in all its forms, whether cultivated by locals or growing wild in the fields, in soaps and oils or even in edible treats.
Located between the Alps and Provence, our lavender route highlights the beauty and culture of these intersecting regions. With an exceptional Provençal climate, it is very typical for the region to receive about 300 days of sun per year. The true draw of this region, however, is the unmistakable and calming aroma of endless lavender fields combined with pure Alpine-fresh mountain air — a feast for the senses that both invigorates and soothes.
Riding through contrasting landscapes, you’ll pass the Gorges of Verdon (France’s “Grand Canyon”), climb to the hilltop village of Valensole and its spectacular lavender-covered plateau, and meander through hills and valleys bordering the Luberon. You’ll visit places steeped in history and tradition, such as Moustiers-Sainte-Marie (famous for its Faïence pottery), the medieval citadel of Manosque, as well as the spa towns of Digne-les-Bains and Gréoux-les-Bains. (Bains, if you couldn’t tell, means “baths” — as in thermal baths!)
This is an extraordinary tour that’s best enjoyed by those who bike regularly. The terrain involves some hills and climbs, but the payoff is more than worth it. Once immersed in this charming landscape, you will have no difficulty understanding why Alain Ducasse and fellow prestigious chefs have found their culinary inspiration in this region. It’s hard not to be captivated by the variety of local produce and specialties: truffles, olive oil, honey, rosemary, thyme, and, of course, lavender.
The two closest towns to your first accommodation are Manosque and Forcalquier. To access either of these towns you can take a coach or bus from the Marseille airport or the Aix-en-Provence TGV station. Trains to Manosque depart regularly from Marseille Saint Charles and Aix-en-Provence Centre. Let us know if you will arrive in Manosque or Forcalquier, and we will pick you up and transfer you to your first accommodation. Your hotel is located less than two miles from the center of Forcalquier in a peaceful country setting. An early arrival allows you time to visit the L’Occitane factory in Manosque (guided visits in English need to be booked in advance). Before dinner in town, take some time to visit the citadel and its renowned open-air market, depending on your arrival day. Forcalquier is a charming introduction to the Provençal way of living… something you’ll get used to very quickly!
After breakfast, meet our local representative to go over your itinerary. You’re free to depart at the time of your choosing. You’ll start out at the foot of the Montagne de Lure, a perfect example of the rocky countryside of Upper Provence. As soon as you kick off, you’ll find yourself treated to superb views of Sainte-Victoire Mountain to the southwest, along with the Plateau de Valensole.
Leaving the wild nature behind, you’ll ride through the Durance River valley, where you’ll be exposed to the iconic “Pénitents des Mées.” These naturally occurring structures consist of a row of columnar rocks that stretch two kilometers across and 100 meters tall. Spend as much time as you’d like in the charming village of Les Mées nearby. When you hop back on your bike and cycle along the Bleone River, you’re a quick ride away from your accommodation, located two and a half kilometers outside of the peaceful town of Digne-les-Bains. If time allows, consider a visit to the thermal baths in Digne.
Prepare your legs for a gradual (but gentle!) 7.5% climb to the Plateau de Valensole. The so-called Lavender Plateau, or “Plateau des Lavandes”, is a picturesque and colorful terrain, especially in the summer when the lavender fields are in bloom. From this location you will be rewarded with a 360° view of Provence’s most famous mountains, such as the Sainte-Victoire, Sainte Baume, Mont Ventoux, Montagne de Lure and the Devoluy.
As you cycle down small roads, you’ll soon find yourself surrounded by magnificent lavender and sunflower fields. You’ll then ride through the Roman town of Riez before reaching Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, a hilltop village famous for its faïence, the distinctively hand-painted Provençal earthenware.
On this day you’ll have a chance to relax and enjoy the magic of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie. At an altitude of 630 meters (2,067 ft), this medieval town sits at the base of two rocky cliffs. No matter which direction you look, the views are astounding! The so-called “capital of ceramics” has many workshops producing faïence, and nearly 30 shops highlighting local goods. You could spend your day exploring or shopping in town, or… if you prefer to stay on the seat of your bicycle, you may also use the day to ride a short loop.
Our optional loop includes the Gorges of Verdon and fabulous cliff views. The village of La Palud is the start of the “Route des Crêtes” (Crest Road) and it offers many can’t-miss lookout points. One of these viewpoints is an exceptionally beautiful stop among castle ruins at the foot of the Rougon village, which provides a fantastic panorama of “Point Sublime”.
Early on today’s route you will cycle up a short, one-mile steep climb (18%). Your efforts will be well rewarded with rides along the shores of vast Lac Sainte Croix. The typically calm waters will paint a beautiful backdrop for your leisurely ride. Proceed on minor roads through quaint villages, such as Allemagne-en-Provence with its 13th-century castle and beautiful fountain.
Let your nose be your guide along a 2-kilometer stretch of lavender fields to a local lavender distillery, Distillerie Angelvin, which you may visit at your leisure. Lavender isn’t the only treat on this leg; your easy ride takes you past a local goat cheese producer — it’s often open to visitors — before coasting down a long slope to the spa town of Gréoux-Les-Bains. “Comfort after effort” is the day’s motto! The ancient Roman town of Gréoux-Les-Bains is a popular destination for its mineral hot springs. Take some time to enjoy the thermal baths, renowned for their therapeutic and beneficial effects.
*Please note that the shorter option does not take you through the Valensole Plateau. From Allemagne-en-Provence, you’ll reach Greoux-les-Bains via the main road, on mostly flat terrain.
After a leisurely breakfast, we will transfer you to Manosque. If you choose to take a train or bus later in the day, we suggest you take the opportunity to visit the medieval citadel of Manosque or the l’Occitane Factory, if you weren’t able to do so on your arrival day. Not only is Manosque a great place to grab lunch, but it was also home to Jean Giono, one of the greatest French writers of the 20th century. Be sure to visit the town’s citadel, which was an important inspiration for his work.
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5 nights in 3-star hotels
From 790 euros per person sharing a room (single supplement is 355 euros)