Sea, sun, ancient ruins and fantastic flora and fauna. What more could you want? This week we’re heading to the south of France for Alejandro Jimenez’s runner-up entry to our Ultimate Trip 2018 competition.
Starting and ending in Avignon, this ride takes in all of the best of what Languedoc and Provence have to offer.
It earns a place in our top 10 rides in Europe for its beautiful weather and landscapes, and for those sunflowers. Alejandro and Lucy covered 50-60kms a day over eight days; spending the mornings cycling and the afternoons exploring. With plenty of towns along the way, the 400km loop can be divided up into as short or as long segments as you like.
Parc des Alpilles and arriving at Pont du Gard at sunset
Tarmac and gravel roads
When to go
Why is it Europe's best?
| Beach. Mountains. Marshlands. Roman ruins.|
In the heat of the Mediterranean summer last year, Alejandro and his wife Lucy set off on a Provençal and Languedoc adventure. Starting and ending in Avignon (not 'sur le pont' we don't think), they pedalled their way through national parks, medieval villages and beautiful countryside over an eight day trip.
Seasoned bike tourers with many a two-wheeled adventure under their belts, Alejandro and Lucy brought their own road and hybrid bikes over from their home in Baltimore, USA. The road bike was perfect for the region's quiet and smooth tarmac roads but fell flat when Lucy and Alejandro hit gravel sections. After an afternoon that was hilarious and hellish in equal measure - he got three punctures in 5km and ended up walking his bike in cleats - Alejandro says that the one thing he would change would be to bring a bike with wider tyres. 28mm tyres or thicker would be Alejandro's recommendation for a frustration free ride!
Setting out from Avignon, Alejandro and Lucy started their ride by heading south into a couple of national parks - the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles and the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue - via Arles, home to Vincent van Gogh and the inspiration for over 200 of his paintings.
With 20km to warm up their legs as they headed out of Avignon, they headed up into the Alpilles. If the 'Alpilles' sound suspiciously like the 'Alps' it's because they, too, are a mountain range. Fortunately a teeny tiny mountain range in comparison with that which hosts some of Europe's most unforgiving peaks, but a mountain range nonetheless.
The craggy limestone mountains were a great way to get the heart pumping but can also be bypassed in favour of a gentler route. Whichever way you go, there are plenty of cypress trees, olive groves and sunflower fields to cycle past.
No sooner were they out of the Alpilles, than Alejandro and Lucy found themselves back in another beautiful national park: the Camargue. These flat tidal marshes are home to thousands of flamingoes and to beautiful wild horses.
A frustrating afternoon of 'cycling' (or walking with a puncture), and a hilarious encounter with a speedo-wearing cyclist who brought them some oranges, later the pair arrived in Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mer for the night and a fantastic seafood dinner.
Setting off the following day, Alejandro and Lucy arrived at the Pont de Gau Ornithological Park for some more bird-spotting in a beautiful natural haven.
After a stop in Nîmes and Remoulins, Alejandro and Lucy cycled through plenty of small villages to reach their next stop in Vers-Pont-du-Gard. Being greeted by the impressive arches of the UNESCO World Heritage Pont du Gard Roman aqueduct in the fading light of the day was one of the highlights of their trip.
Arriving back in Avignon, Lucy and Alejandro explored the Ile de la Barthelasse before striking out north to the village of Châteauneuf-du-pape. There's a beautiful castle to visit here - Pope John XXII's 'new castle' in fact - and, of course, some delicious wine for rehydration after sweating it out in the saddle.
After a day or two in Avignon they also decided to strike out on a side trip along a largely flat route up to Orange. Another medieval town, Orange is home to a Roman amphitheatre, a beautiful botanical garden (Harmas de Fabre) and an imposing Fortress of Mornas, set on a cliff 137 metres above the town. Well worth a visit and a super end to a wonderful trip.
Quelle aventure! Alejandro and Lucy recommend this trip to pretty much any cyclist as it is so adaptable. Cycle the route faster and take in more of the mountains for a great workout, or take it slower, stick to the flat(ish), and leave time for taking in the region's spectacular scenery, history and culture. Allez!
Follow our blog for the next couple of months as we write about the other eight top adventures in Europe.