A rolling landscape of scented lavender fields, olive groves, and pine forests, with a smattering of honey-hued villages and cobblestone streets bathed in the beautiful light that has inspired generations of great artists. And if, like Van Gogh and Cezanne, you plan to head for the hills of Provence, the best way to do so is by bicycle. Growing up in the charming market town of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Christophe Piérard started to explore his homeland on two wheels from the age of 12 and now takes travellers on a trip down his memory lane with bespoke cycling holidays designed to discover Provence with locals, like a local.
After living away from his beloved Provence for 18 years whilst working for the likes of French luxury brands Louis Vuitton and Vilebrequin, Christophe returned home to launch Ride & More Travel, a passion project which offers personalised cycling itineraries and private day tours for couples, families, and small groups looking for an authentic Provençal experience. From e-bikes and road bikes to hybrid bikes, and the option of guided or self-guided routes, Christophe and his team of local cycling experts have sought out the prettiest places and off-the-beaten-track trails for “people who want to discover the area at their own pace in a sustainable manner.”
As no two cyclists are the same, each itinerary is different too. Taking your fitness levels, cycling experience, and interests in the area into consideration, the idea is that you “will not just discover but live Provence.” And no visit to Provence would be complete without sampling its ‘Art de Vivre’, which is where Christophe’s immersive itineraries come in – from rural picnic lunches and wine tasting in châteaux vineyards, to seeking out Roman landmarks and medieval hamlets, the Ride & More team are on hand to organise an array of off-bike activities for a more leisurely experience of this enchanting region.
After conquering the feared and revered ascent of Mont Ventoux which has long attracted keen cyclists to its scenic slopes, Christophe recommends a restorative stay at Hôtel Crillon le Brave, a quintessentially French hilltop hideaway housed within ten stone buildings centred around an ancient olive tree. “For me it’s an amazing, authentic and unique place that perfectly fits with the spirit of our bike trips and the idea I have about Provence” says Christophe, who sends saddle-weary cyclists to relax beside the hotel’s spectacular outdoor pool, or tuck into a seasonal menu of Cavaillon melons, Carpentras strawberries, Ventoux truffles and herbes de Provence hand-picked from the hotel garden after working up an appetite on two wheels.
When is the best time to visit Provence?
Provence offers around 300 days of sunshine per year and though every season is interesting in its own way, the best time to visit the area is between April and the end of October. During early April you can enjoy the cherry blossoms, our ride from Crillon le Brave takes you through a picturesque stroll through the middle of the cherry trees. April and May are also perfect because the days are longer and spring brings a bounty of delicious fruit and vegetables – it is the time of asparagus and strawberries, nature is blooming and the green is very green!
In June you can feel that summer is coming. When you hear the song of the cicadas for the first time of the year, you know that summer is here and in a few weeks a purple linen will cover the lavender fields. July and August is the peak season in Provence, when it’s warm but dry and it is still pleasant enough to enjoy an easy e-bike ride to discover small local markets before a lazy afternoon by the pool. It is also the time of music, dance and theatre festivals. Along with May and June, September and October are probably the best times to visit Provence but with fewer people. This is the period when autumn is coming and tints the vineyards with beautiful colours.
What is your favourite cycling route in Provence and why?
In July, from Crillon le Brave it is amazing to go for a ride to the lavender area. After a loop in the middle of a purple ocean and a lovely lunch under the shade of the plane tree at the terrace of a local restaurant, there is a road that offers 20km of smooth descent towards the staggeringly beautiful canyon of the Gorges de la Nesque – this is probably my personal favourite ride.
Where are the best stop-off points to enjoy a picnic with a view?
There are plenty of picnic spots, but facing the canyon of the Gorges de la Nesque, near an old farm, there is a picnic spot within a lavender field with a beautiful view of the canyon and the Mont Ventoux in the background. A picnic spot with a postcard view!
Tell us about a place only locals know about?
I love to stroll through sleepy small villages far from the tourist trail. During the summer you can enjoy the shade of the narrow streets, smell the fragrance of a wild fig tree by a refreshing fountain and get drunk on the powerful sound of the cicadas. Saumane de Vaucluse is one of these places I particularly love to spend time in.
For an off-bike day of activities, what would you recommend?
A glass of rosé by the pool of course! Jokes aside, the area is full of small wineries, from famous appellations like Gigondas or Vacqueiras to fast growing younger appellations it’s an absolute must to discover the local wine with a local expert. I would also recommend discovering local producers, buying fresh products and taking your time to cook a beautifully prepared lunch from scratch.