Posted by: Jennifer Sage | February 11, 2008

Cycling Around St. Rémy, Provence France

St. Rémy in southern Provence is a bustling, lively Gallo-Roman town seeping with provençal charm.  Located at the foot of the Alpilles, St. Rémy has an exceptionally rich historical heritage. It is a quintessential Provençal town, surrounded by lush green perfumed valleys, with ancient streets lined with beautifully restored old houses, fantastic old fountains, shady squares, picturesque restaurants, elegant boutiques and trendy cafés adorned with colorful Provençal fabrics.  This small, dynamic city has kept its traditions and personality.  Festive events abound in this town: bull fights and other bull related events, sheep migrating festival, the horse fair, concerts and exhibitions.

St. Rémy village porte 

Seduced by the setting and atmosphere of the town, many writers, painters and musicians have chosen to live here.  Nostradamus was born here in 1503, and you will notice many a street, shop, restaurant or bakery named after the astrologer/prophet.  Gertrude Stein lived here.  Vincent Van Gogh spent his tragic final years in St. Rémy’s asylum after he cut off his earlobe in Arles.

Glanum Arch de Triomphe near St. Remy-de-Provence 

St. Rémy is an historic village built on one of the oldest archeological sites in Europe. Glanum, just to the south of town, a flourishing point of commerce during the Gallo-Greek years, was founded in the 3rd century BC, before control passed to the Romans under Julius Cesar.  It was destroyed by invaders in the 3rd century.  Excavations continue to uncover archaeological treasures.

As a cycling base, St. Rémy is hard to beat.  Every evening will be a gastronomical delight as you sample different restaurants and cafés and bistros.  As soon as you arrive in St. Rémy, you won’t want to leave!

There are riding options for all levels from the athletic beginner to the cyclist seeking a challenge. The more fit riders can extend their reach with longer rides of 60-80 miles, or more if desired. St. Rémy has one of the finest outdoor markets in Provence, and you want to plan your rides around the markets, selecting the local specialties to be savored in a picnic in a special, memorable location somewhere along your route.

Just south of St. Rémy sits the imposing site of the ruins of Les Baux, precariously perched on a rocky outcropping commanding the deep valleys below. Les Baux was made famous between the years 1,000 – 1,400 AD, when the bold and arrogant Lords of Baux ruled the entire land. The feudal warlords raped and pillaged the region, and legend has it they threw off the cliffs anyone who couldn’t come up with their own ransom. They never acknowledged the authority of the French kings, the emperors or anyone else, and their impregnable crag in the Alpilles allowed them to get away with it. But it was also at Les Baux that the most famous minstrels and troubadours of the day sang songs of courtly love to the maidens of the House of Les Baux. 

It all ended with a bang in 1372 when an even nastier fellow, Raymond do Turenne, found enough mercenaries to bring full-scale civil war to Provence and endow it with the same misery that the rest of France had become accustomed to under the Hundred Year’s War. 

For cyclists, the climb to Les Baux is a little over 8 km (5 miles) at an easy to moderate grade (3-5%). Strong cyclists will hardly notice the climb, but it is undoubtedly a challenge for less experienced riders.  I assure you, however, only on a rare occasion in all the years of leading tours in the area did I have someone take the van to the top. It’s one of those memorable climbs that anyone can do with a little training and perseverance! 

Cycling to Les Baux de Provence

As you round out the top of the climb amidst huge boulders, holm oaks and wild aromatic herbs, you’ll catch your breath at the first view of the ruins of the once-impenetrable chateau.

The Alpilles near St., Rémy

For self-guided cyclists staying in St. Rémy, there are a few logistical challenges if you were to take one of the two rides that extend to the south of Les Baux, circumnavigating the rugged Alpilles mountain chain. The first challenge is how to time your day, both around the hordes of tourists that descend upon Les Baux (1.5 million per year), and how to plan your riding around the potential heat of the mid-day. You don’t want to be in an exposed unshaded area at 2:00 p.m. in the summer – we tell you how to avoid that. You’ll also want to know what are the best months to go in order to avoid the greatest heat and the largest throngs of tourists. 

Olive Groves around Les Alpilles

The second challenge is to know where and when to eat lunch en route, as both rides south of Les Baux have extended sections of roads without services, so you want to avoid arriving in a town after restaurants are closed, or being stuck miles from a source of water or food. You’ll be riding through the arid landscape of extensive olive groves, so any tips on where to eat will be more than appreciated. 

And finally, a third challenge is how to shorten or lengthen the ride and how to know which roads are suitable or preferable for cycling. You don’t want to take a chance on your vacation to take a short-cut only to find yourself in an industrial area or dead-end! I give you the insiders tips on the best, least traveled roads.

With the Vélo Concierge service at Viva Travels, I specialize in providing the logistics for every ride – how best to time your day, best times for visiting sites en route (and when to avoid them), what to expect on each route (steepness of hills, road conditions, not-to-be-missed sights, etc), where and when to eat if a restaurant is your preferences, or if you prefer a typical French picnic, the special secret picnic locations in the shade of a chateau or next to a quiet stream (and where to buy your picnic items). I also give suggestions for extending or shortening the route, or for ways to combine different abilities.

The Vélo Concierge also makes recommendations for phenomenal rides that might be just a short car-drive away from your Hub location; rides that are too far to ride to AND also experience the wonders at that location. Just like you might do at home, you put your bike into your car, and we tell you how to get there, where to park safely, and suggestions for where to eat lunch or dinner in this new location after your ride. Not far from St. Rémy you can access many great rides for all abilities in less than an hour, including the Camargue, the Lubéron, the Pont du Gard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Mont Ventoux, the Gorges du Nesque, and much more. If you prefer to make one of these a second Hub to stay in for a few days, we can help out with that as well!

 Cycling in the lavender in Provence

 Contact us for more information on a self-guided cycling tour to Europe!

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Responses

  1. My husband and I are looking to do a 4-day self-guided cycling tour of Provence. We will be in Provence September 20th or thereabouts. Any ideas for us? Cost involved?

    Thanks!

  2. Hi Leanne,
    That is a great time to be in Provence. After the crowds, but still sunny and warm. There are many options, but I would suggest either St. Rémy or Vaison la Romain as a base. Cost would depend on your preference – 3 or 4-star hotels or B&Bs (I wouldn’t recommend 2-star). I know of some good bike rental locations as well. Email me for more info! jennifer@vivatravels.com

    Ride on,

    Jennifer


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