There is no doubt that the best way to see Provence is to immerse yourself in the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside on a bike.
Cycling is big in the Luberon, whether on the road or off-road. The region is gently hilly and many of the villages are on top of a short, sharp hill, but as a consolation they are not far apart.
To have a fantastic day out, just plan a route that avoids the main roads and soon you will find yourself cycling past vineyards, orchards, sunflowers and heading to your ports of call: the perched medieval villages, castles, wineries, ochre valleys, lavender trails, or even restaurants.
There are some signposted cycling routes in the Luberon, detailed below, but you are more likely to take a map, circle the things you want to see, and build your own route that way. The one busy road to avoid in the Luberon is the D900 between Avignon and Apt, which is the main east-west artery.
Below are some cycling circuits in the Luberon region of Provence. And here is a useful resource for cyclists who are out all day, a listing of public water fountains and toilets in the villages of the Luberon:
Complete circuit of the Luberon
There is a complete circuit of the Luberon that is 236km long and is designed to take in some of the best sights on the way, which you can download in PDF format here:
When on this round-Luberon circuit you will see these signs indicating the route:
Clockwise direction (Apt - Forcalquier - Manosque - Lourmarin - Cavaillon)
Anti-clockwisedirection (Lourmarin - Manosque - Forcalquier - Apt - Cavaillon)
This is a 51km circuit that takes you to the best places to see the ochre quarries and landscapes of the Luberon: Rustrel, Villars, Saint Saturnin les Apt, Roussillon and Gargas.
This route is signposted in both directions at every junction with orange and green signs like this :
Clockwise (Roussillon – Villars – Rustrel)
Anti-clockwise (Rustrel – Villars – Roussillon)
Pays d’Aigues circuit
This is a 91km (57 miles) circuit in the south Luberon and takes in the picturesque villages of Cadenet, Cucuron, Ansouis, St Martin de la Brasque, Grambois, Mirabeau, La Tour d’Aigues, La Bastidonne, Pertuis (a town rather than a village), and Villelaure.
La Véloroute du Calavon
This is a new paved cycle path for bikes only that roughly follows the path of the Calavon river where the old railway line ran through the Luberon. At time of writing it runs from about the level of Les Beaumettes just off the D900, to St Martin de Castillon the other side of Apt. Eventually it will run all the way from Cavaillon to the Alpes de Haute Provence. As there are no cars, only bikes, it is also very suitable for families with children. The surface of the route is superb.
Create your own circuit
You can just make your own route, here are some suggestions:
Between Cavaillon and Apt - photogenic perched villages worth cycling to that also have a cafe or restaurant for a stop-off: Gordes, Roussillon, Bonnieux, Lacoste, Lagnes, Menerbes, Oppede le vieux, Lacoste, Saignon, Goult, Joucas, Murs
A selection of intriguing chateaux at Ansouis, Tour d’Aigues, Lourmarin, l'Abbaye Saint Eusèbe in Saignon
This takes you by fields of lavender to beautiful villages (the lavender flowers between mid-June and early August when it is harvested): St Saturnin les Apt – Sault – Lagarde d’Apt – Rustrel – Oppedette – Saignon
Same idea, but over towards the Lure mountain in the east: Simiane la Rotonde - Oppedette – Vacheres – St Michel l’Observatoire – Forcalquier - Banon
The Sorgue route
Here is a site with some shorter rides centring around the wonderful Sorgue river, which emerges from the ground fully formed at Fontaine de Vaucluse, and connect to places like Isle sur la Sorgue, famed for its antiques market :
Various Luberon routes
On this site people have posted their own cycling route maps around the Luberon and Avignon :
This is not for the faint-hearted, the Mont Ventoux is a mythical climb in the Tour de France that is one of the toughest of all the mountain stages.
There is about 1600 metres of ascent over 22km. Some of the gradient is 9-10% and it is said to be hard but steady as a climb (which means it is uphill almost every inch of the way).
The record ascent by bike is about one hour, if you are a decent cyclist 2 hours is a good time. There are three ways up, from Bedoin, Malaucène and Sault.
The Bedoin departure point is the most popular and the toughest. The last 16km have an average gradient of 8.9%. Malaucene is about the same. The easiest route is from Sault, which starts 400m higher than the other two and has an average gradient of 4.4%. From Chalet Reynard it is the same route as Bedoin.
Bedoin is also popular because you can rent a little microchip for 5 euros that gives you an official time and diploma for your climb. You rent the microchip from the cycle shop 'La Route du Ventoux', and the start line is right outside. At the top there is a radar that gives you your time and when you take the microchip back to the shop they can print out your diploma with your time.
The youngest person to cycle up the Mont Ventoux was an 8-year-old boy. The record for number of ascents in 24 hours is by a Bedoin local, he did it 11 times.