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Trip Report Biking in Provence with Cyclomundo - trip report (long)

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Sorry not to have posted this earlier - but better late than never!

Exactly one year ago, June 28 - July 7, my husband and I had a wonderful trip to Provence with Cyclomundo. It was our first biking trip. I had researched a few different companies, and decided that Cyclomundo would work fine for us. They are not as full service as Backroads or similar companies in that Cyclomundo offered itineraries (similar to other groups) and then contracted with local organizations to offer the bikes, maps, they booked the hotels and transported the luggage, but we we on our own for the daily rides - not with a group. This was a great option for us, since we cycle often on weekends at home, have lived in France and speak the language, so we felt very comfortable.

We chose the option where we rode about 30-35 miles a day. My husband thought this would be easy. We routinely ride for 75-90 minutes at weekends and are in decent shape. In the end this distance worked perfectly and it would have been too challenging to do a more difficult trip. Typically we rode from 9-4 each day with two stops - lunch and a coffee in a village.

USA - Nimes

We left a day and a half free to begin the trip, since this was my first trip to Provence, and we thought we would sightsee a little before getting on the bikes. We arrived in Provence (Marseille airport) on Friday June 28. We exited the airport to find the car rental, and were shocked to find enormously long lines at Europcar. I wish I had chosen another option! We waited over an hour in the hot sun before getting our car. Then we were off to Nimes and the Best Western L'Orangerie. Since we were only planning on having the car a day and a half we had not brought a GPS or rented one. It would have been helpful arriving in Nimes, but we did manage to find the hotel. I had not chosen a hotel in the center of Nimes since parking sounded difficult. The Orangerie was very nice - it had an ample parking lot in a park like setting. There was a pretty pool which we did not use. We did however take advantage of the wine bar in a separate building overlooking the pool. It was a great place for a late afternoon snack upon arrival. We had our first chevre chaud (warm goat cheese) salads with big glasses of wine. After refreshing we strolled into Nimes. It was about a 20 minute walk to the center through a residential area. My husband had visited Nimes many years before and had good memories.

For some reason, the evening we walked around Nimes, there was not much going on. We wandered down little alleys and by the arena, but the atmosphere was nothing special. We wound up having a light dinner at a cafe across from the arena, which was not memorable, except for the view, then we walked home to get a good rest.

The next day we had not chosen to have breakfast at the hotel, so we took a walk around the nearby area. Although it was not a beautiful area (kind of like European strip malls) there were plenty of little shops and we found an excellent patisserie where we had breakfast. We also noticed some fun looking restaurants, so if you ever stay at the Orangerie hotel, it is definitely worth exploring the area right around the hotel for food.

Nimes - Uzes - Pont du Gard - Avignon

We set off Saturday to drive to Uzes, which I had read about and had a Saturday market.
Good choice - Uzes was a charming village reminiscent of Tuscan or Umbrian hill towns. The market was extensive and we spent a good half day touring. We stopped to have lunch at a popular cafe on one of the main streets where it was fun to people watch. I would highly recommend Uzes. It might have been more fun to just stay there our first night.

In the afternoon we drove from Uzes to Avignon with a stop at the Pont du Gard. It was pretty hot, but definitely worth stopping to take photos. The museum wasn't much, but we crossed the Pont and did a little hike for more views.

Next it was on to Avignon, where Cyclomundo had booked us into the Grand Hotel Avignon for two nights, and we needed to pick up our bikes since the bike shop was closed on Sunday. One note about the Cyclomundo itinerary - there were two options - A and B, and we chose the option with the higher rated hotels and no prepaid dinners. I was able to look at the hotel options before making the choice, and the hotels on the (slightly) higher priced option looked so charming we chose that plan. Also I had read that with the prepaid dinners you were given vouchers and might have a more restricted choice of restaurants. We liked having the freedom to do what we wanted for other meals.

We dropped our bags at the Grand Hotel then returned the car at the TGV station and took a bus back into town to the hotel. The Grand Hotel was on the main road just across from the city walls and it was very elegant. We were given a room with two bedrooms and a sitting room for the two of us. The bike shop where we needed to pick up the bikes was about a 10 minute walk down the road from the hotel.

Picking up the bikes was easy but took a while, since several groups of people arrived at once to pick up bikes (not all with Cyclomundo) and it was necessary to explain the maps and check that the bikes were a good fit. We had rented the bikes through Cyclomundo for a minimal fee. We got the hybrid bikes, which was a great choice since they had very good suspension. Normally we ride with road bikes, but the hybrids worked well for this type of trip. It took at least an hour to get things sorted out. We were given detailed maps, saddle bags, locks, and a tool kit for minor repairs. the maps clipped onto the front of the bikes. We took the bikes back to the hotel and the hotel showed us a storage closet where we could keep them.

By this time we were tired so we found a restaurant that was not too far of a walk on tripadvisor - Le chat Touilleur. I cannot remember exactly what we had, but it was not really as memorable for us as it seems to have been for the Tripadvisor reviewers. The next night we discovered a charming area and ate at Chez Lulu which was tremendous. I had duck in a cherry sauce with polenta. Also there was outdoor seating on a little square (there were a few other popular restaurants) but Chez Lulu is definitely worth a visit.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at the grand hotel. Often on our travels we don't get the hotel breakfasts because we enjoy going out to cafes and mixing with the locals. However on this trip all the breakfasts were included, and they were all memorable with fresh fruit, different types of bread, cakes and pastries, and meats and cheeses.. Normally it would bother me to spend 15 - 20 euros for a breakfast, but I didn't think about it once we had paid Cyclomundo.

Avignon

We opted to skip the first day of riding in order to visit Avignon, we we went to the Palace of the Popes, strolled around the city, and also saw the Pont d'Avignon, made famous in a song. One day to see Avignon was fine for me. The Popes Palace was worthwhile. We were hungry and had a light lunch at a cafe on the main drag near the Palace. If you care more about your food, it is probably worth looking up something away from that touristy area, but as I mentioned, in walking around later we found the area with Chez Lulu and were able to return there for dinner.

Avignon - St Remy de Provence - Les Baux de Provence

The next day we started off on our bike ride. I did not sleep well worrying about whether the roads would be busy and whether the luggage would get transported without problems. We had tags to put on our suitcases and we were to leave them at the front desk. We started off about 9 am. The roads were slightly busy getting out of Avignon, but after the first 30 minutes the maps put us on quieter roads and it turned out the majority of the roads on our itinerary were very quite rural roads and I was not nervous at all after that. The luggage transfers also worked perfectly.

The cycling was wonderfully relaxing and the views were straight from Van Gogh paintings. There were some small hills to start with but not too bad. Although the lady at the bike shop had told us to bring snacks, we did not, and we passed through small towns every now and then so we stopped off when we felt like it for a coffee or cold drink. We did take water with us. We rode to St Remy de Provence where we stopped for lunch.
the town was very cute. I think we ate at Chez Fanny after walking around. Had a very nice lunch - husband regretted the wine during the afternoon bike ride, but it's hard to pass up in France.

After lunch we took a short detour to go visit the hospital where Van Gogh stayed for a year and painted many of his famous paintings. Interestingly when we arrived at the place there were a few members of a backroads group arriving as well, and at first they thought we were part of that group. We said we were on our own, locked up our bikes and went on in to look around. After visiting the inside rooms and the gardens for about an hour, as we exited the backroads riders were still at the entrance waiting for the rest of their group to arrive for their private tour. We were pleased at that point to be traveling at our own pace!

We set off from St Remy towards our destination for the evening - Les Baux de Provence. The one suggestion that we would have for cyclomundo is to mention on the maps the elevations and the length of the climbs. We weren't really prepared for the ascent that afternoon - we had no idea that Les Baux is at the top of a mountain and that in order to arrive at Les Mas d'Aigret, our hotel, we would have about a 5 K climb. We had to walk our bikes a few times that afternoon. But the scenery was spectacular. We were very pleased to arrive at our hotel, which was just below the actual town of Les Baux. Le Mas d"Aigret was very charming. We opted to wait to visit Les Baux until the next day, and we relaxed at the pool before eating at the hotel restaurant, which was pricey and unremarkable. The setting was nice though. There aren't really many options, since Les Baux itself is a very small place and quite touristy. The next night we ate at one of the cafe's in Les Baux, but it was also not noteworthy. The location was spectacular though.

Les Baux - Arles - Les Baux

The next day we set off for a ride to Arles. I had been concerned whether we would have to repeat the climb we had up to our hotel, but the next day's trip was in a different direction, and there were no difficult climbs. This day's ride was a loop, so we had two nights at Le Mas d'Aigret. The ride to Arles was very picturesque. We even saw a nest of storks in a tree. Getting into Arles was a little congested and tricky, but we soon locked up the bikes and walked around, finding the famous cafe from the Van Gogh paintings so we stopped there for coffee. Then we continued on and found the Arena. We did not go in, but had lunch at a restaurant facing the arena. I believe it was a restaurant that specialized in meat but I got a goat cheese quiche which was phenomenal.

The ride back that afternoon was a little warm, but we made it to the hotel and then hiked up to Les Baux to visit the ruined castle and village. It was quite a climb, but the castle area was extensive with some great views. There is not much to the town besides some shops and cafes. We did not look to see if there were special restaurants, since we were tired, and just grabbed an easy meal at the cafe near the town entrance.

Les Baux - Eygalieres - Cavaillon - Fontaine de Vaucluse

The next morning we set off for our next destination: Fontaine de Vaucluse. This was the only rainy day, as we transitioned from the Alpilles to the Luberon. Again, the scenery was gorgeous despite the rain, however there was another long bit of windy climbing to do, maybe for an hour or more. We arrived in the charming village of Eygalieres and stopped for coffee there. Then further on we stopped in the town of Cavaillon for lunch. At first we weren't sure about which restaurant on the main street to choose from, but then it quickly became clear which restaurant had the most people, and we managed to snag the last table for two. I can't remember the name of the restaurant, except that it was Italian and on the main road. Also they had a salad called Manon which is my daughter's name, and that is what I got. My husband had veal saltimbocca with risotto and tiramisu. Excellent lunch. Then back on the bikes to go to Fontaine de Vaucluse. Before arriving at F de V we stopped at Isle sur sorgue. I was curious to see Isle sur Sorgue, since that was the location of the lower priced hotel, and I wondered if I would wish we were staying there. Isle sur Sorgue was quite crowded and eclectic. There was a lot on offer, if you had a family, but in the end I was happy we were staying in Fontaine de Vaucluse, which was smaller but more picturesque. The Sorgue river was much more memorable at Fontaine de Vaucluse, which is where the source of the river is. We stayed at the Hotel du Poete, which again was completely charming. You could eat breakfast outside, right next to the river. Again, the breakfast was a delight. For dinners we walked down the road into the small town. It was hard figuring out which restaurant to choose. The first night we ate at Hostellerie le Chateau, which was right next to the big water wheel. We got a table with a view over the river. The food was decent but not really special, and the service was extremely slow, but it was nice to have the view.

Fontaine de Vaucluse - Gordes - Roussillon - Fontaine de Vaucluse

The next day we set off for the villages of Gordes and Roussillon. Gordes was beautiful but another climb. WE might have walked our bikes a little that day too! We had coffee and a short walk in Gordes before heading onto Roussillon, with its ochre colored buildings. The ride was again lovely on quiet roads and past beautiful fields of lavender. In roussillon we discovered a small screw had fallen off my bike and so the chain was scraping and limiting my gears. We called the service number and spoke with a mechanic (he spoke English too) and in the end we found a string to tie the pieces together and it worked just fine. The ride back to Fontaine de Vaucluse that day was quite difficult. The terrain was flat but there was a headwind. That was the only day that the ride got very difficult in the afternoon.

That night we at at Chez Dominique in Fontaine de Vaucluse and that was a pleasant experience. The owner was attentive in helping us to choose wines. The hotel was a restful place to have a drink in the garden, and the receptionist was very friendly.

The next day was the last cycling day. We rode to the village of Venasque, another climb! but which was charming and had a very old church. We had a sandwich lunch from a patisserie there and ate it outside on a bench. There were also some cool shops despite being such a small village. Then we were off back to Fontaine de Vaucluse. Although F de V was very small, it was pleasant and there was a nice walk by the side of the river. Also the hotel was worth visiting. I bought a tablecloth and some Marseille soap from a shop right by the hotel.

Fontaine de Vaucluse - Avignon - Marseille

The last morning a taxi arrived to take us back to the Avignon TGV station, where the cyclomundo portion of our trip ended. The taxi driver arrived on time and I was impressed with his careful driving. The whole Cyclomundo portion of our trip was perfect, and we would happily do another trip with their company. From the Avignon TGV station we took the train to Marseille where we would stay overnight before leaving the next morning. We had time to visit Marseille and do some shopping and sightseeing and had dinner with old friends overlooking the Vieille Port.

It was a memorable trip and I hope that the information is helpful!

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