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Beginning in Cavaillon, we embark on a tour of the long limestone spine of the Luberon. To the West, the “Gardens of the Pope” harbour to this day the best orchards in the area. To the North, the many Romanesque abbeys and churches testify to the important religious history of the area. To the South, overlooking the mighty Durance River, the villages still harbour the chateaux of the local nobility, reminiscent of a lavish history prior to the French Revolution. A tour that takes in the most beautiful villages of the Luberon: Sénanque, Gordes, Bonnieux, Buoux, Lourmarin, with the sound of the cicadas and a decor of garrigue, pine forests, fields of lavender, vines and orchards…
Itinerary start: France Bike Trips services begin on day 1 at 10am at Cavaillon SNCF railway station.
On request we can book the previous night’s accommodation for you in Cavaillon.
Located on the banks of the Durance, Cavaillon is a pretty Provençal town with a long history as a stage post on the route south towards the Mediterranean. Overshadowed by its famous neighbour, the papal city of Avignon, Cavaillon was nevertheless part of the rich Comtat Venaissin, an independent pontifical state between the 13th and 18th Centuries. It was also a shelter for Jews (under the protection of the Pope), exiled from the Kingdom of France until the Revolution of 1789. Before leaving Cavaillon, we visit two of the most important religious monuments of the town: the Cathédral Saint-Véran, a fine example of Roman architectural style in Provence, and the synagogue, masterpiece of 18th Century Comtat artwork. We then set off on our bikes along the flat cycle path for some 10 kilometres to Robion. Gateway to the Luberon, Robion is a typical village of Provence: a square shaded by plane trees, a fountain, the ruins of a feudal castle, and a chapel perched high on a rocky mount overlooking the village. We now have two options depending on how fit we're feeling. The first offers an easy route to Lacoste, taking in the village of Oppède le Vieux along the way. The second option takes us along minor roads and easy tracks as we head north to join l'Abbaye de Sénanque. Sénanque is the most impressive of the "three Cistercian sisters" of Provence. The abbey is now part of the monastery of Lérins, and is still home to a dozen Cistercian monks. We approach the abbey via a plateau that plunges into the narrow valley of Sénancole, hidden from the outside world and home to the abbey for over 8 centuries. We visit the monastery late morning (1 hour). Four kilometres from Sénanque is Gordes, one of the most famous landmarks of Provence. The village is perched on a rocky outcrop where it basks in the Provençal sunshine, with the Monts de Vaucluse as a backdrop. The village is a fine example of traditional dry stone wall construction, its houses blending perfectly with the surrounding landscape. Gordes is classified among the "most beautiful villages of France". It's the perfect place for our midday stop, and an opportunity to sample the local culinary specialities. The afternoon's riding leads us to Goult, once the stronghold of the famous Agoult family. The pretty village harbours a seigniorial castle, now restored but private, and the slopes beneath the village are still used for terraced agriculture. Goult is also home to the mystical Monastère de Notre-Dame-de-Lumières, a famous pilgrimage site. Now partly converted into a hotel, we nonetheless stop to visit the monastery. To end the day's ride our route takes us to the village of Lacoste. A protestant stronghold, Lacoste witnessed several episodes of repression against the Vaudois of the Luberon during the 16th Century. But the village is mainly known for its ruined castle, property of the Marquis de Sade during the 18th Century. Evening and overnight stay in Lacoste, opportunity to discover the village on foot.
A mere five kilometres separate the villages of Lacoste and Bonnieux, but the wars of religion rendered them arch enemies. Previously the property of the lords of Agoult, Bonnieux was also a Templar base, before becoming papal land for four centuries, on the arrival of the popes in Avignon. An enclave surrounded by the land of the Comte de Provence, Bonnieux occupied a special place in the history of the area, and only became French again with the annexation of the Comtat Venaissin in 1793. We visit the village and its many private mansions, remnants of its lavish past. On leaving Bonnieux, we head east, in the direction of Buoux. Once past the Combe de Bonnieux, which separates the Luberon in two, we enter the Grand Luberon, which is wilder and greener, but as steeped in history as the Petit Luberon. The Aiguebrun runs below Buoux, followed north for centuries by the mule convoys bringing salt from Provence. The valley forms a natural gateway that was closely guarded, overlooked by the imposing Buoux Fort. We take the time to visit this extraordinary edifice, steeped in history, and offering magnificent views of the surrounding area. Via castles and chapels, our route takes us to Apt, the colourful, vibrant capital of the Luberon, and candied fruit capital of the world. Here too, the powerful families of Agoult and Simiane left their mark on the history of the town. We make the most of the end of the afternoon to visit the old town, the Cathédrale Sainte-Anne (which, according to legend, houses relics of the mother of the Virgin Mary). We are then welcomed at the visitor centre of the Parc du Luberon for a presentation of the natural heritage of the Luberon area. We can also take a dip at the lake in Riaille (weather permitting), 2 km to the west of Apt. Evening and night in Apt, or nearby.
The proximity of the Colorado Provençal, and the importance which the extraction of ochre had on the economy of the area, make it well worth a detour. In less than two hours, small roads and tracks lead us gently to Rustrel, a beautiful village with an imposing 17th Century turreted castle, at the foot of the Grand-Montagne which peaks at over 1000 metres above sea level. Rustrel is famous for the nearby semi-natural landscape of the Colorado Provençal, multicolour paradise for hikers and photographers. A magnificent site, well worth seeing at least once in a lifetime! As we head east we pass through the stunning Gorges d'Oppedette, as well as the village of Oppedette. A miniature version of the Verdon canyon, the deep gorge comes as a surprise after crossing the long, flat plateau. The village of Oppedette stands proudly above the entrance to the gorge, with views of the Montagne de Lure in the distance. We then head south to Viens, a spiral shaped medieval fortified village, before heading on to Céreste, at the foot of the Luberon. We enter Céreste through its stone arched gateway, and take the time to explore its picturesque network of streets. At the foot of the Grand Luberon, with the "Nationale 100" road passing through it, Céreste has a bustling town feel to it. However, the medieval village has remained intact. An important stage post on the ancient Voie Domitienne, Céreste has retained its function as a stopover town since the Middle Ages, with several guest houses and restaurants welcoming travellers passing through. Evening and night in Céreste, or nearby.
A few kilometres from Céreste we discover the hidden site of Carluc, with its ruins of an 11th Century Benedictine monastery. Nestled in a beautiful natural setting, the monastery is partly troglodyte, and a long tunnel dug into the rock shelters numerous medieval tombs. After exploring Carluc, we head south to pick up the old Montfuron byway, which heads east and crosses the hamlet of Montjustin. The village of Montfuron, perched on a spur and open to the wind, has preserved its 19th Century windmills, and offers beautiful panoramic views. From Montfuron we begin making our way around the east side of the Grand Luberon, overlooking the Durance. This is Giono country, and the views of the Durance conjure up images from the pages of his book, "Provence". Our route initially takes us to Pierrevert, village of wine growers, offering the opportunity to sample some good local bottles… before continuing towards Sainte-Tulle, then Corbières, along the Manosque Canal. We then head west in order to join the village of Beaumont de Pertuis, then Mirabeau and its bridge overlookinh the valley of Durance. Evening and night in Mirabeau.
Note: An optional easier route to the south joins Mirabeau via the fortified village of La Bastide des Jourdans and its ruined 13th century chateau. Founded by the Count of Forcalquier, La Bastide des Jourdans owes its name to its first chatelains, the knights Guillaume and Pierre Jourdan, who built the first “bastide” (large country house) in the village.
The Mirabeau Bridge dominates a natural narrow point of the Durance. The bridge is the meeting point of the four departments: the Var, Alpes de Haute-Provence, Vaucluse and the Bouches-du-Rhône. From here the Durance turns and heads west. We follow it, parallel to the railway line, to the Château de Loubière. Once we've made our way around the mountain, we head north to join the village of La Bastidonne, then on to the small town of La Tour-d'Aigues. We are now on the southern slopes of the Luberon, and the landscapes are dominated by vineyards and olive groves. The small town of La Tour-d'Aigues is built around the imposing ruins of its renaissance castle, classified as a historic monument. Time permitting, we visit the history museum of the Pays d'Aigues, in the cellars of the castle. Making our way through vineyards and farmland, we join the village of Ansouis, with its beautiful old restored houses surrounding an imposing château, once the property of the Counts of Forcalquier, before being owned by the Sabran family from the 17th Century onwards. We take the opportunity to visit the château, which has managed to preserve the majority of its magnificent renaissance furniture. . Our day ends in the nearby village of Cucuron.
A few early morning pedal strokes take us to Lourmarin and its magnificent Renaissance period chateau. After Lourmarin, we leave the Grand Luberon and head back to the Petit Luberon. There's only one route through, but what a road! The Combe de Lourmarin, snaking its way along the Aiguebrun River, is without a doubt the prettiest road in the area. We follow it for several kilometres before heading west and climbing 400 m in attitude to join the Massif des Cèdres (cedars). The climb is made that little bit easier with the knowledge that this is our last day in the saddle… Once at the top we find ourselves at almost 800 metres above sea level, on the northern slopes of the Petit Luberon. From here it’s all plain sailing: we follow a forest track due west along the ridgeline that takes us all the way to Cavaillon. We arrive in Cavaillon mid-afternoon.
Distances and altitude gain are an indication only and may vary.
Itinerary end: France Bike Trips services end at Cavaillon SNCF railway station at around 4pm on the last day.
On request we can book the following night's accommodation for you in Cavaillon.
Average tour rating:
Thank you for taking the time to offer feedback on your recent France Bike Trips tour. We're sorry to hear your experience at the hotel in Apt was unsatisfactory. The hotel is a family run business, and we've not had any previous negative feedback regarding this accommodation. However, we will take the time to make a fresh review of the hotel this spring.
Thank you for your feedback and glad to hear you enjoyed the tour. We're sorry to hear you sometimes had issues with the road book notes. All our routes and road books are compiled after extensive (on bike) research in situ. However we will ask the person in charge of our Luberon tours to check over the road book and update any potential errors.