28th September, 2016
Provence: famous for its traditional drystone farmhouses, colourful Van Gogh landscapes, ancient Romanesque chapels, bountiful vineyards and charming medieval villages situated atop dramatic hillsides. In fact, some of the villages in Provence and the surrounding area are hailed as among the most beautiful in the whole of France. There's an official body in charge of deciding which villages those are - Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France) - an association set up to promote tourism in rural areas. As of 2016 it includes 154 villages, including one in Provence. We think Provence deserves a few more on that list, so we've shared a few more of our favourites below...
Les Baux de Provence
In a spectacular position in the heart of the Alpilles mountains, the village of Les Baux is perched atop a rocky spur measuring 900m x 200m, with dramatic vertical ravines on either side. Its name is from the Provençal "baou", meaning a rocky spur. The ruins of a fortified castle, destroyed by Richelieu in 1632, continues to keep watch over the old Provencal stone houses of the village. The streets are just gorgeous and perfect for an afternoon promenade. Don't forget to take in the view from the castle's keep over the plains to the south: the Aix region, the Luberon, Mt Ventoux, Sainte Victoire, and the Cévennes.
Saint-Rémy-De-Provence, a small mountain community, is a popular choice for history and art buffs. Featuring picture-postcard sun-soaked medieval walls, ornate fountains and a Roman ‘Arc de Triomphe’ (considered one of the oldest in France), this is the village that inspired some of Van Gogh’s most famous works. The artist lived here for some time, as a patient of the local asylum. It was here that he produced: ‘The Starry Night’; his celebrated ‘Wheat Field’ series; and a number of paintings of roses, irises and forests.
Avignon is really the cultural hub of Provence, and the gateway to this stunning region of France. Our cycling holiday exploring Provence begins and ends here. It was once the papal seat, before it moved to the Vatican City, so there are a multitude of churches and chapels and of course the gigantic Palais des Papes (Popes’ Palace), an architectural masterpiece whose turrets can be seen for miles around. Situated on the banks of the River Rhone, Avignon is also home to a famous medieval bridge which inspired a song and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, the city hosts numerous festivals of theatre and music, and also attracts thousands of visitors thanks to its Côtes du Rhone vineyards.
You can visit all three of these towns on our 'Provence and the wild Camargue' luxury gentle cycling holiday. Combined with the extraordinary flora and fauna of the Camargue region, it's a unique cycling holiday that offers both culture and nature in one trip.